- Democratic member of Congress
- Member of the Progressive Caucus
- Active member of the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, and the Sierra Club
Bob Filner is a Democratic Member of Congress who represents the 51st District of California, which stretches from south San Diego and the Mexican border industrial suburbs of Chula Vista and National City, eastward nearly 300 miles to the Arizona border. Carefully gerrymandered to conjure a Democratic congressional seat out of one of the most Republican regions of California, this district's makeup is 53 percent Hispanic, 12 percent Asian-American (mostly Filipino), more than 9 percent African-American, and 21 percent white.
Filner was born in September 1942 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and grew up in New York City. His father, Joseph Filner, was a leading member of the Communist Party USA.
In 1961 Bob Filner spent two months in a Mississippi prison as a result of his activities as a civil rights Freedom Rider. He earned a B.A. in chemistry in 1963 and a Ph.D. in history in 1973, both at Cornell University.
From 1970-1992 Filner taught history and served as director of the Lipinsky Institute for Judaic Studies at what today is San Diego State University. In 1974 he spent some time working as a legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-Minnesota); the following year he worked for U.S. Representative Don Fraser (D-Minnesota).
From 1979-1983, Filner served on the San Diego city school board. From 1987-1992 he was a member of the San Diego City Council. When the Democrat-dominated state legislature devised the newly gerrymandered 51st district in 1992, Filner, with the backing of local activists, edged out three rivals to win. He has been re-elected every two years since then.
Since at least the mid-1990s, Filner has had a close relationship with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). He has attended a number of DSA events (including its 1999 national convention in San Diego), and DSA supported his congressional campaigns in 2004 and 2006.
In February 2002 Filner was part of a delegation of California congressional Democrats -- among whom were Sam Farr, Diane Watson, and Mike Thompson -- who, along with entertainer Carole King, paid a friendly visit to Havana in an effort to soften U.S. policy toward Fidel Castro's Cuba.
Filner has earned a reputation for having a volatile temper. On February 22, 2003, he went to an El Centro, California immigration detention facility and demanded to see one particular detainee. After officers told Filner they were not authorized to allow him into the facility, he slipped past them into a secure area and ignored their subsequent demands that he leave.
On August 19, 2007, Filner had an altercation with a United Airlines employee in Washington's Dulles Airport. According to witnesses, the congressman, angry at the length of time he had been waiting to receive his checked baggage, pushed the employee and tried to gain access to an area reserved exclusively for authorized personnel; he then ignored orders that he leave the area. The employee subsequently pressed charges. On November 26, 2007 Filner entered an Alford plea, meaning that while he maintained his innocence, he acknowledged that there was sufficient evidence with which a prosecutor could likely convince a judge or jury of Filner’s guilt. In exchange for Filner’s plea, prosecutors reduced the misdemeanor “assault and battery” charge to a “trespassing” charge. Filner was fined $100 and was ordered to write the employee a letter of apology.
Since first joining the the House of Representatives, Filner has been a member of the Progressive Caucus. According to Americans for Democratic Action, he votes on the left side of legislation 95 to 100 percent of the time.
During his legislative career, Filner has voted:
- against the development of a national missile defense system;
- against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001;
- against the post-9/11 anti-terrorism measure known as the Patriot Act;
- against allowing the U.S. government to use electronic surveillance to investigate suspected terrorist operatives;
- against a bill permitting the government to combat potential terrorist threats by monitoring foreign electronic communications which are routed through the United States;
- against an October 2002 joint resolution authorizing U.S. military action in Iraq;
- against the establishment of military commissions to try enemy combatants captured in the war on terror;
- in favor of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq immediately and by a preordained date;
- against President Bush’s 2007 decision to deploy some 21,500 additional U.S. soldiers in an effort to quell the violent insurgents in Iraq;
- in favor of a proposal to expedite the transfer of all prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detention center;
- against requiring hospitals to report (to the federal government) illegal aliens who receive emergency medical treatment;
- against the Real ID Act, which proposed to set minimal security requirements for state driver licenses and identification cards;
- against separate proposals calling for the construction of some 700 miles of fencing to prevent illegal immigration along America's southern border;
- against a proposal to grant state and local officials the authority to investigate, identify, and arrest illegal immigrants;
- against major tax cut proposals in September 1998, February 2000, March 2000, July 2000, May 2001, May 2003, and May 2006;
- against a welfare-reform bill designed to move people off the welfare rolls and into paying jobs;
- in favor of prohibiting oil and gas exploration in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR); and
- against a proposal to fund offshore oil exploration along the Outer Continental Shelf.
Filner’s largest source of campaign money is organized labor, which provides more than 60 percent of his total Political Action Committee donations. His biggest individual contributor, by far, has been Duty Free Americas, Inc. Other major donors include the Machinists & Aerospace Workers Union; the American Association for Justice (formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America); the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); and the Service Employees International Union.
Filner is an active member of the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, and the Sierra Club. He is a supporter of the anti-Israel organization J Street.