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Politics

Local survey underway to gauge threats against elected officials

fire-nathan-fletcher-lorena-gonzalez-house.jpg
Courtesy of KGTV
The fire damaged home of former Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez and Supervisor Nathan Fletcher is shown this photo. Jan. 12, 2022.

As federal officials continue to warn about violent domestic extremism, a local survey is underway to gauge whether politicians have turned into targets.

San Diego Mesa College political science professor Carl Luna is spearheading a poll of 300 San Diego County elected officials to assess if they’re receiving more threats, and whether those threats are becoming more violent. About a third of officials have responded so far. The survey is being conducted by the Violence, Inequality and Power Lab at the University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice.

The survey comes as office holders across the country are encountering angry voters at public meetings, on the street, or even at their doorstep. In some cases, the anger has turned into violence.

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A year ago, a suspected arson attack scorched the home where San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher lives with his wife, former Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. Both are Democrats.

“You've had school board members who have had protests outside of their houses, and received on their personal phone lines and in their personal mail not nice correspondence,” Luna said.  “You don't get paid a lot to do this and to have these sorts of threats coming at you, the assumption is there has to be some sort of a negative impact.”

He said the survey plans to explore whether the threats are dissuading elected representatives from seeking re-election or taking certain positions on thorny issues such as COVID-19, LGBTQ rights, election results and other topics that divide voters.

The FBI reports that violent extremism from within the country poses one of the most persistent threats against the United States. The Department of Homeland Security said late last year that amid heightened political tensions, officials were seeing “general calls” for violence against elected officials and candidates.

Some of those calls were followed through.

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A failed Republican candidate in New Mexico was indicted this week over the December shootings at two Democratic state lawmakers and two Democratic commissioners' homes.

In October, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul Pelosi was attacked in his San Francisco home. The assault put him in intensive care.

Luna said part of the survey will also explore solutions to bringing the temperature down.

“Most importantly, what can we do to both protect First Amendment rights of petition of government and free speech and also to provide forums in which we can have meaningful civic engagement?” he said.

The results of the survey are expected to be released in June.