“There are some establishment Republicans who are not happy with me because I didn’t ask them permission,” she said hours after collecting papers for her June run in District 4, where Dems outnumber GOP members by nearly 3-to-1.
The 54-year-old La Mesan says one office-holder griped that “she’s not doing things the right way” and told her in their lone Zoom meeting: “You’ve been around for a year. What have you really done?” (It had been six months, in fact, since she co-founded the group to oppose lockdowns but now critical of mask and vaccine mandates.)
On the other hand, Reichert has been labeled a RINO by Justin Haskins, the one-time leader of deplatformed Defend East County on Facebook, who greeted her campaign with scorn: “She held [rallies] where she told Republicans to leave their Trump flags at home because she opposes Trump and his policies. She’s been on all of the local ANTIFA/BLM pages bashing Defend East County and [its] supporters as ‘racist.’”
The mother of two — sons 22 and 11 from different marriages — seems to have lived two lives as well. Bat mitzvahed at the once-downtown Temple Beth Israel, she later became a Christian volunteer at Eastlake Church. Calling herself a “lifelong Democrat” who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, she re-registered as a Republican in 2013.
Most formatively: She was an adopted child who had an abortion at age 15. And a woman whose first marriage, to a Peruvian immigrant and high school sweetheart, failed amid the stress of a miscarriage, leading to a period of alcoholism.
“I don’t know if people can handle nuance,” she says.
Aiming to parse Reichert beyond her ReOpen persona, Times of San Diego conducted a 90-minute phone interview Monday and exchanged email.
Denies QAnon ties
Despite accusations that ReOpen harbors QAnon followers, Reichert says she has no association with the fringe conspiracy group. “Absolutely-the-freak not,” she says. “It was a hoax. I saw that it was a hoax.”
Nobody in ReOpen has ever come to her espousing such ideas, she said. “And yet, that was what we were labeled. And it made me so sad.”
But she insists ReOpen includes all political flavors.
“Someone walked up to me and said: ‘I’m a socialist.’ Yeah, welcome to ReOpen San Diego,” she reported telling the fellow traveler.
On Friday, Fletcher spokesperson Dan Rottenstreich reacted to remarks Reichert made to Times about the Democratic chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
“While most San Diegans got vaccinated, stayed safe during the pandemic and are now moving forward with their lives, anti-vaccine extremists like Amy Reichert just won’t stop pushing COVID disinformation and ugly, divisive politics,” he said. “This is a person who likened COVID protections to Nazi Germany and attacked Chair Fletcher as ‘Hitler’ —outrageous statements that have no place in San Diego and make it clear she has no place on our county Board of Supervisors.”
At a campaign appearance Nov. 17, in fact, a video shows Reichert saying Fletcher has “used and abused the coronavirus plandemic for his pathway to power.”
A 26-minute video titled “Plandemic” popular with QAnon fans is described by The New York Times ‘as a “slickly produced narration that wrongly claimed a shadowy cabal of elites was using the virus and a potential vaccine to profit and gain power.”
But Rottenstreich didn’t respond to Reichert complaints that Fletcher engineered an August 2021 board meeting to make foes of mask and vaccine mandates wait hours longer than necessary — “done intentionally to stifle public comment.”
He also didn’t counter Reichert claims that Fletcher avoids looking her group’s speakers in the eye and “just looks at his phone and tweets out mean tweets with F-bombs.”
Nor did the rep comment on contentions that Fletcher has refused to meet with ReOpen. She said: “We have repeatedly reached out to Nathan Fletcher’s office, and he’s never been willing to have a conversation with us.”
Revealing abortion secret
Reichert was born in Philadelphia to Army parents, the result of a “fling,” she said. A state-licensed private investigator, Reichert said she found her orphanage-raised biological mother, who told her that, had she had the opportunity, she “would have been aborted” in the late 1960s.
Under her maiden name Amy Godfrey, she was raised by a Reform Jewish couple.
“When I was 15, I got pregnant and my dad was in a wheelchair at the time,” she said. “And I had a boyfriend who was emotionally abusive and manipulative. And I was scared to death about what my mom would do because she was the caregiver for not only my dad but for us three kids. So I got an abortion, and kept it a secret. I was never the same kid after that.”
A half-day after sharing this with Times of San Diego, she posted her story on Facebook.
The abortion topic arose because she was asked whether she would support a county resolution calling for state abortion restrictions if Roe vs. Wade were overturned.
Reichert assailed last September’s Board of Supervisors’ resolution declaring San Diego a “champion of reproductive freedom.”
