By Doug Porter
If you buy into the notion, currently in vogue with supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, of Democratic party orthodoxy as being little more than Republican lite, then Lori Saldaña would the logical choice to vote for in the upcoming San Diego mayoral primary.
The former assemblywoman has an activist pedigree, a history of hard-fought grassroots campaigns, and the enmity of the local political establishment.
In January Saldaña launched an independent campaign to challenge Kevin Faulconer, undaunted by a million dollar war chest (including PACs) and the advantages accompanying incumbency in America’s Finest City. The current mayor’s single greatest accomplishment thus far, in my opinion, has been directing the public relations players at his disposal in a non-stop symphony of praise for their leader, so it ain’t gonna be easy.
Environmental Activism, Plus
Throughout the 1990s Lori Saldaña was active in local environmental causes, becoming one of the founding Board of Directors for San Diego Earth Day and helping to organize the first “Earth Fair” in Balboa Park in 1990.
Later she worked with the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club, serving as chair from Jan. 1996 to Aug. 1997. Saldaña and the organization were named plaintiffs in a successful lawsuit against an Environmental Protection Agency proposed border sewage treatment project.
As an environmentalist, she learned about the broader political ramifications of her activism. By the time I met her a few years back, Saldaña possessed a seemingly encyclopedic understanding of the interconnectivity of class, race, and gender issues, alongside her love for the planet.
In 2004, she ran for Assembly beating out Vince Hall and Heidi von Szeliski in the primary by mostly ignoring her competition and going door-to-door. Her victory came as a surprise to her well-connected opponents and the local Democratic party establishment.
Saldaña defeated Republican Tricia Hunter, a former Assemblywoman. She was re-elected twice, winning 64% of the vote in 2006 and 2008. She left the Assembly due to term limits in 2010.
In addition to supporting significant environmental legislation (co-author of AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act), she played a role in efforts to increase the minimum wage, reform the California ballot initiative process, enact Marriage Equality legislation, end abusive practices by payday lenders of military families, and create a single payer option for health care coverage.
Saldaña’s swan song as the legislative session drew to a close in 2010 involved a battle on the Assembly floor as a midnight cutoff for passing legislation approached.
The bill in question would have banned the open carry of unloaded handguns. It passed in the Senate by one vote. The Democratic leadership in the Assembly refused to use parliamentary procedure tactics to end GOP debate so the measure could be heard.
The legislation, supported by police chiefs from around the state, was sacrificed so other issues could be addressed.
From the Union-Tribune coverage:
At one point she was pleading with Calderon, her hands squarely on his chest, almost pushing him backward. Each time he strode off.
“It’s dead,” she said, seconds after the Assembly declared that no more measures, other than urgency bills and budget-related legislation, could be brought up.
Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, was clearly pleased with the tactics Republicans had used to save the day for gun-rights. “We’ll take victory any way we can get it,” he said.
The Race for Congress
Saldaña’s refusal to play nice with the party leadership is something she wears as a badge of honor. It has also made her some powerful enemies.
Her decision to run for the newly redrawn 52nd Congressional district in 2012 gave some of those Democratic adversaries a chance to get even.
Former City Councilman and Port Commissioner Scott Peters was encouraged to run for Congress by party insiders, fed up with Saldaña’s bad attitude. One labor leader reportedly called her “batshit crazy.”
Two months after the former Assemblywoman’s announcement, Scott Peters was all in. Eight months and million dollars in TV ads later, he won, beating out Saldaña by 700 votes.
The FilnerGate Follies
As San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s career took a nosedive in the summer of 2013, Saldaña let it be known that she’d approached the Democratic party leadership in 2011 with concerns raised by what she said were six different women about episodes of sexual harassment. She said nothing happened as a result.
From Voice of San Diego:
Saldaña said Filner never personally harassed her and declined to say who alleged to have had run-ins with the mayor. She said former City Councilwoman Donna Frye, who is calling for Filner’s resignation over unspecified sexual harassment allegations, inspired her to talk.
Saldaña has a long history of conflict with Filner, most prominently over a failed border sewage treatment project about a decade ago. She also wound up endorsing him for mayor.
