REGION — The campaigns for Assembly district races in North County are heating up, with a plethora of candidates lining up to unseat incumbents Assemblyman Brian Maienschein (D-San Diego) and Assemblywoman Laurie Davies (R-Laguna Niguel) in this year’s elections.
Maienschein represents California’s 76th District, which was newly redrawn by redistricting maps unveiled last month. The new district runs from San Marcos in the north as far south as Poway and includes communities such as Escondido, Rancho Santa Fe and Rancho Bernardo.
So far, candidates that have declared their intent to run against Maienschein include June Cutter, an attorney and small business owner who unsuccessfully ran against Maienschein in 2020, and Kristie Bruce-Lane, Olivenhain Municipal Water District official and outspoken activist on homelessness. Both Cutter and Bruce-Lane are Republicans.
Laurie Davies, who formerly represented Assembly District 73, now represents the newly-formed District 74, which extends from San Juan Capistrano as far south as Oceanside and Vista. Candidates that have declared their intent to run against Davies so far include Laurie Girand, a business owner and author, and San Clemente Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan, a former Homeland Security attorney who ran against Davies in 2020 (both Girand and Duncan are Democrats).
In what is now Assembly District 77, extending from Carlsbad all the way down to Imperial Beach, the current field of candidates appears to be clear for incumbent Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas).
Republican Melanie Burkholder, who failed to unseat Horvath in the 2020 election, recently announced that she suspended her 2022 campaign due to the unfavorable effects that redistricting had on Republican prospects in the district.
“I’m grateful to have had to opportunity to run in the now-77th Assembly District, but now that the lines are finalized, it’s clear there is no pathway for my success at this time,” Burkholder said in a statement.
In 2020, Burkholder lost to Boerner Horvath by more than 27,000 votes, a 10-point difference.
Political analysts have previously said that the newly formed District 77 favors Democrats, as the district is heavily coastal, encompassing communities such as Pacific Beach, La Jolla and Point Loma, all traditionally left-leaning areas.
Similarly, redistricting had favorable effects for Democratic prospects in District 74, which was previously reliable for Republicans but is now competitive, according to Carl Luna, a political scientist at the University of San Diego.
“[Laurie] Davies was very safe in the old District 73, now she’s not very safe at all because of the changes in voter demographics brought about by redistricting,” Luna said.
By contrast, Maienschein’s seat in District 76 (formerly District 77) has become more competitive for Republicans than it was in 2020, Luna said, as the new district now takes in inland areas that tend to lean more conservatively, such as San Marcos, Escondido, and Rancho Santa Fe.
Presently, it appears Girand and Duncan are leading the way for Democrats in their attempt to unseat Davies this November.
Girand, a political newcomer, has a varied background as a candidate that includes a career as a computer programmer, owning her own consulting business, and serving as a school board member.
Girand originally got involved in political activism when her three-year-old daughter was poisoned in an E. coli outbreak from unpasteurized juice. Outraged by the lack of accountability displayed by the product’s manufacturer, she went to Washington D.C. and for the next five years engaged in meetings with federal officials, pushing to expand consumer rights while advocating for more penalties for corporate malpractice.
From consumer advocacy, Girand said she gradually became integrated into other forms of social justice activism, fighting for issues such as education for young girls, improvements for sober living facilities and eventually founding a nonprofit designed to protect women from sexual harassment and abuse.
In running for office in District 74, Girand said that she’s going to continue her fight for social reform at the state level, specifically when it comes to issues of homelessness, California’s high cost of living, and climate change.
“We’re on the cusp of some very important problems that have the potential to devastate California, including the unaffordability of housing, healthcare, and climate change,” she said. “We need smart people in office who can draw people together and come to agreements about what needs to be done.”
When it comes to homelessness, Girand said that she’ll advocate for the state to gather more data about the unhoused that will allow lawmakers to design more informed policies, in turn assisting local agencies in connecting the homeless with housing and other services.
“One thing the state has to do is take on more responsibility for gathering the data it needs to make good informed decisions, with more data there’s more transparency and we know what goes on…doing the data and doing the research into what really works…will allow us to approach this issue at a higher level,” she said.
Girand contrasted herself with Davies, whom she said as a Republican in the Assembly minority hasn’t been able to have a meaningful impact in terms of achieving her policy goals.
“Her ability to make things happen in Sacramento has been extremely limited…I’m the most electable candidate in this district, I’m excited about bridging communities across the aisle, I can bring both bases together and apply that united expertise to a number of these state problems that we’re facing…we’re all in the same boat together, and the more we understand the differences of our communities the better we’ll be represented in the state legislature,” Girand said.
Conversely, Davies maintains that she’s proud of her record as a policymaker.
“Just because I’m in the minority party doesn’t mean I can’t get things done…I’ve made a difference, I’ve worked across the aisle to get things done, I’ve found moderate Democrats and people with the same mentality to work together on getting bills passed,” Davies said.
Prior to her successful run for Assembly office in 2020, Davies owned her own small business, served as mayor of Laguna Niguel for five years, and has worked on a number of regional boards and associations, including the Association of California Cities and the Orange County League of Cities.
“I’ve seen what type of policies come down and affect those in my community—I love policy, I have a passion for it,” Davies said. “What we need is a problem solver, someone with common sense solutions. Every decision I’ve made has been to benefit the entire state and not just my district.”