“It was a clapback to what was going on in Texas,” she noted. “Why can’t we have a resolution that’s pro-adoption? Why did the resolution have to be that? … The way that resolution was worded it was political. And because it was political, I would have voted against that resolution. … We need to have a national conversation about it. There is some extremism on the other side where people are celebrating their abortions.”
Had she been a board member, Reichert said, she would have worked very hard to have a “far less politicized resolution” that was “based on the good intentions of people on both sides. But nobody wants to listen to people on both sides.”
Her “both sides” phrasing — evoking Donald Trump’s remarks after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally — popped up again.
Election integrity concerns
Asked whether Joe Biden was legitimately elected president in 2020, she said she was “very, very, very concerned about mail-in ballots” after hearing reports. “But people on both sides, Democrat and Republican, over the past five years have expressed concerns about election integrity. So I also express concerns about election integrity.”
Asked whether climate change was manmade, her initial reply was: “I don’t have an opinion on it. … My 22-year-old does. He graduated with a degree in environmental science. I’m sure he can tell you all about it.”
Later she said she “totally agrees with renewable energy” as “absolutely crucial” and said that when she lived in Chula Vista, she was was against the 125 toll road. (She’s lived in north La Mesa since 2014.)
“For the record, I love trains, I love trolleys, I love bicycle lanes,” said Reichert, who also works in marketing. “I think those are all really good things. But I believe that public transportation in San Diego, like the buses, has not been modernized to where it should be. I don’t support the current chair of SANDAG,” apparently meaning Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata.
“I got involved in the Sierra groups and the other environmentalist groups because I saw that [toll road] as something that was not going to be good for the environment, and also I didn’t think it was a sound investment,” she said.
(David Hogan, vice chair of Sierra Club San Diego’s Executive Committee, says: “Amy doesn’t appear to ever have been a member of the Sierra Club, but she was closely involved in the fight against the 125 toll road.”)
On efforts like San Diego Community Power, which offer residents the option of buying electricity exclusively from renewable sources, she said: “Again, my son is an environmental science graduate. … And he completely supports renewable energy. What he’s telling me is it’s very expensive and it’s not reliable. These are the major hurdles that we have to get over.”
Reichert worries that climate and mass-transit plans “are going so far and so fast that they don’t realize that they’re actually hurting people in the process. …. We live in a world where there are other countries that are not doing … their part. … I wish electric cars were affordable. They’re not. And that’s a problem. We have to have a holistic approach.”
She’d later liken government focus on the pandemic to officials stressing climate action.
“We’re going to have a time of reckoning with what we’ve done to our kids the past couple years because we made it about COVID, COVID, COVID,” she said. “I’m far more nuanced than somebody who wants to label me a certain label. … I wouldn’t be COVID, COVID, COVID and I wouldn’t be Environment, Environment, Environment — because people matter too.”
In recent interviews, Reichert has been citing a “Johns Hopkins study” comparing COVID outcomes at different states’ with lockdown policies that she says proves there was “no significant difference in ones that locked down harder than others.”
But a Snopes report says the viral study was “not the work of Johns Hopkins University … not peer-reviewed, and it was not written by epidemiologists. A number of researchers have also taken issue with the methods used in this study. … Furthermore, the conclusions of this … working paper run counter to published studies in academic journals that found lockdowns did prevent COVID-19 deaths.”
‘I really watch zero TV’
Reichert — who recently announced former congressional candidate Morgan [Murtaugh] MaGill as her campaign manager — was quizzed on current events, including the recent Republican National Committee declaration that the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot was “legitimate political discourse.”
Asked if she agreed with that assessment, she replied: “I was not even aware of that. I really watch zero TV.” (Except parts of the Super Bowl, she conceded.)
She saw similarities between Jan. 6 and the May 2020 protest in La Mesa that devolved into arson rioting.
“I live two miles from where three buildings were burned down,” she said. “There’s no freaking way that I’m going to brand everybody on Jan. 6 as insurrectionist. And conversely, I’m not going to brand everybody who took part in the La Mesa protest as someone who was a violent extremist either.”
The SDSU political science graduate (with a master’s in divinity at another school) said people engaged in peaceful discourse in both places.
“I’m highly educated, and I can look far past black and white issues,” she said.
(In a San Diego Rostra column, she added: “The gasoline that fueled this riot in La Mesa was extended lockdowns. The match was social media, cable TV news, celebrities, racial division, national fear, rage, anger and the tragic national event, played over and over and over, of George Floyd dying in the street as he took his last breath.” She also said she was told: “Many of the people who were arrested were not from San Diego. Rioters were bused in and paid $300 each.”)
