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Politics Report: The Special Election Is Upon Us

Leticia Munguia / Photo courtesy Leticia Munguia for state Assembly

The special election to replace Secretary of State Shirley Weber in the 79th Assembly District is in 52 days, and the field of candidates is now set.

La Mesa Councilwoman Akilah Weber might have solidified her status as the favorite this week by locking up the state Democratic Party’s endorsement to represent an overwhelmingly Democratic district.

But Leticia Munguia, the business representative for the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, District 36 – the union of unions representing public workers across Southern California – is right in the thick of things, locking up significant support of her own.

Munguia won the endorsements, for instance, of neighboring Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and of North County Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath.

And where Weber won the significant establishment backing of the state party, Munguia also won a major institutional supporter this week, with the California Latino Legislative Caucus voting to endorse her too.

“It was clear to me prior to my making calls to the Democratic Party, that decision had already been made,” Munguia said, in an interview, about the party’s endorsement of Weber. “I secured the delegate list, made the calls and many folks didn’t answer or return my call. The decision was made before the votes were cast. To me, that’s a clear reflection that those delegates had been in prior communication with the candidate, or someone else. But the party made its decision, and now I’m focused on voters.”

Weber is, of course, the daughter of the seat’s former representative, but she also won her race in La Mesa in 2018 and assumed an elevated public profile following police brutality protests in that city this summer. We discussed that issue with her on the podcast [1] at the time. She’s also a practicing doctor, and has won endorsements from San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe, National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis and multiple unions.

Munguia, meanwhile, was born and raised in San Diego, attended San Diego Unified schools, then City College and San Diego State University before she went to law school in Michigan. She’s worked locally in affordable housing, on the MAAC Project, and at the San Diego County Alternate Public Defender’s office.

But it’s organizing for teachers and school employee unions in both San Diego and Los Angeles that has dominated her career.

If there’s one area she could be expected to make a mark as a legislator, Munguia said that history would be significant.

“My commitment to public education is unequivocal,” she said. “I’m a product and beneficiary of San Diego Unified. Our families, students, and teachers and school workers need resources and time. We need to maneuver this pandemic in a science and data-based way to ensure we’re safe to return. To me, that’s a policy focus.”

And, as the region emerges from the pandemic, she said it’ll be essential to deal with what it did to our economy.

“Our hospitality workers have been slashed, due to the lack of travel,” she said. “Our sisters and brothers in (the local hotel union), they had a membership over 6,000 and now are down to less than 1,000. Getting folks back to work needs to be priority No. 1. We need to look at retraining, and talk to community colleges about key job markets of the future, and we need a clear start forward toward 2022.”

We’ll get to know the rest of the field as the special election approaches. Others who’ve entered the race include Marco Contreras, the lone Republican running, and two Democrats who are active in local politics, Shane Parmely and Aeiramique Glass-Blake.

2022 Cycle Begins Without New Political Districts

Rancho Peñasquitos residents in 2010 attended a meeting of San Diego’s Redistricting Commission to ask the commission not to split their community between two City Council districts. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

The 2022 election cycle has already begun. Political professionals have already known for months or longer many candidates who were planning to run for seats in the next election, and we’re likely to see a rush of formal announcements any week now.

But there is the pesky fact that we still this year need to go through our once-a-decade process of redrawing our political boundaries, based on the latest Census data.

That process was already staring at significant delays, both because of the pandemic and the Trump administration’s repeated attempts to sway the Census results.

We just learned this week that the delay is going to be even more significant, throwing a curveball to everyone in the electoral process, from election officials who need time to run an election, to would-be candidates who might not even know that they live in the district they’ve been planning to represent and voters for whom the redistricting process is a fleeting opportunity at empowerment.

Typically, the Census data that serves as the basis for redistricting is due at the end of March. The Census Bureau last month said that data wouldn’t be coming until the end of July. Now, it told states not to expect it until the end of September, the New York Times reported this week [2].

The state Supreme Court already approved the state Legislature’s decision to push back its deadline for finalize redistricting maps [3], from Oct. 15 to Dec. 15.

“The Dec. 15 deadline still seemed plausible, when we were told a month ago not to expect anything by July 30, when we were basically four months behind,” said Evan McLaughlin, vice president at Redistricting Partners. “Then today we get this bombshell to tack another two months onto that.”

A lot needs to happen from October, when the data comes in, until mid-December, when the maps need to be finalized. Not only will officials need to hold meetings to solicit input from the public. California, for instance, is required to allocate its prison population to the neighborhoods in which inmates were arrested. Researchers at the University of California are going to do that analysis, but they estimate it will take a month from when the Census data arrives.

But, the state Supreme Court’s ruling that pushed back the deadline also gives officials a bit more relief. For every day past July 31 that the federal government is late with the data, the state can push out its Dec. 15 deadline one day. That means if the data comes in on Sept. 30, the state wouldn’t have to adopt final maps until Valentine’s Day, 2022.

“Redistricting year is now redistricting years,” McLaughlin said.

There is one small bit of good news: We’re not scheduled to hold a March primary in 2022, like we did in 2020. We’ll be back to a June primary election this cycle.

But that still means local election officials would have only a few months to prepare the thousands of different ballot combinations needed to make sure voters in each precinct can weigh in on the unique assortment the down ballot races they’re districted into.

“This newest delay will force everyone from the legislator to election officials to really rethink how the 2022 elections are going to work,” McLaughlin said.