State Sen. Ben Hueso appears at Golden Hall on election night in March 2020. / Photo by Megan Wood

After a decade in Sacramento, Sen. Ben Hueso is trying to come home.

Hueso is facing Nora Vargas, a Southwestern College board trustee and former Planned Parenthood executive, in the race to represent southern San Diego County on the County Board of Supervisors.

Although Hueso spent five years on the San Diego City Council prior to being elected to the state legislator, the majority of his political career has been spent in Sacramento.

Hueso reached the top of San Diego city politics after his five years on the City Council prior to winning election to the state Senate. In many ways, his campaign is dependent on that success and the name recognition it left him in the area.

But in his newest campaign for local office, he’s leaning on one message to voters in particular: that he has somehow been a driving force in the state’s ongoing battles with President Donald Trump.

On his campaign website, for example, Hueso says he sued the Trump administration 100 times, though the state attorney general’s office filed those lawsuits, not the state Senate.

Hueso’s record at the Capitol – the bills he’s written and voted for – will certainly come under scrutiny by voters.

Hueso and his campaign didn’t respond to an interview request, but he’s previously told Voice of San Diego that he’s proud of many bills he’s passed at the state level, including those that address the cross-border sewage issue and a 2015 law that required new, high-occupancy buildings to have automated external defibrillators. And although Hueso did not sue the Trump administration, he did introduce a bill to create a $12 million legal defense program for immigrants facing deportation who do not have a violent felony on their records in 2016 after Trump’s election.

He also said he’s worked hard at the state level to earmark funds for San Diego for public assistance programs like CalFresh and CalWORKS, and has helped to coordinate the distribution of N-95 and surgical masks for local frontline workers and funds for local small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. On his campaign website, he also highlights a 2019 bill that aimed to protect the elderly from abuse by their caretakers, his efforts to get additional funding for veterans in the state budget and two bills that provide tax incentives for employers who hire at-risk youth.

But his time in Sacramento hasn’t been without controversy.

Shortly after he was elected to the state Assembly, Hueso paid a $2,000 fine for transferring $25,000 of his campaign money to a group that supported his brother’s unsuccessful bid to replace him on the San Diego City Council, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported at the time. Hueso reported the violation to the Fair Political Practices Commission himself after the Union-Tribune reported on the funds transfer.

In 2014, the 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, known as a “wet reckless” offense.

Last year, Hueso told VOSD that he made a mistake that night and shouldn’t have gotten in the car.

“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.”

Several of Hueso’s bills have also come under scrutiny, including SB 615, a bill sponsored by San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott that Hueso ultimately withdrew because it instantly drew intense scrutiny for its attempt to rewrite the state’s public records’ law.

The bill would’ve made it much harder for members of the public to take government agencies to court in order to obtain records under the California Public Records Act, by requiring people to take certain steps before asking a court to intervene. It would have also made it more difficult to collect attorney’s fees from agencies found to be in violation of the law, which is often the only consequence agencies face if they fail to comply.

Multiple San Diego City Council members and Mayor Kevin Faulconer came out against the bill.

Elliott defended her push for the changes to the law, saying that since 2013, Public Record Act requests handled by the city of San Diego ballooned from 749 to 4,824 annually, a 644 percent increase, the Union-Tribune reported at the time.

Hueso pulled the bill before it received a single committee hearing.

“From the outset, my objective for this bill was always to make the process of obtaining public records more efficient and expedient for taxpayers,” Hueso said in a statement at the time. “The Public Records Act is an essential component of California’s strong commitment to open government and transparency.”

Hueso also wrote a bill in 2014 that required investor-owned utilities to buy a certain amount of power from new California-based geothermal projects. The bill was intended to spur a union-backed geothermal project in the Salton Sea, Voice of San Diego reported in 2015, and between 2013 and 2015, various electrical unions contributed $24,700 to Hueso’s state Senate campaigns. Hueso declined to answer questions about whether the contributions posed a conflict of interest at the time.

In 2016, Hueso, whose brothers ran a large cab company in San Diego, pushed for stiffer regulation of rideshare companies, the Los Angeles Times reported. Hueso denied that his family’s involvement in the taxi industry had anything to do with his push for more regulation over ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Hueso was the sole member of the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee who declined to vote on a bill aiming to rein in payday lenders in 2019, after receiving almost $24,000 from lenders in the 2018 election.

“If your bill passes, where are these people going to go?” Hueso said in a hearing about the bill at the time. “They’re going to go to the black market, they’re going to go to the underground economy, they’re going to go to lenders that are not regulated. Growing up, we used to have loan sharks in my neighborhood that hurt people if they didn’t pay. When someone is desperate, where are they going to go for help? It’s hard for me to ignore people that use these loans that need them. it’s hard for me to listen to them say if we take this away, they have nothing.”

Hueso’s long record in Sacramento has a lot for voters to chew on, but little to do with suing the president.

Maya Srikrishnan

Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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