As Jessica Wineteer, one-time co-operator of A to Z Towing, she employed as many as 175 people.

Jessica Hayes, San Diego County Democratic Party chairwoman. Photo via Jessica Hayes

But as Jessica Hayes, following her 1990 divorce from Dale Wineteer and rise in local politics, she faces an even bigger lift — as the new chairwoman of the San Diego County Democratic Party.

Elected by unanimous vote four days before the Women’s March in San Diego, Hayes succeeds Francine Busby, who held the title since 2013 and was among those who encouraged the party’s South Area vice chair to run.

“I was drafted and accepted because I love this county,” Hayes said Monday. “I love our voters. I love our [Democratic] politicians. I love that we have real genuine good in our heart.”

Despite the warm feeling of the Women’s March and a flood of interest in the party and local Democratic clubs, Hayes faces dicey challenges — including a party split between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton voters and the new firestorm over labor leader Mickey Kasparian.

“The local party is actually severely divided — along multiple fault lines,” said Susan Peinado, co-founder and incoming president of the Democratic Woman’s Club of San Diego County.

“It goes all the way back to [disgraced Mayor Bob] Filner. There’s labor. There’s Bernie. There’s Hillary. A lot of people within the party don’t understand you can’t do scorched-earth policies with one another.”

Jessica Hayes succeeds Francine Busby (left) as chair of the county Democratic Party. Photo via sddemocrats.org

Peinado said Hayes is joining a local party “where we had kind of a kingmaker-type leadership style.” Hayes is “having to work through some … longstanding issues.”

But Hayes takes a different tack, and isn’t a “top-down decision maker,” said Peinado, also president of the Point Loma Democratic Club. “She doesn’t lead from her ego.” Her aim is just to “get Dems elected.”

When interviewed Monday, Hayes hesitated to comment on Kasparian, who faces lawsuits from two former female employees and a complaint from a current staffer. She told Times of San Diego: “This is an internal UFCW issue, not related to the Democratic Party.”

But Thursday, following release of a letter signed by 46 activists to the state and county Democratic parties calling for an investigation of Kasparian, Hayes said in a statement to NBC San Diego: “In response to a challenge to Mr. Kasparian’s membership on the Central Committee, we will follow the process outlined in our by-laws.”

Peinado said the Kasparian matter represents “major headaches” for Hayes. But if Hayes succeeds in her efforts to greatly expand the small-donor base of the party, local Democrats wouldn’t have to rely on his influence and deep pockets.

“We wouldn’t be so dependent on certain groups,” Peinado said, referring to labor. “We’d be a more autonomous party. And we’d have the ability to weigh in on situations which now we’re walking on eggshells.”

Peinado’s club voted Monday to send a letter to the local party supporting Kasparian’s accusers.

“I had a long conversation … with Jessica, giving her a heads up,” she said. “We made a decision to support the women. It wasn’t a party decision. It wasn’t political. A woman’s club has a responsibility to stand up for women. … Jessica is in a very difficult situation, and this just makes it even worse.”

Other elephants in the room: “Berners.”

Hayes has to deal with the likes of Democratic National Convention delegate Jim Boydston of Bay Park, a Sanders disciple who concedes he doesn’t know Hayes personally but did some research on her.

“She impresses me as just another establishment Democrat climber,” he said, “so I sincerely doubt there’s much of anything she can do to get me back into what I now call the Democratic wing of the duopoly,” the two-party system he considers corrupt and “beholden to the greed of the oligarchy.”

“Anyone who rejoins the Democratic wing of the duopoly with the intent of reform from within is being suckered, and they won’t be able to persuade me of anything,” he said.

Another ex-Democrat is Lori Saldaña, the former Assembly member and candidate for Congress and San Diego mayor.

Hayes praised Saldaña, saying she has great respect for her.

Former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña. Photo via Saldaña campaign.

“Lori is smarter than most people in any room,” Hayes said. “My election may or may not smoothe over whatever those rough spots were within the party. But really — and this is the most significant thing — Lori genuinely wants to make the world, especially San Diego, a better place.”

Said Saldaña: “I appreciate Jessica’s commitment to the Democratic Party and her willingness to accept a demanding and full-time volunteer position. It can be a pretty thankless job.”

Saldaña said she was impressed with Hayes’ enthusiasm, energy and willingness to tackle big issues.

“That said, she faces significant challenges, both within and outside the party, as she takes on the chairmanship,” she said. “I wish her success.”

But Saldaña said Tuesday via email she has “no plans to rejoin the party at this time.”

Hayes said: “There’s no room for us to argue amongst ourselves” and “in this county, if we run two Democrats against a Republican — the Republican can win. So [disenchanted Democrats] have a very clear choice. It’s not a wobbly choice.”

Councilwoman Marti Emerald embraces Democratic club President Linda Armacost. Chris Stone photo

Linda Armacost, president of the La Mesa-Foothills Democratic Club, called Hayes a wonderful choice for county chair.

“Jessica has proven to be an ardent and tireless volunteer,” she said via email. “As chair of the South County, she helped [Democratic] Clubs and was highly involved in electing local Democrats. Last year, she went above and beyond in helping us in the East Area convene a Hillary for President Delegate Election, and we had a big turnout.”

Aramcost said Hayes has already begun helping local Democratic clubs recruit and support candidates for 2018.

“I cannot think of a better person for the head of the San Diego County Democratic Party!” she said.

