Becca Taylor shows different sides while running Jan. 17 party meeting
Becca Taylor during Jan. 17 party Central Committee meeting. Photo illustration by Ken Stone

Granddaughter of a preacher. Growing up Food Stamp poor in a “very conservative” Texas household. Owner of two Harleys (one named Luna). Overcoming PTSD from Afghan service.

Avoiding being outed as bisexual during Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, she was briefly married to a Navy man and still uses his name.

San Diego Democrats, meet Becca Taylor, your new county chair.

Thrust into “acting” leadership last May when Will Rodriguez-Kennedy stepped aside as chair amid sex-assault allegations, Taylor formally took his place a month ago during a Zoom meeting of the party’s Central Committee.

She was tested right out of the gate.

During an otherwise routine agenda, South County Vice Chair Sara Ochoa made a motion to “kick back” to East County the election of Kevin Lourens to the party’s Administrative Committee.

Becca Taylor has nearly perfect San Diego voting history since 2010. (PDF)

Ochoa said Lourens, a three-year leader of the San Diego Progressive Democratic Club, uttered the N-word at a recent club meeting.

Taylor took the hot potato in stride, honing to parliamentary procedure despite the explosive accusation.

Soon it became clear — from Lourens himself — that he had just been reading a Tasha Williamson statement that contained the racist slur. Lourens, who is White, said he apologized to every Black woman present.

(Notably, former county supervisor candidate Kenya Taylor made a vigorous defense of Lourens, as did others.)

After that 19-minute detour, the Central Committee voted 37-1 to accept Lourens onto the Admin Committee — Ochoa apparently the lone dissenter.

Williamson, the police watchdog who ran for mayor in 2020, told Times of San Diego: “It is accurate that Kevin was reading from what I wrote and apologized when it was brought to his attention that he said the word in its entirety was offensive to people.”

He read it as she wrote it, Williamson said via email, because she said she wasn’t allowed to speak at that meeting.

“It is my understanding that Kevin has been open to meeting with anyone who was offended,” she said. “I have no issue with Kevin, Becca or Sara! My issue is with the Democrat Party as a whole as it does not fight to protect its Black voters and Black politicians nearly enough. It is oftentimes a mirror reflection of its twin, the Republican Party.”

Becca Taylor oversaw downtown party celebration of Democrats’ November victories. Photo by Chris Stone

In a 45-minute phone interview, Becca Taylor, 39, declined to comment on “the whole internal dispute.”

She added: “One of my roles is to get through meetings and agendas with as much civility and fairness to everybody as possible. And that includes hearing differing opinions and voices. … At the end of the day, we do do a pretty good job of getting people together and staying focused on our mission and goals.”

Aside from a “pending” Ethics Committee decision on Rodriguez-Kennedy, which Taylor also doesn’t want to talk about, she was open about her life and politics.

Perfect Induction Score

Born in Idaho to a Navy nuclear engineer father and an operating room nurse mother, Rebecca “Becca” Cook mostly grew up in Texas.

She’s the oldest of six siblings — all born in different states. Her parents are divorced — dad in Virginia, mom and stepdad in Pennsylvania.

After graduating from Allen High School near her “tiny town” of Lucas, Texas, she went to Virginia Tech.

Though she went to school full time, she had no idea about her career path.

“So I dropped out and went in the military” in 2004, she said, getting a perfect score in her initial induction testing.

As an aviation electrician, she was deployed to Afghanistan and Germany, and took care not to reveal too much about herself.

“I just remember having a girlfriend get kicked out [for violating DADT]. … And she said: ‘Don’t get yourself kicked out too,'” Taylor said.

During Operation Enduring Freedom, she served at Bagram Airfield — where in 2007 a suicide attack killed nearly two dozen people.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff that happened out there,” she said.

Taylor says she had PTSD back then, “but I’ve gone to therapy and now I don’t.”

In 2009, after leaving the Navy, she married.

‘Friendliest Separation’

“We really thought we were old enough to know better…. We had a similar lifestyle.” But she found out he preferred owning a boat in Jamaica while she took her college studies more seriously.

“We had the friendliest separation you can probably imagine,” she said.

Returning to San Diego where she was stationed briefly for Sea School, she enrolled at SDSU under the GI Bill. She studied political science at Oxford in a study-abroad program and graduated as an outstanding undergrad.

She’s close to earning her master’s degree.

“I took a class in policy and aging and fell in love with gerontology,” inspired by the late Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers. (“She helped abolish the mandatory retirement age.”)

“I got really excited about the idea of troubleshooting — like, policy and engaging and organizing people,” she said, and worked at what is now called Serving Seniors.  “That’s when I started getting more politically involved” as a civic engagement and advocacy intern. 

Taylor recalls interviewing a speaker on ballot initiatives. She asked: “Hey, how do you get involved with that?” and was told to volunteer on a political campaign.

“And the rest is history,” she said.

She was field director for Ammar Campa-Najjar during what she called his 2018 “sacrificial lamb” candidacy against Rep. Duncan D. Hunter.

