Clairemont Woman Runs for Congress
By Janet Miller
On June 5, 2012, longtime resident of Clairemont, Lori Saldaña, will face the first hurdle on her way to a seat in Congress. On that day, voters in the 52 nd congressional district, which includes Clairemont, will decide in a primary election who will run against incumbent Brian Bilbray in the general election in November. The winner of that vote will become one of the 435 legislators that represent the people in the House of Representatives.
How did the daughter of a career marine who grew up exploring Clairemont’s canyons become a candidate for Congress? I recently had lunch with Lori to find out how and why she, a person some might call a “typical Clairemont girl”, decided on a life as an elected official.
“It really started with highway 52,”, said Lori with a smile, “I remember going with my parents down to protest Caltrans’ plan to run the 52 through the middle of our beautiful San Clemente canyon.” Lori’s parents were examples to her and her 3 sisters of community involvement and volunteerism. “At one point my mom was volunteering with PTAs at three different schools at the same time,” Lori said, “so being involved in my community has always been part of my life.”
As a young woman, Lori worked on a number of campaigns. “I helped elect Donna Frye, Susan Davis, and Chris Kehoe among others,” Lori said. “I’ve always believed in supporting female candidates.”
Volunteering your time is one thing, but actually running for elected office is a whole different thing. Looking back on the time when she did decide to run for the Assembly, Lori explains that she had been working a long time to be where she was: a tenured professor at the community college, teaching information technology and being absorbed learning about a new phenomenon, the internet. She was happy as can be, by her own reckoning.
“But then the war started and program budgets were being cut. And these were programs that were changing peoples’ lives! That was really the catalyst for my decision to run.” Lori explained.
In 2003 when Lori decided to run for the State Assembly, she was given little chance to win. After all, she’d never run for office before and she didn’t have a large “war chest” of money for the typical campaign. Lori took a different approach; she decided to walk the district and ask as many voters as she could, face to face, what their concerns were.
Voters responded to Lori and sent her to Sacramento for the maximum three terms. During this time she maintained an apartment in Sacramento and one in San Diego as well, commuting back and forth weekly. Lori was also caring for her mother, so that meant somehow squeezing in the time to take her to doctor’s appointments and arranging for other help when she couldn’t be there.
“It’s no different from the issues many Clairemont residents face,” Lori said.” That’s why I am so against cutting benefits for home health care and other senior services, I’ve seen firsthand what a difference that help can make.”
When we talk about Clairemont, Lori fondly remembers the little league field that was where the Square is now, and learning to ride a motorcycle on the lot where TJ Maxx is. The canyons have always been a special place for Lori as well. “I love it that I can walk my dog now in the same canyon where I played with my friends as a child,” she said.
Another thing that in Lori’s eyes hasn’t changed is the number of military families that live in Clairemont, both active duty and retired. She mentions seeing the “DOD” (Department of Defense) stickers on so many cars as she walks the district. “My mom had one on her car, and she used to say she was ‘going to the base’ do her shopping at the PX. “ she said. Growing up in a military family has given Lori a keen appreciation for how tough it can be, especially in times of war. It’s easy to see where her passion for veterans’ issues comes from.
As an Assemblymember, Lori had many accomplishments that benefitted people all over the state, not just in her district. In order to do this work she had to maintain an office in Sacramento at the Capital and another in her district here in San Diego. If she wins the general election in November, she will again have 2 offices to manage, in addition to her legislative responsibilities. It’s a big job, and I wonder why, when she could just continue to teach at San Diego State, Lori would want to do this. “The root of the word politics means ‘people’, and being an elected official enables me to work for the people,” she said. “I think I can make a difference in people’s lives through my work.” Asked to describe herself in political terms, Lori says she is a progressive, an environmentalist, an educator, and someone who is committed to women’s issues.
Whether or not Lori prevails in the primary and then the general election remains to be seen. One thing that is in no doubt: the Clairemont community can be proud of our own Lori Saldaña for the many contributions she has made to our community and our state.