Running for political office can be emotionally, financially, and physically challenging. If you are a woman or non-white in the USA, those factors may also be an obstacle. Yet to succeed you must keep trying. Lori R. Saldaña has had both political success and failure, but she keeps trying. As we approach the 2020 election cycle, her determination should inspire more of us to run and run and keep running.
Saldaña was born on November 7, 1958, near the mid-point of the Baby Boom generation. She was the third of four daughters born to Virginia and Frank Saldaña. Her father was a former Marine turned reporter for the San Diego Evening Tribune.
Education was important for Saldaña, who earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Education from San Diego State University (SDSU). She has been a coach, administrator, and professor at San Diego City College, Clairemont High School, Madison High School, the San Diego Community College District, and SDSU.
While she was coaching and teaching business information technology and managing the Department of Labor grants in the San Diego Community College District, she put her concern for the environment into action. She helped organize the first Earth Day events in San Diego in 1990. From 1992-1994, she was the chair of the San Diego Wetlands Advisory Board, a cause that reflected her interests in water reclamation and sewage treatment, especially along the US-Mexico border. In 1995, her book Lori Saldaña's Backpacking Primer was published. From 1996-97, she was the chair of the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club, an environmental group founded in 1892. President Clinton appointed her to the Border Environment Cooperation Commission's Advisory Council in 1999. [insert book cover image]
Saldaña was elected in 2004 to the lower house of the bicameral California State Legislature, the Assembly. She represented the 76th District, central San Diego. She ran and won this office three times as a Democrat with 54%, 64%, and 64% of the vote each election. Repeatedly she showed her concern for environmental issues while in office. In 2007 her legislation regarding E-waste contributed to her being named Legislator of the Year by Californians Against Waste. During her terms she scored high as a liberal in the 2009 Capitol Weekly ranking. If you peruse her legislative record, you will find evidence of her work to promote women, small business, and equality as well as protect the environment; she was not a one-issue legislator.
California’s term limits for elected officials meant that the 2010 election would be Saldaña’s last election to that body. She made her last term count. During 2010 she was named Assistant Majority Whip and Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore for the California State Assembly Democrats. She also served on the committees for Appropriations, Natural Resources, Veteran's Affairs, and Water, Parks and Wildlife.
Two stances Saldaña took late in her Assembly career may be obstacles to her election to other offices but demonstrate her liberal and pro-environmental focus. In 2009, she helped sponsor three bills to curb the ballot initiative, which is popular but arguably problematic for California. But in 2010 the Democratic Party refused to back her last-minute attempts to enact gun control, which may be the most charged position she had held up to that point. Her fight for gun control is routinely brought up against her in elections.
Saldaña did not give up on politics. Next she ran for the Federal House of Representatives in 2012 as a Democrat but lost the primary. She didn’t list a party preference when she ran for mayor of San Diego in 2016, but again she didn’t win. When those larger offices didn’t work out, Saldaña ran for San Diego County Board of Supervisors as a Democrat in 2018.
While running for other political offices, Saldaña returned to teaching at San Diego Community College District from 2011-2017 in various capacities. She also worked with community groups and has been a watchdog of the Democratic Party in her community, which may have earned her more enemies than friends politically. But she keeps taking action for what she believes in and that should encourage us all to keep trying.