Party leaders, she said, made it clear that if people didn’t support Filner they wouldn’t receive their support again.
Democratic party leaders Jess Durfee and Francine Busby had a different view on what went down.
Durfee told the Union-Tribune that after Saldaña came to him, Filner was approached. The former mayor, according to Durfee, assured him there was nothing to worry about and pointed out that not one of his many female staffers over the years had ever filed a sexual harassment complaint.
Busby responded to Voice of San Diego, saying discussions involving Filner’s poor treatment of women never rose above being a rumor, pointing out the former Congressman’s three-decade long history as an advocate for progressive causes as the reason the party supported him.
There was some more back and forth over this, including some chapters of a book in progress posted by Lori Saldaña at San Diego Free Press, but the final outcome was that she changed her party registration to No Party Preference. Let’s just say there’s no love lost on either side of this.
The Campaign Against Faulconer
In January, saying the she believed voters deserved a choice, Saldaña formally declared her candidacy for San Diego’s top job.
She explained her reasoning in an interview with Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis:
I’m running to give voters of San Diego a choice. And the ones who might otherwise choose to simply not turn out to vote because they feel that they don’t have a dog in that fight, I want them to know that I’m there for people who otherwise feel disenfranchised by the process ‒ not just the current election process but the process that got us here in the first place.
If you look at the last 15 years the history of San Diego, we have had mayors elected by special election time after time after time. When Dick Murphy left, triggered a special election. Low voter turnout. Then we had the whole fill-in-the-bubble Donna Frye question that I think discouraged people from trusting the election system. Then we had Bob Filner and all of the problems associated with his election, which led to a special and low voter turnout and I think again disenchantment and discouragement that somehow this system is not working for the majority of San Diegans. You’re seeing increasingly lower numbers of people choosing the top-level position in the eighth-largest city in the country, over a million people. I believe in more voter participation. I want to encourage more people to turn out to vote and I want to have a very spirited debate on the future of this city. That won’t happen unless someone steps in and says, “I’m running for mayor of San Diego.”
Her admittedly low-budget campaign for mayor is all about staying connected with activism in San Diego. She’s been actively supporting a local initiative to increase the minimum wage, reforming oversight of police practices, improved programs for the homeless, racial justice, feminist and environmental groups initiatives.
This week she was on the forefront of activists asking local officials to observe April 27th as Denim Day. Saldaña was active in getting her colleagues in Sacramento to participate in earlier observances as a worldwide response to an infamous case where an Italian judge dismissed rape charges because the victim wore tight jeans.
For more campaign information: http://lori4mayor.org/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Lori4Mayor/?fref=nf
The 2016 Mayoral Contest: Ed Harris Takes a Stand Against Business as Usual
The 2016 Mayoral Contest: Being Cool is a Full Time Job for Incumbent Kevin Faulconer
There will be no Starting Line on Friday. The Weekly Calendar of Events for Progressives normally incorporated into the Friday column will appear as a standalone item. I’m taking a three-day weekend to celebrate 31 years of marriage. (To the same person, no less.)
It would appear that the Citizens Plan will appear on the fall ballot. Supporters turned in 100,000 signatures to the Registrar’s office yesterday. And, in a related matter, the State Supreme Court has turned down an ‘emergency appeal’ from the quasi-official Tourism folks, meaning that a trial on the legality of the fee-not-a-tax collected locally will proceed.
And… this made me chuckle:
Seen on the internet. pic.twitter.com/tgsBpL0pya
— liz laribee (@lizlaribee) April 28, 2016
On This Day: 1930 – The first organized night baseball game was played in Independence, Kansas. 1967 – Muhammad Ali refused induction into the U.S. Army and was stripped of boxing title. He cited religious grounds for his refusal. 1971 – Congress creates OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The AFL-CIO sets April 28 as “Workers Memorial Day” to honor the hundreds of thousands of workers killed and injured on the job every year.
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Lori Saldaña says
Thanks Doug- appreciate your analysis.
I would add that I’m now hearing a new political question in this Mayoral election: as we face a larger June 7th voter turnout of Dems, young voters progressives, and Latinos than previously expected, is the local Democratic leadership able, willing and and committed to do what’s needed to defeat Faulconer, even if a non-Democrat helps makes it possible?
