Politics Report: Shirley Weber's Shoes to Fill | Voice of San Diego

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Politics Report: Shirley Weber's Shoes to Fill

The governor shocked San Diego politics and now the race is on.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber speaks at Voice of San Diego’s 15th Anniversary event. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Last week, in the Politics Report, the greatest report about San Diego politics sent out every (most) Saturday mornings, we said we were going to skip the next two because of the winter solstice and various related celebrations.

But we did not know then that Gov. Gavin Newsom and President Trump were going to light San Diego politics on fire Tuesday. I do not think they chose to wait until the Politics Report bedded down for the long winter nap but I suspect they maybe did.

If so, they underestimated my need to contribute to the discussions they have started.

Before we get into it all, as one political consultant noted: Isn’t it nice we can still be surprised?

Let’s start with the governor.

Meet Shirley Weber, Secretary of State

I do not believe it is a matter of opinion that Assemblywoman Shirley Weber is the most eloquent and moving speaker among California politicians. And she has singularly forced her colleagues in Sacramento to grapple with two of the most disturbing and difficult causes: resolving inequity in education quality and police misuse of force.

When Newsom announced he had picked her to replace Alex Padilla as secretary of state, our newsroom gasped (virtually, of course). We had not heard nor had it occurred to us this was a possibility. Not that she is not qualified or a remarkable choice.

But the seat was going to be open in 2022. And there were already two very influential state lawmakers running for the job, though: San Diego’s Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and Silicon Valley Assemblyman Evan Low. Right after he picked Padilla for Senate, the Sacramento Bee ran a story about whom Newsom may appoint and it didn’t mention Weber. Gonzalez told the Bee she would be thrilled if Newsom picked her.

She had already raised $350,000 for the seat. Low raised much less. More, though, Gonzalez had made voting access her chosen cause. She has passed legislation improving young people’s access to the vote, eliminated postage fees on mail ballots and many others. She lined her career up to stack these credentials so she could step up to this very type of opportunity.

Low was trying to follow suit. He proposed a bill to make Election Day a holiday.

Gonzalez’s allies in San Diego began a Twitter thread: “Lorena Gonzalez for secretary of state.”

Newsom did not want to pick between Low and Gonzalez though. The nod for secretary of state immediately went to Weber. A video touting Weber was already prepared for social media.

Two winners: Police unions and teachers unions. Weber was willing to tackle some of the toughest issues in Sacramento related mostly to law enforcement, criminal justice and education. Her persuasiveness often pushed uncomfortably on legislators who felt great pressure to resist her causes from teachers and police officer unions.

“Hopefully, whether it’s me or whomever else is able to take that seat, they continue to push the limits – to push for what’s right, what’s just, for our people,” said LaShae Collins, a top deputy to Weber.

Which brings us to …

What Happens Now in the 79th Assembly District?

So yes, LaShae Collins appears to be interested in participating in the race to replace her boss.

We had anticipated a potential domino effect like this. There was a chance that the leader of the state Senate, Toni Atkins, could move to the U.S. Senate seat, kicking off a chain reaction of openings behind her, trickling all the way to City Council seats and the nongovernmental posts that some of the people moving up would leave open.

Then there was the chance Gonzalez would move to secretary of state, triggering a classic South Bay power struggle and shift.

But it came out a bit differently.

First, a few things we know: There will be a special election, soon followed by a runoff. These special elections can be large affairs. A lot of people can run without giving up their current gigs.

It’s not official when it will be, Weber must be confirmed by the Legislature, but the governor recently called a special election for another state seat and set the primary for March 2.

The district is big and diverse: It has a strong middle class but also pockets of poverty and wealth. In November, voters there overwhelmingly preferred President-elect Joe Biden. He got 67 percent to 33 percent for President Trump.

Black leaders will want to make sure a Black person keeps the seat but there could be other serious contenders.

“If strong Black women run, then we should galvanize around them for the future of the seat,” said Shane Harris, the president of the People’s Alliance for Justice.

Here is a short list of potential candidates. It is probably incomplete so let me know if you have something to say about it. The Politics Report is a living, breathing chronicle that eats your insights and grows because of them.

Dr. Akilah Weber

La Mesa Councilwoman Dr. Akilah Weber
La Mesa Councilwoman Akilah Weber / Photo courtesy of Dr. Akilah Weber

Weber’s daughter is the name most people talked about first when I called. All eyes are on her.

She is a medical doctor, specifically a practicing obstetrician/gynecologist. She has made a name for herself internationally with her work on reproductive defects. She’s also a member of the La Mesa City Council and is on the board of the Metropolitan Transit System.

Her career as a doctor may be one of the few things that will make her think twice about a full-time political career in her mother’s footsteps.

“I am strongly considering running for the 79th Assembly District. I am discussing this with my family and will make a decision soon,” she wrote to me in an email.

LaShae Collins

VOSD reporter Mario Koran talks to school board candidate LaShae Collins. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Collins has long been at Weber’s side. She ran for school board in 2016 and says if she runs for her mentor’s seat, she would want to carry out everything she’s watched Weber do.

“Whoever is elected should just continue on the work Dr. Weber has already put forward. Dr. Weber set the path for what this seat is and the work that is supposed to be done statewide,” she said.

Ammar Campa-Najjar

Ammar Campa-Najjar is running to represent the 50th congressional district. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Fresh off several years of running as a Democrat in one of the most conservative congressional districts, Ammar Campa-Najjar appears ready to consider a new target. He went to Eastlake High School and Southwestern Community College.