“Everybody was just going to pat me on the head and said, ‘Oh, have fun,'” which frustrated her because she thought the fight for votes in the “red rural area” of East County was necessary.

She joined causes and social justice groups — involved in the Fight for 15 minimum wage with Interfaith Worker Justice. Helped start a few Democratic clubs, was active with the Point Loma OB club and the veterans club.

Ended Marshmallow Wars

She served on the Ocean Beach Town Council board (helping end the Fourth of July “Marshmallow Wars” and winning a community plan update) and was volunteer manager for the San Diego Rapid Response Network, aiding asylum seekers.

“And then I was the secretary of Metro West, and then ran to become the vice chair and then was elected … chair pro tem,” she said. And then her second term of as pro tem led to her becoming acting chair, and “here I am now.”

She ran unopposed at the Jan. 17 organizational meeting.

At least the third LGBT community member to lead the San Diego party (after Jess Durfee and Rodriguez-Kennedy), she said that status was part of her embracing the Democratic Party.

“This is the party that welcomed me,” she said. “I feel it better reflected my values. … One of my favorite quotes is, you know, ‘If you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu.'”

She added: “Even as the country becomes more polarized, it’s just the issues that I care most about the Democratic Party is doing something about or is actively trying to better — to have a more just and sustainable future and to bring a megaphone to the voice of people who may very often be overlooked.”

Going home to family functions isn’t easy, though.

“They give me a hard time and asked where they went wrong. But they went right,” Taylor said. “My family’s pretty religious and so they talk about caring for people and I say, ‘Well that’s what the Democrats do.'”

Even so, she avoids talking politics at Thanksgiving.

“I’ve had a lot of practice and finding a middle ground or issues that … we can come together on,” she said. “But certain things like abortion, you know, stuff like that, my family has very strong opinions on.”

Jan. 17 party Zoom meeting had more than 100 attendees. Photo by Ken Stone

In 2020, after first being an unpaid volunteer, she became paid staff with the presidential campaign of Sen. Elizabeth Warren — a SoCal training associate.

“Oh my gosh, I love her so much,” she said, but has “no intel” on whether Warren would run again.

“I do appreciate that, you know, she always had a plan, it wasn’t just buzz words,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t about ego … but just getting good things done.”

She’s never been to a Democratic National Convention — as Bernie Sanders-delegate Rodriguez-Kennedy had — but possibly wants to.

“My main focus has always been local even on Warren’s campaign,” she said. “Like we tried to use [that] as an opportunity to bring people who aren’t always involved in politics in because it’s, you know, an exciting thing.”

As party chair, does she feel obligated to defend Mayor Todd Gloria and Sheriff Kelly Martinez — often criticized by fellow Democrats?

On Mayor, New Sheriff

“I know she can’t just change everything overnight,” Taylor said of the new sheriff, “so a lot remains to be seen there and then again with Todd — a lot of people like to blame him for the homelessness issues, but that didn’t happen overnight.”

Taylor credits Gloria for working on a tenant Bill of Rights and handling COVID better than other cities and regions. “And again … Todd altered the Climate Action Plan. And so that’s something that’s pretty important. … I recognize not everybody will all support the same person or even the same candidate in the races.”

She’s also aware of financial challenges in her own office.

San Diego County Democratic Party 2022 profit-and-loss statement. (PDF)

At the Jan. 17 meeting where she became the unpaid chair, Taylor received a profit-and-loss statement showing the party $118,106 in the red as of Oct. 31, 2022.

She planned to ask her controller and executive director about that.

“I know they have been going back and forth and I think we have until March to clarify everything,” she said.

She’s clear on Central Committee meetings, though. They’ll continue to be held virtually. (Area meetings can decide for themselves, she said.)

Her decision against in-person meetings derives in part because of greater participation and feedback from the committee. “People don’t have to turn around and drive home after a very long meeting. Or they’re able to eat during the meeting at their house.”

Her plans for keeping much of the county blue?

She eyes a board retreat.

“We’re going to come together with all the leaders and really flush that out,” she said, noting the loss of the Vista mayor race but flipping the city council for the first time.

“We want to focus on the hyperlocal races, where community engagement and grassroots candidates and our electoral infrastructure could all come together to really get local results,” she said.

Besides taking back some seats Democrats have lost — and where “redistricting didn’t really do us any favors” — she said: “We want to make sure that we stay engaged to either defend them or try to flip them.”

What won’t change is her moto-mania — “something that I do that is completely out of the Democratic Party bubble.” 

She rides a Sportster 1200 Harley-Davidson and a Dyna, “just a bigger Harley and I love them both.”

Taylor — between jobs after a stint with Redistricting Partners — enjoys all-female moto-camping trips.

“Hey, we actually had a ride for reproductive justice,” she said, raising money for groups like Planned Parenthood — with T-shirts showing handle bars that looked like women’s ovaries.

“Not everybody in the motorcycle community is far right-wing,” she said. “We got some lefties in there.”