Experience Matters To Crowded Field In 79th Assembly District Special Election
The seat for the 79th Assembly district, which runs from Otay Ranch all the way to La Mesa, is now vacant after Dr. Shirley Weber was confirmed as California's new Secretary of State. Five candidates are now vying to replace her in the ongoing special election.
The vote comes at a pivotal time for the heavily-Democratic 79th district, when federal COVID-19 recovery money will now flow through the state to communities that desperately need it.
Akilah Weber is a doctor, La Mesa City Council member, and daughter of the woman she’s now running to replace. She says she’ll be up to the task of making sure these funds help a community that’s hurting, because she’s already working in government.
“One of the things that’s beneficial about being an elected official at this time is that I already have the relationship with the elected officials that actually govern these individual areas and individual cities. I have not only the relationships, but the support,” Weber told KPBS.
Chula Vista resident Leticia Munguia is a lifelong organizer in San Diego, and has worked on behalf of a public employees union for the past 16 years. She thinks relationships at the community level will prove valuable to distributing much-needed resources immediately.
"When I look at the short-term impact on small businesses, my approach is going to be able to leverage public, federal and state resources, to make sure we provide immediate injection of relief to our small businesses, where there’s an opportunity to have them reopen their doors and that we’re there to support them,” Munguia said.
Aeiramique Glass Blake is a criminal justice reform advocate, whose previous run for public office was derailed by a cancer diagnosis. She wants to make sure communities know how beneficial policies in both Washington and Sacramento are impacting them, and that communities are able to feel those impacts.
“These communities never actually feel the policy changes, they never actually see the results of what was created for them, to change and make their lives better,” Glass Blake said. “We have to do a better job of evaluating how we’re implementing and building infrastructure to roll out these policies.”
Two other candidates are also running for the seat. Democrat Shane Parmely is a middle school teacher, and Republican Marco Contreras is a small business owner.
Early voting began on March 8, with the primary election concluding on April 6. If no candidate wins a majority of votes, a runoff will be held on June 8.
Either way, the new assembly member will have missed the bulk of an important legislative session, and will need to get up to speed quickly. That’s where Munguia believes she has an advantage — she's a veteran of what goes into deal-making in Sacramento.
“I really feel that I’m prepared, I’m experienced, and I’ve been a champion for workers,” she said.
Weber said her immediate focus would be on helping improve public health, through tackling long-standing social problems, like school funding.
“When we talk about social determinants, we talk about things like closing the achievement gap, making sure that things like resources and funds are equitably distributed, and money is able to be given to those that need more. So, that schools, no matter which one your child goes to, regardless of your zip code, that every child has an equal opportunity for their future,” she said.
While both Weber and Munguia have picked up coveted endorsements and financial support from local political leaders and labor organizations, Glass Blake said her political outsider status will allow her to more directly service the community. “I really want to bypass all the politics within politics, because many times we don’t get that sustainable change, because our politicians are bought and paid for, they’re bossed, and so whoever the associations and the unions, the ones that are filling their pockets and getting them into those seats, are really the ones who control our political system, and I really want that to change,” she said.
Former assembly member Dr. Shirley Weber passed a series of police reform bills, which won her accolades from across the country. Each candidate says they’ll continue her work, in their own way.
For Dr. Akilah Weber, the protests from over the spring, and the riot in her hometown of La Mesa, reminded her that social justice issues in the district must be continually listened to and addressed at the state level.
“What we saw in May and June was not due to a single incident. It was due to years of people not being heard. Years of people feeling marginalized and treated differently,” she told KPBS. “I had a patient at the time, and she told me, ‘we’re from here, and I always told my husband, don’t stop at any trolley stops that go through La Mesa,’ and that broke my heart, because that says there’s been a longstanding pattern of people feeling like they don’t belong, like their voices aren’t heard.”
Munguia believes that the use of crisis teams, where mental health professionals respond to people in distress, instead of law enforcement.
“We have issues involving mental health crises. We need to look at who gets dispatched and who needs to get dispatched, and know that there’s work that’s already occurring at the City of San Diego that I’m watching their progress,” she said.
Three of the four Democratic candidates will participate in a forum on Wednesday evening focusing on gun violence in the district, organized by San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention. The forum begins at 6 p.m.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story identified candidate Leticia Munguia as a resident of National City. She is a resident of Chula Vista.