On where she gets her news: “I would say right now I get a lot of news from people that are on Twitter, news aggregate sources, believe it or not, social media. Facebook, Instagram, friends that share stories. I equally read the New York Times, the LA Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune and I follow different local stations on social media.
On whether she backs strengthening the border wall with Mexico: “It’s not a county Board of Supervisors issue. I wouldn’t even touch it.”
On Trump’s vow to build a wall: “I literally was never that person that said: ‘Build the wall’ … My first husband is an immigrant. He came from Peru…. He literally became a United States citizen while we were dating. My son, my 22-year-old, is half-Latino. I’m not someone who will say there shouldn’t be immigration in this country. Immigration makes our country better. But lawful immigration.”
On Dr. Wilma Wooten, county public health officer: “I disagree with her handling of the pandemic. Our county failed the most vulnerable. There should have been heavier messaging about monoclonal antibodies available through the county. Many people did not even know that this lifesaving treatment was available for free through the County of San Diego. … I have honestly tried multiple times (calling, emailing) Dr. Wooten. She has never returned my calls or emails.”
Praise for Wilma Wooten
But Reichert had praise for Wooten as well: “She did not implement Vaccine Passports in San Diego County. She allowed elementary schools to reopen with a county and state waiver. When over 150 schools applied, she gave a blanket waiver for all county schools. The schools that wanted to reopen did; the ones that did not want to reopen stayed closed.”
On whether she’d support Florida-style COVID policy: “I would. And there was a really great article by NPR that applauded the Florida response.”
On her political evolution: “I can remember being a little girl and listening to election results when Jimmy Carter lost and I was devastated. In college, I literally had a bumper sticker that said ‘Impeach Reagan’ on my VW bug…. My dad had MS and we relied heavily on Social Security disability as a means to supplement his income,” and worried about Reagan era threats to cut social welfare. “Those were the kinds of things that kept my family afloat.”
But in recent years, she changed allegiance: “I actually switched in 2011. But I really felt by then that the Democratic Party had left me. I hadn’t left them.”
On her own battle with alcoholism, after losing her dad and daughter within five weeks: “Three weeks after she died, I literally just woke up one morning and I just decided to become an alcoholic. I was in excruciating emotional pain. .. that feels like physical pain. … I was diagnosed with major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. And the doctors didn’t know what to do with me. Sending me to all these emergency grief counseling sessions. They kept changing my medication. I was on the highest dosage imaginable for every different antidepressant.”
On the former Trump policy of separating children from families at the border: “Those were issues that were born out of a concern that there was human trafficking issues that were going on. … And from my understanding, that policy did continue in the Biden administration too. [Politifact challenges that assertion] … But I understand how the policy was born. It was born out of the need not to harm those children, but to protect them.”
Reichert’s name shows up in an opensecrets.org database of political donors, listing her $521 donation to the Reform Leaders super PAC, which shares a San Diego P.O. Box with Carl DeMaio’s Reform California PAC. [Reichert listed her occupation as “Trulyfree,” actually the name of her Michigan-based employer, formerly MyGreenFills — “an environmentally friendly product. Refillable not single-use plastic. Nontoxic.”]
She told Times of San Diego she’s made other donations including to Republican county Supervisor Jim Desmond.
“I really appreciate what Reform California has done,” she said. “I simply responded to an email, asking for year-end money, Carl DeMaio was very active in the recall of Gavin Newsom. … I was one of the speakers at a Recall Gavin Newsom (rally). I love the way [DeMaio] treats his volunteers. And he gets people involved in public service.”
Reichert’s husband, Christian, is almost completely deaf and she shared a June 2020 letter from Dr. Mary Alexander of Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group exempting the family from having to wear masks in public areas.
“Masks make it impossible for him to read lips and, of course, masks make it impossible for him to hear other people,” she said.
“The shutdowns destroyed my husband’s IT support business,” she said. “When the businesses could not afford IT services, he worked for free to help them. The PPP didn’t even touch his losses. That was such a hard time for our family. It was hard to watch my husband’s dream of building his business destroyed.”
In the same email, Reichert thanked Times for sending the Snopes link fact-checking the Johns Hopkins study.
“All I ever ask of people is to have a conversation,” she said. “We do need to have a broader conversation about lockdowns. I am happy to jump on another call to explain further.”
Updated at 10:40 a.m. Feb. 22, 2022