Tasha Williamson speaks at the Women’s March. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano
Tasha Williamson speaks at the Women’s March. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Tasha Williamson has never picked small targets.

She has been among the most persistent and vocal critics of local police departments in recent years, especially over racial profiling and the use of deadly force by officers. Last year, she was among those arrested in National City at a public meeting during a protest over the death of Earl McNeil, a few months before the city’s police chief announced his retirement.

She’s now running for mayor of San Diego. And her campaign is about as grassroots as they come.

In the first six months of the year, Williamson raised $675, of which $125 came from herself. Her opponents, Councilwoman Barbary Bry and Assemblyman Todd Gloria, have raised 787 and 972 times that much, respectively.

At Tuesday’s meeting of San Diego’s Democratic Party – where the central committee decided to endorse Gloria ahead of the primary, unlocking the possibility of it spending thousands of dollars against Bry and Williamson – Williamson said one of her goals is to change the party itself.

“The party has been silent to racism and inequality,” she said during an interview. “Some of these Democratic clubs are full of privileged and powerful people. The Democratic Party is not reflective of all Democrats. We need to be a better party.”

Last year, Williamson voiced her concerns with the party over its stance in the District 4 City Council race. After now-Councilwoman Monica Montgomery finished ahead of then-Council President Myrtle Cole in the primary, Williamson led a group that pushed the party to rescind Cole’s endorsement.

She criticized Cole for comments she made supporting racial profiling, her lack of support for National City protesters after McNeil’s death and evidence that she spent less time in her community than any other Council member.

The party – at the urging of elected leaders, including Gloria – decided to stand by Cole.

Montgomery won by 15 points.

“This party is putting people in a position to say everybody is going to be prioritized, and yet, people who look like me have not been prioritized,” Williamson told the central committee, ahead of its endorsement vote. “And they have not prioritized us. Vote with a conscious.”

Before voting, the central committee let supporters of the three candidates take turns speaking on their behalf. No one advocated voting for Williamson.

Carol Kim, political director of the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council, though, went to the mic to say she would be voting for Gloria, but thought Williamson deserved to have someone speak on her behalf, and praised her for forcing the party to confront racism in San Diego.

Williamson said it was time the “power and privilege” that was concentrated in the room was distributed across the county.

“I am a different candidate, and I’m looking for people power,” she said.

One other disagreement: During the endorsement deliberations, one central committee member decided to ask Williamson about a statement on a party questionnaire in which she said she supported prayer in public schools.

Williamson confirmed that she supports organized prayer in public schools, and said she thought creationism should be taught in schools.

She said she didn’t think anyone should be forced to pray, or for prayers to be limited to a specific religion. But she said organized prayer should be an option.

“Everyone says they’re pro-choice until it becomes something they don’t like,” she said. “If you’re an atheist, that’s your choice.”

She said creationism should be taught in schools, whether that’s in science or as an elective. “There is science to religion,” she said.

The Party’s Big North County Supe Decision

Republican County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, who represents District 3 in North County, is running for re-election without a challenger from the right.

That means a Democrat will all but certainly get through the March 2020 primary. But that Democrat is probably going to have to earn a spot on the general election ballot without her party’s official support.

Last weekend, the party’s North Area Caucus, a group of party leaders and activists, met in San Marcos to debate an early endorsement, but they were unable to unify around a single candidate.

Early endorsement votes can be divisive, and the anticipation around this one was heightened last month when the Coast News reported that Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and Supervisor Nathan Fletcher were whipping votes on Diaz’s behalf. (Naturally, Gonzalez and Fletcher didn’t take kindly to the suggestion that they were somehow corrupting the process. They exchanged some words with the reporter on Twitter.)

In the end, Diaz fell a few votes shy of getting an endorsement from the North Area Caucus.

Instead, the area’s leaders rated both Diaz and Terra Lawson-Remer, an academic and former White House official, who had state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins in her corner, as “acceptable” candidates. (Lawson-Remer also has the support of SEIU, which represents county employees and is a major political force – and was an avowed Fletcher supporter during his campaign last year.)

Most likely, neither of the two will be getting a boost from the party’s official channels until they can knock down the other at the ballot box to face Gaspar in November.

District 3 is hugely important this time around because the outcome of the election is likely to determine which party controls the Board of Supervisors going forward. Democrats are probably going to flip District 1 in the South Bay, and they already occupy District 4, which is Fletcher’s seat.

What happens next? That’s up to the San Diego County Democratic Party central committee. The North County non-endorsement endorsement will be placed on the consent agenda next month. Several top-ranking officials tell us, however, that the party is not likely to overrule the North County group’s recommendation and elevate one candidate above the other.

Rarely does the central committee second-guess the decisions (or non-decisions) made by its sub-areas. Someone would have to make a very compelling argument to intervene in the process.

Two other Lawson-Remer wins: If Diaz was the favorite for the endorsement, blocking that from happening was a win for Lawson-Remer, even if she didn’t get the endorsement herself. She got two other wins this week, too. First, the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action, one of the largest and most active clubs on the left, endorsed her. Then, a third Democratic candidate, Fire Captain Jeff Griffith, dropped out of the race and endorsed her as well.

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

Jesse Marx is a former Voice of San Diego associate editor.

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