San Diego City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe and her mom Patricia Montgomery in the El Cerrito neighborhood on Aug. 15, 2023.
San Diego City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe and her mom Patricia Montgomery in the El Cerrito neighborhood on Aug. 15, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Say you’re a newcomer to San Diego politics. You may assume Monica Montgomery Steppe, who just crushed her rivals in the primary race for the county supervisor seat vacated by Nathan Fletcher, was a very liberal, union-aligned Democrat.

It makes sense. She was a civil rights attorney. Unions spent big to support her and to also get what they think is the easier rival, Republican Amy Reichert, in the runoff. At the same time, traditionally right-of-center business groups spent heavily against Montgomery Steppe – so much spending that it indicated absolute panic was spreading about the agenda she’d carry out at the county.

Obviously, then, she must be a big-time leftist.

Which is weird.

That’s just not what we have seen the last several years since voters ousted her predecessor on the San Diego City Council. We’ve written at length about how most unions opposed her back then.

The independent councilwoman: Montgomery Steppe had a presence on the City Council when she started. She was unafraid to get into it.

Remember the time she challenged the San Diego Unified School District establishment, and the teachers union consensus that held it together, about district elections?

The district held on to a model of at-large elections that helped the union maintain influence over district trustees. To win an election, you needed to spend enough to reach voters across almost the entire city of San Diego. Only one group could do that.

It was on her insistence that the Council moved forward with a ballot measure to change that. She then got into a major public and intense exchange with the district leadership and Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, the trustee who represented the same area Montgomery Steppe did at the school district about the performance of students and resources for them in southeastern San Diego and at Lincoln High.

When she pushed for the job of City Council president, she lost, in large part because major unions held loyal to Jennifer Campbell.

Our Andrea Lopez-Villafaña polled unions about why they changed their minds several weeks ago. They appreciated Montgomery Steppe’s approach to the unions that represented workers at the city and obviously the county workers liked that.

But one group not represented there was the Building Trades Association. The alliance of construction unions had been one of the toughest opponents of Montgomery Steppe and they certainly remember her hesitancy to remove restrictions on project labor agreements and other stances she’s had.

And the builders? They spent heavily for Janessa Goldbeck and against Montgomery Steppe and part of it is, as we reported weeks ago, because Goldbeck was far more open and willing to endorse building in rural areas of the county, one of top priorities of the Building Industry Association.

But here again, was Montgomery Steppe worth opposing that furiously? She could hardly be considered a reliable anti-developer vote. Quite the opposite.

Montgomery Steppe is nothing close to a political conservative, at least in the way we see that term now. When she was first elected, then Mayor Kevin Faulconer openly enjoyed collaborating with her.

Though she was not excited to pick up that rhetoric now in the face of various claims about it, her rise to elected office had fuel primarily from the movement to hold the police accountable. And she has pushed for reforms the city’s Police Officers Association abhors.

But she also has many scars from battles with unions. Sometimes it takes more guts to challenge people who, ostensibly, are on your side than to oppose people who hold far different views from your own, and she has done that.

The groups that aligned to try to keep her out of that seat saw what they wanted to see in her: an uncompromising leftist they could never work with.

And so they did everything they could to stop her so they didn’t have to.

They may regret it. But they’ve also sent the message that the kind of independence she did show would never really matter to them.

Bad strategy? Looking back it seems to have been a waste for groups to spend $163,000 against Montgomery Steppe. Maybe they were worried she would get to more than 50 percent of the vote and maybe that spending is what stopped her from winning outright (she got 43 percent). But so many of them thought Janessa Goldbeck was the better candidate and the one most likely to be able to beat Montgomery Steppe. So why didn’t they spend almost all the money on getting Goldbeck into the runoff, instead of attacking Montgomery Steppe?

Goldbeck is just 3,500 votes (out of 94,000 cast) away from that second spot in the runoff. Could maybe $100,000 in support of her (or maybe against Reichert) gotten her there?

Notes: The Big Storm Coming

Our team did some great work Friday to prep for Hurricane Hilary.

What you need to know: We signed up former Union-Tribune weather reporter Robert Krier to keep an updated blog of everything you should know about the storm as it progresses from fast-moving hurricane to a tropical storm with the potential to drop more rain on the region than we’ve seen in recorded history.

The worst flood-prone areas: Reporters Jakob McWhinney and Will Huntsberry listed the five areas of San Diego most prone to catastrophic flooding. Someday Southcrest will get the attention it deserves from city leaders.

I didn’t know this: I’m sometimes pretty naïve on random things and I didn’t realize that if you have solar panels, they won’t do you any good in the event of a power outage. That is, unless you have local battery storage. And here’s what to keep in mind to make sure you have clean water if something happens to that system.

Overheard in Costco: I decided to pick up some supplies at Costco Friday.

I wasn’t alone.

Man 1: “Why is everyone buying so much water?”

Woman: “I think it’s the hurricane.”

Man 2: “Global elites have been rapidly moving currency into China and Russian markets causing a panic.”

Woman: “I don’t know. I think it’s the hurricane.”

Palomar Health’s strange media tour: Off the hurricane path, this is a great piece by Tigist Layne.

After she published a story about the financial health of Palomar Health the agency went on the attack with a media blitz that has never refuted some of the central points.

If you have any feedback or ideas for the Politics Report, send them to

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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  1. Quite disappointed in the click-bait nature of this headline – suspect I’ll be seeing it on flyers sent by opponents of Montgomery-Steppe for years to come.

    But the article itself does well to outline how MMS defies traditional political categories, which is what I’ve always appreciated about her. She doesn’t take a left, right or center stance on any issue facing our community – her positions are instead always informed by research and science. Too many elected San Diego leaders vote based on polls and political winds. I know Monica Montgomery-Steppe’s decisions will always be firmly backed by the best data and information available.

  2. Let’s see….Union shill – check; CRT – check; Defund the police – check; backed by VOSD – check. Yep, Steppe is a bona fide leftist.

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