Lori Saldana faces local party demand to apologize to Rep. Scott Peters or lose her elected seat on the Central Committee.
Lori Saldaña faces local party demand to apologize to Rep. Scott Peters or lose her elected seat on the Central Committee. Times of San Diego photo illustration

In 2020, former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña was the top vote-getter in her 77th Assembly District race for membership on the San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee. It was her only win after failing in runs for Congress, San Diego mayor and the county Board of Supervisors.

But unless local Democratic leaders have their way, Saldaña will lose her Central Committee post as well.

Her simmering intraparty war boiled over this week after an aide to Rep. Scott Peters — the Democrat who beat her by 719 votes in the 2012 congressional primary — filed a series of complaints with the local party, leading to a demand that Saldaña apologize to him, his chief of staff and party chair Becca Taylor or quit the governing body.

Apologize for what?

That’s an evolving issue. At a Democratic club meeting in late July, Saldaña confronted Peters on police union mailers backing Janessa Goldbeck for the county Board of Supervisors in the race to fill Nathan Fletcher’s vacant District 4 seat. The mailers, deemed racist by some, depicted her Democratic rival Monica Montgomery Steppe as advocating police defunding under an unflattering photo.

Quoting Peters from memory, Saldaña tweeted about her exchange with Peters at the Point Loma Democratic Club, one of several she’s a member of despite being a longtime resident of North Clairemont.

A transcript of the exchange showed minor differences.

“What I wrote from memory vs. what is in the transcript is not ‘false,'” Saldaña told me. “It is not an exact quote, but it does not mischaracterize what he said.”

Lori Saldana tweet, later deleted, that led to original complaint by the Scott Peters campaign.
Lori Saldaña tweet, later deleted, that led to original complaint by the Scott Peters campaign.

Saldaña said she posted that Scott said: “I haven’t seen them” (the mailers), but “Scott’s transcript says: ‘I have not seen the ads.’ I also posted that Scott commented: ‘Police reform is not about race, is it?’ Scott’s transcript says: ‘That, that’s not racist.’”

Saldaña, who also waged a losing race for San Diego City Council last year, deleted her original tweet after being sent email Wednesday by Lauren Bier, co-chair of the party’s 12-member Ethics Committee.

Bier wrote Saldaña:

I’m writing to inform you of the Executive Board’s decision last night. Their motion, as passed, calls for you to issue an apology publicly recanting the statements made in violation of the Code of Conduct (P&P B.3) and apologize to the parties wronged by those statements, including Chair Becca Taylor, Congressman Peters, and Mary Anne Pintar. The apology should acknowledge your misconduct and be submitted for review and approval by the executive board by September 12. Upon approval from the executive board, you will be required to post the apology on all of your social media accounts.

The 310-word note concluded: “If I can assist in any way with the drafting of the apology or if you wish me to review it prior to your submitting it to the executive board, I would be happy to help.”

Wording of Apology

On Friday, after a flurry of back-and-forth notes and inquiries, Bier of the Ethics Committee sent Saldaña wording of an apology that would be “considered satisfactory and endorsed by the executive board.”

Saldaña is expected to say:

I recognize that deleting a tweet is not the same as recanting it or apologizing for posting false and misleading statements.

I was wrong to willfully and maliciously submit a false ethics complaint stating that I was discriminated against by Scott Peters, his staff, and Becca Taylor, based on disability, age and ethnicity. Although I claimed on social media and in my counter complaint that reasonable accommodations had not been offered or provided, they were offered multiple times and I was provided a written transcript the same day I was notified of the complaint.

I operated in bad faith and know better than to use my influence to intentionally damage the Democratic party and its leadership. I violated … Code of Conduct P&P B.3.

Although I claimed Chair Taylor filed a false allegation about a private conversation in my counter complaint, it turns out that I was mistaken – she did not file a complaint and the conversation I claimed was private took place during a public club meeting on July 23rd. I lied to the ethics committee.

Saldaña told Times of San Diego she won’t apologize but hasn’t decided on a course of action if she’s ousted. (Under party rules, she can appeal the “self-removal” order.)

Party leader Taylor, said to be in Mexico now to celebrate her 40th birthday, emailed me Friday, saying only: “The San Diego County Democratic Party has reviewed complaints relevant to conduct by former Assemblymember Lori Saldaña that violate our Code of Conduct and our Bylaws. This is an internal procedure that is still working its way through the process, and I won’t be able to comment further.”