Former county chair Jess Durfee, now a member of the Democratic National Committee, said: “Jessica, after having served for four years as a vice chair, is more than qualified for the position of chair. She understand party operations and county politics. I look forward to continuing to work with her in her new role where I’m confident that her passion for improving life for all San Diegans will be reflected in her leadership of the local party.”

Former county Democratic Chairman Jess Durfee applauds Hillary Clinton during debate. Photo by Ken Stone

Peinado said Hayes — who prides herself on uniting disparate party factions — “understands the scene down in South Bay, and it’s a very Dem-rich voting area. I think that our former chair didn’t really have a handle on that. She was more focused on North County donors.”

She said Hayes also understands the value of Democratic clubs — the local party lists nearly three dozen.

“They’re not a nuisance,” Peinado said, “but they’re a vehicle to draw in … party support.”

Hayes said she held South Bay factions together and got them to march in the same direction.

“Even if they couldn’t stand each other, they came to a detente because I just explained to them we don’t have that luxury,” Hayes said.

An unpaid volunteer with a two-year term, Hayes sent her first email blast Jan. 23 — an introduction that included an appeal for donations.

On Monday she doubled down.

“If every Democrat went online and committed to giving $5 per month or $5 every other month to the … San Diego County Democratic Party, there wouldn’t be a race we would lose,” she said in a phone interview.

She contrasted her party with the GOP: “We don’t have the Billionaire Boys Club that they do to raise funds,” mentioning Doug Manchester, the hotel developer. “So we need it to come from everybody.”

Hayes, who moved to San Diego County in 1986, is a mother of two grown daughters. She’s a retired small-business consultant who earned a bachelor in literature from UC San Diego in 2000 and a law degree from California Western School of Law in 2004. She never took the bar exam, however.

Democratic defector Jim Boydston (left) was interviewed at a Bernie Sanders rally. Photo via YouTube.com

A party statement on its new leadership team said: “Hayes began her political involvement at the age of 15, when she walked door-to-door to support the Equal Rights Amendment. She served on the campaign kitchen cabinet for Dianne Feinstein’s campaigns for governor (1990) and senator and has worked on numerous campaigns since then.”

Hayes said she was a “bundler” for Feinstein, raising $10,000 in small amounts from women her age or younger. Although her ex-husband was a GOP donor, Hayes said she’s never been a Republican.

Both her parents, now deceased, were “very liberal people,” she said.

As chair, Hayes said she’ll help the party to “ferret out and remove” local office-holders who “pursue the policies of this White House.”

Woman’s club president Peinado, a 69-year-old widow who voted for Sanders in June and Clinton in November, said local Democrats were plunged into a “huge vat of grief” after the election.

“But I’m seeing that people … are now energized,” she said. “The Women’s March really helped galvanize people,” leading to a near tripling of attendance at her most recent meeting.

Hayes said marchers are contacting the local party in droves.

“The world changed” with Trump’s election, she said. “Back when it was sort of normal … the January after an election cycle is very quiet. [But now] our phones are ringing constantly. We can’t keep up with the emails.” (She’s advertising for a part-time communications coordinator, who also would help jump-start the party’s anemic social media.)

She says her party is funneling people into local clubs. She wants to contact every Democrat in the county: ”We need to find out how they’re doing — because we’ve all been traumatized. We’re going to bring them in and point them toward activism — any little thing that they can do.”

Hayes delights in San Diego’s passage of Measure K — which mandates a run-off between the top two city candidates in the November election instead of permitting a June primary clincher (where Democratic turnout is typically light).

This will help “undo damage by hamstringing people’s right to vote,” she said. “By not carrying a race forward to the general election, it’s a shocking truncation of people’s right to vote.”

At last count — Jan. 31 — San Diego County had 620,951 registered Democrats. That’s about 111,000 more than the GOP.

“We created this tremendous foundation here in San Diego County, which before Francine took over was red,” Hayes said, referring to the GOP registration advantage. “We just keep growing and expanding.”

To Hayes, Trump’s election contains a silver lining — a chance to defeat GOP Reps. Darrell Issa and Duncan Hunter.

“As time progresses, I think that this White House will be our biggest ally in ousting the Republican congressmen,” she said. (Both were big Trump backers.)

“If we get an oil rig off the coast, you can thank Duncan Hunter and Darrell Issa,” she said. “If they slash and burn any of the things we might want here — from funding for the arts, the list is so long, you can thank them.”

Retired Marine Col. Doug Applegate greets supporters at the Westin Hotel at Nov. 8 election. Photo by Ken Stone

She called Democrat Doug Applegate’s chances of beating Issa in a 2018 rematch “very good.”

“He only lost by 1,621 votes [in 2016],” Hayes said (correctly from memory), noting that North County voters favored Applegate by almost 15,000 votes in the two-county 49th District. “So basically we’re shopping for maybe 2,000 more votes. That’s doable.”

Hayes said her No. 1 goal as chair is luring disaffected Democrats back to the fold, saying: “We want you. We need you. You ARE the party.”

“No. 2 is that we need to unite,” she said. “We need to take action to elect good Democrats to office. And then we can transform what has become a national nightmare.”

She said local nightmares exist as well — without specifying them.

“We can transform our county to a place where we want to continue to live — that we won’t be going down the road that the White House is setting for us.”

The native of Colorado Springs says party success will be measured by “how many people we elect to office.”

And her own interest in running for office?

“Me? No!” she said, laughing heartily. “Absolutely not.”

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