By Kendra Sitton | Uptown News
In the 2018 midterms, women and nontraditional candidates won many upset elections, upending long held views of who can and cannot win. Seeking to capitalize on that momentum, a midwife from Hillcrest is running for California Assembly District 78. The seat is open now that Todd Gloria is running for San Diego mayor. Sarah Davis is organizing a grassroots campaign for the seat that pits her against one of Uptown’s most prominent politicians: Chris Ward. It is her very identity as a queer single mom outside the political establishment that Davis is hoping will attract voters in the Democratic primary next year.
Unlike so many of the nontraditional national campaigners of last year — suburban moms, veterans, a now-famous waitress from the Bronx — Davis did not decide to run in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. She has known she wanted to run since 2013.
“My daughter was a baby — she was about 6 months old — and I was working with a group of other licensed midwives in the state to make sure that we could change California’s outdated laws about midwives. So I was going back and forth from San Diego to Sacramento with my little one. And the more I went to hearings and individual meetings with legislators and talking to lobbyists, the more I realized that that was a job that needed somebody who had some experience in maternal child health. There needed to be someone there. And I thought, ‘OK, someday I’m going to do this,’” Davis said during an interview at the Glass Corner Cafe in Hillcrest.
Davis often pauses before answering questions as she decides how to articulate her progressive platform.
Since then, she continued activist work including assisting Ammar Campa-Najjar’s bid to unseat Representative Duncan Hunter, raised her daughter, and waited to make an Assembly run. When Gloria announced he would not be seeking reelection, Davis decided now was the time.
“There’s not open seats all the time. I decided I was going to go ahead and take the opportunity to represent the community,” she said.
Davis’ family have been in San Diego for four generations. Her grandfather founded Al Davis Furniture on University Avenue, which is now owned by her dad, Bob Davis. It has been in the same Hillcrest location since 1960. She remembers alphabetizing things, using a typewriter, and of course, jumping on the mattresses as a kid — something her daughter does now.
In between canvassing neighborhoods, going door to door, and answering emails for her campaign, Davis is helping run the store as her dad heads toward retirement.
To help her reach voters, Angel Godinez is Davis’ campaign manager. Godinez was integral in flipping National City blue but says this campaign is stretching her in new ways. The pair met at a Democrats for Equality fundraiser. Godinez liked Davis’ ideas and found they shared the same values.
“[The campaign is] gonna push me [to] a degree that I’ve never really approached before. So I’m excited. I feel like I’m in a position to really give it 110%. I have all the time to take it on,” Godinez said.
The central issue of Davis’ campaign is health care. She supports universal health care, reproductive justice as well as other issues in the industry, including updating laws surrounding midwives and nurses to address worker shortages.
“In California, we tend to think that reproductive justice and access to reproductive health care isn’t such a big issue because we can contrast ourselves with somewhere like Georgia or Mississippi. But… we don’t have abortion access in every county in the state. We don’t have childbirths facilities in every county. We don’t have midwives who are the evidence-based provider that provides the highest quality care for most people in most circumstances, in most areas of the state. The state actually doesn’t allow nurse midwives and nurse practitioners in all different parts of primary care to work to the full extent of their licenses, even though most states do allow this,” Davis said. “California is really behind the curve on that and since California is not letting those providers do their job, we are lacking primary care providers in a way that we don’t have to be.”
Health care is also the lens through which she sees other issues, including climate change with deaths relating to pollution and as a cause for someone to experience homelessness.
“One of the major predisposing factors to people becoming homeless is major medical incidences and bills that they can’t pay. If we can get to a point where we don’t have anybody becoming homeless due to a medical bill, we will be stopping that upstream issue for homelessness right there,” she continued. “The only people who are going to make universal single-payer health care happen in California are legislators who go there who have never taken money from any of the lobbies that are opposed to it like pharmaceutical industry, hospital industry and the health care insurance industry.”
Davis opts for short-cropped hair to frame her friendly, freckled face over the polished hairstyles of so many female politicians. She hopes her identity as a nontraditional candidate will attract voters. (Photos courtesy Chris Wojdak Photography)
Davis is supportive of many other progressive proposals including decarbonizing the economy, abolishing prisons, and building more public housing. Unlike Ward, who is a homeowner, she has promised to protect tenant’s rights.
More recently, Micah Perlin has entered the primary on a platform of addressing the climate crisis. On the MTS board, Ward has worked to reduce carbon emissions by increasing the use of public transit and bikes instead of vehicles. However, some of his work has alienated people who fear he is either not going far enough or going too far in taking away parking.
On the other hand, Davis is uninterested in these piecemeal changes, like taking out parking to add a bike lane on 30th Street, because she says systemic change is needed first.
“California needs to completely stop removing fossil fuels from the ground and completely change our economy and make sure that all of the workers who are currently working in fossil fuel extraction have new jobs in new green infrastructure and new green industry. When we’re doing that and we go about it that way, from a whole systemic change, we can plan out how to get people from point A to point B in a safe way that protects mobility for people who have accessibility issues,” Davis said. “The only way we’re gonna be able to redesign the whole big picture is if we go up to Sacramento and fight hard against fossil fuel interests and make the big, big changes.”
It is these big changes Davis is proposing that explain why she thinks she is best suited for Sacramento rather than starting in more local politics or even going national where so much progress is stymied by Republicans.
District 78 spans the coast until hitting Solana Beach and stretches east to cover much of Uptown. Under the current map, the district has been a significant steppingstone for San Diego’s biggest politicians: Todd Gloria, mayoral candidate, held the seat for two two-year terms. Toni Atkins, California’s current Senate leader, held it before him. Both have endorsed Ward.
The district is safely blue, meaning the Democrat that comes out on top in the primary will likely be headed to the capitol the following year.
In the first financial disclosure period, Ward outraised Davis by tenfold. He brought in $284,393.27 while she raised $25,534.80, much of which her campaign already spent. Still, Davis is confident she can win and is assured the donors sending her to Sacramento share her values.
“My fundraising is going up, but I don’t expect to, at the last day of the cycle, necessarily have as much money [as Ward]. I’m OK with that,” Davis said. “I’m planning to do a grassroots campaign and we know that campaigns like that can win nationwide and we know that they can win in San Diego.”
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at [email protected]. Uptown News is a San Diego Community Newspaper Group publication.