Rep. Susan Davis said Wednesday she would retire after the current term in Congress — her 10th — thus inviting a Democratic gold rush in the heavily blue 53rd district.
“I have struggled to make this very difficult decision,” she said in a statement. “I will not seek another term in Congress. My decision today represents a desire to live and work ‘at home’ in San Diego.”
The 75-year-old Democrat — dean of the San Diego congressional delegation and San Diego’s second woman to serve in the House — posted a 750-word letter to her constituents in which she said:
“This is tough for me. There are always compelling issues and challenges that have encouraged me to pursue each new election cycle. Most touching has been the appeals to stay on and go yet another round with the hope that I would always be your representative. It doesn’t get any better than that!”
She had faced at least three primary challenges from the left, including former San Diego City Council candidate Jose Caballero, San Diego native Joaquín Vázquez and John-Christian Carey.
Caballero, a 33-year-old Navy veteran and small business owner, immediately declared himself the favorite to succeed Davis.
In March, when he announced his race, Caballero criticized Davis for not taking bold action in a reliably blue “leadership” district.
Local Democratic Party Chairman Will Rodriguez-Kennedy conceded Caballero is the current front-runner, “but that could change on a dime.”
He said he’d already heard of other potential candidates.
“First on almost everyone’s list is Georgette Gómez,” the San Diego City Council president, he said. “We can’t count out [state Sen. President Pro Tem] Toni Atkins. [Supervisor] Nathan Fletcher might be formidable. We can’t count him out.”
And Sara Jacobs, a granddaughter of Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs — who took third in the June primary race for the 49th District seat won in November by Mike Levin — could “easily jump into this district.”
Rodriguez-Kennedy said a pre-endorsement meeting of the state Democratic Party is set for Oct. 5.
“If you come out of the pre-endorsement caucus with the [House] endorsement, you’ll very likely get the state party’s endorsement,” he said. Final consideration will be among the 3,000 members of the Democratic state Central Committee.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Rodriguez-Kennedy said he learned of the Davis news “like everyone else — with her announcement.”
“I would have appreciated a heads up, but I don’t know,” he said with a laugh.
In a Facebook post, Rodriguez-Kennedy saluted Davis for a “lifetime [of] distinguished public service to our country, our county and our party.”
“We … now look forward to electing a Democrat to carry on the fight for social and economic justice as Rep. Davis has done for the better part of two decades of congressional service and leadership,” he said.
At a mid-June climate-change forum at San Diego’s High School of Creative and Performing Arts, Davis announced that she would “be signing onto the Green New Deal,” a move coming after considerable pressure from local groups.
At the end of August, the district had nearly twice as many Democrats as Republicans (42.6% to 21.8%) but 128,538 of its 433,130 voters (29.7%) declined to state a party affiliation, according to the latest report by the San Diego County Registrar of Voters Office.
As 53rd District representative, Davis is the second highest-ranking Democrat on both the House Education and Labor Committee and the House Armed Services Committee having chosen those committees to best represent San Diego’s strong education and military institutions.
Her district takes in San Carlos, Serra Mesa and Linda Vista on the north to Mission Hills on the east, La Mesa, Lemon Grove and Spring Valley on the east and Chula Vista east of the I-805 on the south.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Davis “a spectacular Member of Congress whose two decades serving the American people have made a significant difference for families nationwide.”
.@RepSusanDavis is a spectacular Member of Congress whose two decades serving the American people have made a significant difference for families nationwide. We wish Chairwoman Davis & her family all the best as she announces her upcoming retirement. https://t.co/V91SnV1kNG
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) September 5, 2019
Assemblyman Todd Gloria tweeted: “Her steady hand in Congress for the last 20 years has been a blessing to our nation. As my lifelong mentor, I can’t wait to have her home full time. We talked today and she’s ready to volunteer on my mayoral campaign.”
.@RepSusanDavis is an incredible advocate for #SanDiego. Her steady hand in Congress for the last 20 years has been a blessing to our nation. As my lifelong mentor, I can’t wait to have her home full time. We talked today and she’s ready to volunteer on my mayoral campaign. pic.twitter.com/lNhRvEWN4W
— Todd Gloria (@ToddGloria) September 4, 2019
She serves as the chair of Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee where she focuses on expanding apprenticeships and making college affordable.
Her office won the highly competitive “Best in Congress” awards from the Congressional Management Foundation for both Constituent Service and Workplace Environment.
During her soon to be 20-year tenure in Congress, Davis influenced many significant pieces of legislation, said her office.
She opposed the Iraq War, supported and contributed to the seminal Affordable Care Act, initiated the first hearing on “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” as chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee and added many provisions to the national defense bill every year.
She was integral in bringing large projects to San Diego including the San Diego State University Transit Center and the James M. Carter and Judith N. Keep United States Courthouse, she said.
Before Congress, Davis served in the state Assembly and was president of the San Diego Unified Board of Education. A former social worker, she first became involved in politics through the League of Women Voters and by being active in her sons’ schools.
Davis made it clear she would finish out her 10th term in Congress with vigor and said she hopes her successor in office “will put public interest above self-interest.”
Gay and Latino activist Nicole Murray Ramirez called her retirement a “great loss.”
“She will go down in history of our city as a role model of a true servant of the people,” he said.
The retiring announcement of CONGRESSWOMAN SUSAN DAVIS is a great lost to San. Diego…our state and nation. I have been a strong supporter of. Susan since her first. School. Board campaign…she will go down in history of our city as a role model of a true servant of the people pic.twitter.com/lZFy2DIQAK
— NICOLE. MURRAY. RAMIREZ (@Nmrsd2) September 4, 2019
Davis’ announcement could have ramifications for other local, state and federal races around the county, should an already campaigning candidate jump into the race to succeed her.
Assemblyman Gloria, D-San Diego, is a former staffer in Davis’ office and has long been rumored to be interested in the seat but is currently running for mayor of San Diego.
Meanwhile, a “hopeful fan account” was launched calling on Assemblywoman Shirley Weber to run for the vacated Davis seat.
Here’s the voice of a CA53 constituent calling for @DrShirleyWeber to run in CA53.
We all need you Dr. Weber!#RunShirleyRun#CA53NeedsDrWeber https://t.co/R5eaXS5kt8
— CA53 Needs Dr. Shirley Weber (@DrWeberforCA53) September 4, 2019
The Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voter Index rates the district as a lock for Democrats; former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the district by 35 points in the 2016 election.
Davis said she does not yet know what she plans to do after leaving office but indicated she has multiple options to continue serving San Diego residents.
“I am grateful to have you as engaged and concerned citizens of our great nation and the San Diego community we love,” Davis said. “I know you will pick your next representative wisely. That person will also represent me, so I will look to those who put this noble pursuit of public interest above self-interest. I sincerely hope that has been a mark of my service.”
As the senior member of the San Diego delegation, @RepSusanDavis was a model of exemplary service for all of us. Congratulations to my friend and colleague on this next chapter.https://t.co/IjlPk8hWWp
— Rep. Scott Peters (@RepScottPeters) September 5, 2019
Updated at 11:15 p.m. Sept. 4, 2019
— City News Service contributed to this report.