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State Sen. Ben Hueso is trying to make a comeback in San Diego County after spending nearly a decade in Sacramento.
The state Legislature’s work for the year is mostly over, and Hueso has turned his attention to his campaign to represent the South Bay on the County Board of Supervisors.
Hueso is running against three other Democrats to replace County Supervisor Greg Cox, who has held the seat for more than 20 years. The other candidates are Rafael Castellanos, an attorney and chair of the Port of San Diego; Nora Vargas, a Southwestern Community College trustee and executive at Planned Parenthood; and Sophia Rodriguez, a human services specialist for the county.
But Hueso has a long history of success in local politics he’s hoping to reclaim. His time in Sacramento will now be under the microscope, especially his 2014 DUI arrest. He was charged with a DUI after an officer saw him driving the wrong way on a one-way street, but eventually was given a fine and probation after pleading to a lesser charge, a “wet reckless.”
When I sat down with Hueso last week, he reflected on his time to Sacramento. And he opened up about the DUI charge.
He’s proud of many state bills he’s written, but he’s trying to drive home local impacts after nearly a decade in Sacramento.
When I asked Hueso about his biggest accomplishments at the state level, he told me a story about a friend of his who recently suffered a heart attack.
When Hueso asked what happened, the friend told him he’d blacked out at a gym. Later at the hospital, a doctor told the friend that someone at the gym had resuscitated him using an automated external defibrillator. If it wasn’t for that, his friend said, he’d be dead.
“And I said, ‘Is it possible that my bill to [require] AEDs in high-occupancy buildings saved your life?’” Hueso said. “And he said, ‘Yes.’ And that was just an amazing thing just on a personal level. One person that I know whose life was saved.”
That’s the power of creating laws at the state level, he said.
Hueso’s bill, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015, required new, high-occupancy buildings to have automated external defibrillators. Fitness centers, like the gym his friend was in, have been required to have them since 2007.
Then he quickly pivoted to talk about the hand he had in important projects in Barrio Logan – like the coffee shop where we met – and San Ysidro, both as a state representative and as a City Council member before that. He is running for a local seat in South Bay, after all.
His DUI taught him what .08 percent blood alcohol content feels like.
In 2014, California Highway Patrol arrested Hueso in Sacramento after an officer saw him driving the wrong way on a one-way street. Though he was initially charged with a DUI, he eventually was given a fine and probation after pleading to a lesser charge, a “wet reckless.”
“It really has changed everything about how I behave, how I conduct myself,” Hueso said.
The bottom line, he said, is that he made a mistake.
“I didn’t feel impaired at all,” he said. “What happened to me wasn’t a result of me being impaired, it was a result of my not paying attention.”
He told me he shouldn’t have gotten in the car that night, but at 2 a.m. in Sacramento, there weren’t many options to get home. His office has since changed protocols, so there are other means of getting home if employees are in the office that late and have been drinking.
He said the biggest lesson he took away from the incident is that he better understands what .08 percent blood alcohol content feels like for him.
“And really, I mean, at this point, I think it’s a lesson that I can share with other people,” Hueso said. “I know what it feels like now to be at .08. That’s a very low amount of alcohol that can put you in that area. 0.08 can get you a different result for different people. Some are not impaired with a higher level of alcohol. But I understand the rule. The rule is there as a precaution, as a rule to ensure that nobody is operation a vehicle that is impaired.”
There is one thing he won’t miss about being a state legislator.
The weekly flights.
“I dread getting on that airplane every week,” Hueso said. “Dread.”
We didn’t ask Hueso whether he’s ever considered carpooling with Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, who hates flying to Sacramento so much she often drives.
That’s a buddy comedy we’d pay to see.