Democrats, especially some further to the left, were repulsed by some of the comments and positions he took as he tried to close the deal in the East County congressional race. But there may be space for someone to represent some more conservative and South Bay voters.

He confirmed he is considering a run but didn’t want to get into it yet.

Colin Parent

The La Mesa city councilman and executive director of Circulate San Diego knows Sacramento and the district well.

He is not a no.

“I’m definitely thinking about it. A lot of people have been talking to me about it and I’m taking that consideration seriously,” he said.

He said he would focus on housing and climate change.

I asked him about race and representation. The conversation about a White man replacing Weber could get uncomfortable.

“Those are fair considerations and something I would have to really think about,” he said.

Geneviéve Jones-Wright

Genevieve Jones-Wright
Genevieve Jones-Wright shows her support for Monica Montgomery on Election Night. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The public interest lawyer and executive director of  Community Advocates for Just and Moral Governance ran for district attorney in 2018. She probably would not run if City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery does (and vice versa) and maybe not if Akilah Weber does. When I reached out to see if she was going to run, she didn’t say no. She said she was humbled to be included in the list.

“The next assemblyperson to represent California’s 79th District has big shoes to fill. This person must be a bold and passionate leader who is committed to continuing Dr. Weber’s legacy of fighting for justice and protecting the most vulnerable,” she wrote in a prepared statement.

Others Being Discussed

Georgette Gómez: She lost a tough congressional race and went from rising quickly to the city of San Diego’s Council president role to seeking her next gig abruptly. Could this be it? She’d have to move but people have done weirder things than that.

Monica Montgomery: It would be a natural next step for the City Council representative in southeastern San Diego. But it feels like she’s only just begun her work at City Hall. Is she ready to ditch it? On the other hand, unlike Gómez, she wouldn’t have to give up her set to give it a try.

Taisha Brown: She is, according to the Union-Tribune, “one of the local leaders of a political uprising that recently ushered out a controversial longtime president of the California Hawaii State Conference of the NAACP.” She is also the chair of the California Democratic Party Black Caucus. Her interest in statewide politics makes it seem like almost a given she’ll go for this.

Aeiramique Glass Blake: The the criminal justice reform advocate pushed hard to primary Rep. Juan Vargas but ultimately did not make the ballot.

“Following Dr. Weber it is imperative the seat is protected by a Black woman,” Glass Blake wrote to me. “Not just any black woman but a black woman who is independent, and connected to the community and the voices of the voters, we need a young black woman who can protect the progress that was achieved while at the same time bring a new fire to the seat.”

She said she didn’t want to see someone succeed just because of their name.

Racquel Vasquez: The Lemon Grove mayor is giving it a look.

Dwayne Crenshaw: The nonprofit leader and son of an area pastor has never hidden his political aspirations. He said he’s thinking about it. “Dr. Weber’s legacy on education is foremost on my mind. It’s the civil rights issue of our day and solving our long overdue educational inequities is front and center,” he said.

Steve Padilla: The Chula Vista city councilman has his eyes on the state Senate seat held by Sen. Ben Hueso. But maybe he gives this a look.

There are Republicans (well, former ones): La Mesa’s Kristine Alessio and Bill Baber are both former Republicans who may think about it. Alessio told SD Rostra it crossed her mind. Rostra also speculated maybe former City Councilman Scott Sherman would consider it. I’d put that at not likely.

On the Hunter Pardon

It is worth remembering what former Rep. Duncan Hunter was convicted of before we talk about the pardon he got this week from President Trump. Before he was convicted, sentenced to prison and forced from office, I wrote out why what he did was so bad and why he was in so much trouble.

The short version is that he took money donated to his campaign and lived on it, used it to subsidize the family he was neglecting and the escapades for which he was neglecting them. By all the available evidence, he and his wife Margaret, who this month filed for divorce, were in a very bad spiral of debt and high lifestyle expectations.

Like so many other frauds, they started doing it slowly and soon campaign donations had melted into their personal finances.

Campaign finance law, though, is built around a central principle: That you do not take money from people and put it in your pocket. It must be set aside, accounted for diligently and both where you get and how you spend it must be accurately and frequently disclosed. Because, again, we do not want elected officials to take money from people who want things from them and put it in their pockets, whether for ski trips or groceries at Costco.

This wasn’t a borderline case. It wasn’t “honest services” fraud or some slippery federal conspiracy concoction. It was straight forward. He unquestionably used campaign dollars for his personal benefit. And that is unquestionably illegal and it should be.

As Ron Nehring, the former chairman of the Republican Party in San Diego and California put it, he did not deserve a pardon.

“Our elected officials should be held to a higher, not lower, standard than the average citizen, who would never have been pardoned for similar crimes,” he wrote.

He did lose his job and he had to fully admit his corruption but Hunter was not an average citizen: He was the first congressman to support Donald Trump for president and he remained a steadfast loyalist.

Trump’s decision to spare him prison time was not a solemn, thoughtful exercise of executive clemency, the final check on the judicial system. There’s no serious argument Hunter did not break the law or that it was misapplied.

Sure, it’s not unheard of for presidents or governors to pardon someone who didn’t deserve it. But this one struck a blow right to the heart of the constant struggle against corruption. The president’s pardoning of Hunter communicated that you can take money from donors and use it for your lifestyle, not just your campaign.

As long as your team is in charge, your team will protect you.

And that’s not a message we want politicians to hear.

The Politics Report wishes you a nice rest from politics next week. The governor’s not going to announce a San Diegan for attorney general is he? Mike Aguirre anyone??? Hopefully this year will actually end and we will all get a fresh start. Thank you for reading in 2020. If you have any ideas or feedback send them to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org.

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