Davies said that six bills she initiated in the state legislature have been signed into law since she took office in 2021. In particular, she highlighted AB 381, a law that requires drug rehabilitation facilities to keep a supply of Narcan (a substance used to reverse the effects of overdoses) on the premises. Davies said she’s also proud of authoring AB 419, a bill that aims to protect witnesses in criminal cases by making their personal information less accessible to the public.
And when it comes to issues such as homelessness, crime and housing, Davies said she’s an advocate for government getting out of the way and letting such social issues be solved at the community level.
“Having been a small business owner…I know how hard and how tough it is to make a living with so many regulations getting in the way…I truly believe that these crises can be fixed with common solutions, less regulation, and working across the aisle,” Davies said.
Duncan submitted the following statement to The Coast News: “As a homeland security attorney, federal prosecutor and now as Mayor Pro Tem of San Clemente, I have a long record of bringing people together, regardless of party, to keep our country and community safe and prosperous with honesty and integrity.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, our area needs representatives who understand the issues that local families face and have the commitment to work hard and get results. This fight isn’t new to me – it’s what I’ve always done – focus on independent, common-sense solutions.”
In District 76, Cutter and Bruce-Lane are vying to unseat Maienschein, who has held the Assembly seat since 2014.
Cutter, who ran against Maienschein in 2020, said that she thinks that redistricting has helped Republican chances of winning the district, and expressed that her increased name recognition will give her a better chance of defeating Maienschein than in the last election.
“Redistricting played a factor in my decision to run again, it’s now a swing district more favorable to Republicans than the previously drawn 77, and you have 65% of the assembly district being new to this incumbent…that levels the playing field,” she said. “I’ve also built my name ID and name recognition over the past couple of years, and that’ll make this a different race as well.”
A 20-year litigator in business and employment law, Cutter has owned two businesses and served as a representative on a number of regional bodies, including a local parent-teacher association and the California Women’s Leadership Association.
Cutter presents herself as a candidate who’s engaged and involved with on-the-ground issues facing the district’s communities — an approach that she said contrasts with that of Maienschein, whom Cutter described as being out of touch with the needs of his own district.
“What sets me apart is how relatable I am, how I’m an everyday working mom raising school-age kids, serving on the PTA, volunteering at kids’ schools, running a business, and rolling up my sleeves side-by-side with the residents of District 76,” Cutter said. “Just being present here in San Diego sets me apart from the current assemblyman. Brian Maienschein is in Sacramento legislating, and I think that it’s hard to understand the true stories of your constituents when you’re not in the trenches rolling up your sleeves.”
Central to Cutter’s campaign will be issues of education, public safety, and the cost of living. Cutter expressed strong opposition to the SANDAG Regional Transportation Plan — a robust and controversial transportation plan aimed at helping San Diego reduce emissions and improve public transit — in particular criticizing the plan for raising taxes on county residents whom she said are overtaxed already (the plan is estimated to cost $162.5 billion).
“Before we impose something like this, we need to consider the impact that it’s going to have on middle and working-class families,” she said.
Cutter also said that she’s going to make crime reduction a central part of her platform, in particular advocating for an increase in state focus on rehabilitating the incarcerated to prevent criminals from reoffending once released.
“When we have people in the justice system are we doing our best to rehabilitate them, are we giving them opportunities to get out of the system and become productive members of our society?”
In contrast to Cutter, Bruce-Lane emphasized her political experience, having served as an elected member on San Diego’s Water Board.
Bruce-Lane, who has a corporate background in agricultural healthcare, has held an extensive number of positions both in the San Diego community and in the nonprofit sector; she’s a member of the county’s Regional Task Force on Homelessness, serves on the Homeless Services Subcommittee for the Salvation Army, and is the founder and president of The Thumbprint Project Foundation—a nonprofit that assists homeless children who have been impacted by domestic violence.
Bruce-Lane lambasted the “dysfunction” of the current state legislature in Sacramento, arguing the state’s policies have worsened problems of homelessness, crime and high taxes.
“We’ve seen the damage that bad policies create in our communities, we need to keep our kids safe, our families safe, and our communities safe…I have the background politically and the professional experience to go to Sacramento and enact legislation that works…implementing common-sense policies that work.”
Like Cutter, Bruce-Lane leveled heavy criticism towards Maienschein, whom she called the “poster boy for Sacramento dysfunction.”
“He’s the invisible Brian Maienschein, he’s not even present in his community…I’m visible in the community, people see me,” Bruce-Lane said. “He has voted for every policy that is driving our friends and neighbors out of the state…He’s failed miserably on public safety, he’s done nothing to address the growing homeless problem, yet supports a liberal agenda that raises the cost of living.”
Brian Maienschein could not be reached for comment for this article.
Bruce-Lane emphasized that she’s the more viable candidate for Republicans aiming to unseat Maienschein, due to her extensive community activism as well as her prior political experience. She also took aim at Cutter’s lack of experience in politics, expressing that it’s important to hold elected office prior to being a member of the state legislature.
“The candidate last election [Cutter] ran and lost by a 13 or 14 point spread, just look at the statistics,” she said. “For me, I’m already an elected official, I know how to run and win a race, I’ve demonstrated an ability to govern already, I’ve already served my community for so many years working on important issues prior to putting my name on the ballot, and that’s important.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to include quotes from candidate Chris Duncan.