Desde la Logan says
The current generation of SD’s Democratic leaders are clueless. But there’s a progressive, young generation of Latino Democratic staffers that feel the Bern. They’ll be stepping up soon within the next few years and when they do the establishment Dems better step aside or get run over.
bob dorn says
You go, Lori Sadanya. If there are any debates I suspect you
could tie Kevin Faulconer into knots. You’ve got a great C.V.
Lori Saldaña says
Thanks John- Apparently Kevin agrees with you- he (or I should say: his handlers) is terrified of engaging in any sort of public discussion, let alone debate.
And frankly, after watching him on Telemundo- I understand why they are shielding him from view. He’s not ready for prime time.
Bonnie Bekken says
Thank you, Doug Porter, for another honest piece of professional journalism– and Happy Anniversary to you and your love.
John P. Falchi says
Hi, Doug, I would like to add my own, personal thoughts to the fine background sketch you have drawn of Lori Saldana’s qualifications for the office of Mayor of San Diego.
I was part of the environmental group that Lori helped lead that was responsible for the 1990 renewal of Earth Day in San Diego. I,also, was one of those who encouraged her to run a real, grass-roots campaign that defeated several establishment-type candidates in her initial run for the office of Member of the CA Assembly.
In addition, I believe that it is significant to note that during her six years in the Assembly she not only accomplished a great deal in working with others, legislatively, as you have indicated, but she, also, gained the confidence of her Democratic colleagues and rose to become Assembly Speaker Pro-Tempore, presiding over the Assembly whenever Speaker Bass needed to be absent.
This is the type of leadership she also demonstrated in the non-profit area while teaching full-time for the San Diego Community College District. As someone who taught a UCSD Extension Course in Environmental Careers, I could point to Lori as someone who was relied upon by many in the environmental community for her knowledge and experience in environmental protection matters. Long before it was popular to fight for measures to mitigate against climate change, Lori was in the forefront of leaders who lobbied our governmental officials to take positive steps in this regard.
With the support of most of the San Diego Democratic Clubs and a very strong volunteer effort, Lori made a very serious run for the 52nd District Congressional seat that overlapped her previous Assembly District. Toward the end of the campaign, when the polls indicated that Lori was clearly in the lead, opponent Scott Peters dipped into his own, vast personal resources to send out a very expensive, nasty, yet false, professional hit peace. Because this was mailed to district voters during the last days of the campaign, it proved nearly impossible to counter. This, certainly, helped Scott Peters eke out his narrow, 700 vote victory. I believe that Lori Saldana would have made a far superior Member of Congress.
If Mayor Kevin Faulconer has a real program to deal with the many issues that this city faces, he ought to feel obligated to join with mayoral candidates like Lori Saldana to debate that program in a televised public forum, so that we could learn more about it. I have no doubt that Lori Saldana would acquit herself quite well in such a setting. She is, clearly, one of the most outstanding, independent leaders in our San Diego setting!
Lori Saldaña says
Republican Mayor Faulconer isn’t running a campaign- he’s running a coverup.
Today on KPBS there were several curious gaps in the discussion: yes, lots of money spent by Republicans for Faulconer, yet… no, polling results are not available. Hmmm….
I know from several friends that Faulconer’s campaign recruited women via phone calls, then paid them $100 for 90 minutes of “focus group” discussions about the election, and apparently me in particular. Those who attended aren’t talking: they were required to sign confidentiality agreements and could not discuss what was being told to them, nor the responses of others.
So- as the sample ballots and vote by mail materials arrive this week- get ready for a deluge of negative attacks based on these and other carefully cultivated “facts” that they paid big money to create.
Meanwhile: what’s Faulconer actually doing to make people safer? There are DoJ grants available to help his Police Department clear the 2800 rape kits in storage- will he ask for the funding?
911 calls unanswered.
His City Attorney “misplaces” Domestic Violence files.
There are over 2800 evidence kits that have gone untested for more than 10 years.
Violent sexual offenders are not being identified, leaving them free to attack others.
What’s he waiting for? More San Diegans to be assaulted?
Vote June 7th. Tell Republican Faulconer: it’s time to #EndtheBacklogSD