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Early voting is underway in a special election for the 80th Assembly District, covering the southern part of San Diego, Chula Vista and National City. KPBS Speak City Heights reporter Jacob Aere says two Democrats and one Republican are in the race, all with different visions for the future of San Diego’s South Bay.

Three candidates battle for South Bay in Assembly District 80 special election

The Assembly District 80 seat opened up in January, when Lorena Gonzalez resigned to take a job with the California Labor Federation. Three candidates are in the race: Democrats David Alvarez and Georgette Gómez, and Republican Lincoln Pickard.

Gonzalez has endorsed Gómez, a former San Diego City Council president.

“I am proud to have the support of former Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, someone who did a lot on behalf of her district,” Gómez said.

For Gómez this is a return to politics. She last ran an unsuccessful campaign for California’s 53rd Congressional District against Sara Jacobs in 2020.

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Jacob Aere
Georgette Gómez talks to a Barrio Logan resident, March 11, 2022.

During that run she was criticized for not reporting $100,000 of income on her tax returns. That criticism is being made again in this election through anti-Gómez mailers that some Assembly District 80 residents are receiving.

“[That] wasn’t me trying to do a runaround on taxes, it was literally a mistake. An unintentional mistake, but I fixed it right away,” Gómez said.

RELATED: Gómez's Tax Omission A Talker In 53rd District Congressional Race

Gómez said the mailers opposing her campaign are financially backed by oil, tow truck and insurance companies who fund one of her opponents, David Alvarez. She said those industries are scared of her because some of the key points from her platform focus on the climate crisis, as well as affordable housing and income inequality.

“I’m advancing solutions to improve our transit system, to continue bringing more affordable housing, even as someone that is in the private sector now. So to me that's where my commitment and what I’m grounded on,” she said. “And that's never going to change, no matter where I’m at.”

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Roland Lizarondo
David Alvarez sits at a patio table at Maggie's Café in Barrio Logan, March 11, 2022.

Campaign finance records show Alvarez has received donations from those special interests that Gómez mentioned, among others.

On the other hand, Alvarez said Gómez is being supported by Sacramento politicians who don’t want things to change.

In a written statement he told KPBS:

“They are doing this because they know they can control her, that if she is elected nothing will change. By contrast I have run a 100% positive campaign based on the issues.”

RELATED: Ballots sent out for California Assembly District 80 special election

Like Gómez, Alvarez is a Democrat, a former San Diego City Councilmember and a native of Barrio Logan.

“People feel like Sacramento often forgets them and they want to make sure education is a priority, that higher education is a priority, that crime gets addressed,” Alvarez said. “Our South Bay communities and San Diego have seen an increase in crime over the last year, particularly violent crime.”

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Jacob Aere
Lincoln Pickard speaks to Sidiqa Hooker outside of the Registrar of Voters, March 11, 2022.

Lincoln Pickard is the third candidate in the race.

The Republican politician knows that he’s the underdog in the Assembly District 80 special election because he’s running in a heavily Democratic district.

“The odds are against me. The smart money would be on one of the other candidates,” he said.

RELATED: California Legislature upended by new political maps

Some of the key ideas from his platform focus on the cost of living and running a company in California, education and water management.

“It would take a lot of voters out there that are sick and tired of the Democratic rules and regulations which are driving so many businesses out of our state, which means they’re taking jobs with them,” Pickard said.

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Jacob Aere
A "Vote Here" sign is on display at the San Diego Registrar of Voters, March 11, 2022.

The special election is only to fill out the remainder of Lorena Gonzalez’ term. If one candidate gets 50% plus one of the votes, they’ll win the seat outright. But if no one does, there will be a runoff on June 7th, the same day as a regular election for the next term which begins in December. That election also covers a redrawn District 80 thanks to the last census.

RELATED: California redistricting: What to know about the final maps

The same three candidates are running in that race, too. While Alvarez and Gómez have a similar background, their visions for the future of San Diego's South Bay look different.

“Education, crime on the rise, homelessness issues, they matter to the people in both the old district and the new district. So we’re talking about the same issues, we’re having those conversations,” Alvarez said.

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Jacob Aere
The San Diego Registrar of Voters sign is shown in front of the government building, March11, 2022.

“At the end of the day it's about building healthy communities. Making sure that there’s housing that is affordable, making sure that people have clean air, making sure that there are better jobs and our education system is robust,” Gómez said.

RELATED: 80th Assembly District voters have until Monday to register for mail ballots

Pickard has a different focus. "If you care about gas taxes, and you care about school choice, if you care about the Second Amendment and you care about some of these really important values that make America what it is, I ask for your vote,” Pickard said.

Early voting is underway now and runs through April 4, or voters can go to the polls on April 5.

Three candidates battle for South Bay in Assembly District 80 special election

I report on City Heights and communities south of the Interstate 8 freeway. My beat covers housing, transportation, census and immigration policy, and a number of other issues important to these neighborhoods. No matter the topic, I seek the overlooked voices of these diverse communities to tell their stories.
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