(Taylor, who once worked for Peters, recused herself from voting on the apology demand, according to a note Ethics Committee co-chair Bier sent Saldaña.)

Lori Saldana in March 2020 won a four-year seat on the local party's Central Committee.
Lori Saldaña in March 2020 won a four-year seat on the local party’s Central Committee.

Bier herself declined to comment, “per my NDA.” Only party executive director Ryan Hurd and Taylor “are authorized to give statements on our behalf,” she said via email.

But Pintar, the congressman’s chief of staff, responded to Times of San Diego queries Friday.

“Our campaign filed complaints to the San Diego County Democratic Party Ethics Committee regarding false public statements Ms. Saldaña made about Congressman Peters and his staff,” Pintar said. “The requirement for an apology was the Ethics Committee‘s decision in response.”

What violation of the party’s Code of Conduct merits an apology demand, or expulsion?

Pintar replied: “That is up to the executive committee and the Ethics Committee of the county party. We are not members of either.”

Democratic PR Hit?

What kind of PR debacle would local Dems face if she were “self-removed”?

“None,” Pintar replied. “It is important for every organization to stand by the truth. Bad publicity is more likely if making false statements were allowed or condoned,” adding that she doesn’t understand why Saldaña won’t apologize.

“When I make a mistake, I own up to it and apologize. It’s not a hard thing,” Pintar said.

Saldaña updated her tweets with statements based on the transcript provided from Peters’ recording.

“However, since the recording used to file this complaint was made by Peters’ staff in violation of the Point Loma Club bylaws, I’m asking that whoever filed it reconsider and remove it,” Saldaña said. “I will be filing a complaint against Peters and his staff for disregarding the club’s policies and procedures regarding recordings of meetings.”

San Diego Democratic resolution in wake of police union mailers. (PDF)

At the July 23 Point Loma meeting, Saldaña wanted Peters, who had endorsed Goldbeck, to denounce “the racist campaign materials being sent out” against Montgomery Steppe.

“Since so many others shared this concern over the ads, at the August Central Committee meeting a resolution was unanimously adopted calling upon Democrats to take exactly that action,” Saldaña said. “But instead of dropping the investigation with the passage of that resolution, the Ethics Committee & Executive Committee have chosen to focus on what happened AFTER Scott complained about being misquoted.”

At Taylor’s request, Saldaña removed the original tweet and posted a verbatim transcript, provided by Peters’ office after hours of back and forth requests.

“The dispute now seems to be that I didn’t do this on a fast enough timeline based on her initial request, because Peters’ office was reluctant to provide a transcript of the recording they had made,” Saldaña said. “After hours of delays, I filed an ADA complaint since they would not provide me with an actual audio file to listen to, but insisted on playing it for me via phone or Zoom.”

(Saldaña told Taylor that her hearing is not what it used to be, “and listening to a recording of a meeting over the phone or over Zoom is often difficult for me to understand.”)

Pintar, the Peters aide, isn’t satisfied with Saldaña’s account.

First email to Saldana underlined section of party's Code of Conduct.
First email to Saldana underlined section of party’s Code of Conduct.

“Ms. Saldaña attributed a direct quote to the Congressman that was false,” Pintar said. “She is a former state legislator, a former educator and the daughter of a journalist. She knows the significance of asserting remarks in direct quotation that were, in fact, untrue.”

Pintar said her office’s complaint was not based on Saldaña being critical.

“She has been bitterly critical of the congressman since he defeated her campaign in 2012,” Pintar said. “The complaint was based on her being untruthful. In addition, the congressman has an excellent record on police reform. He was one of the first members of Congress to co-sponsor the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, one of the first elected officials in the county to endorse the San Diegans for Justice Ballot Measure, and has funded their work.”

Pintar said Saldaña is being asked to “apologize to me for coming to a Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board meeting (I serve on the board) and asserting that I directed our staff to do something illegal.”

Pintar called the claim “unequivocally false, not to mention highly inappropriate given that the majority of people who speak and participate at those meetings are there seeking justice for their loved ones who have died in county jails. It is, again in my opinion, not the place for airing personal, political grievances.”

Latest Email to Saldaña

On Friday, ethics co-chair Bier emailed Saldaña to inform her that a “number of false and misleading statements were posted to your social media and during the course of the investigation of this complaint and in your counter complaint.”

Bier said Saldaña defamed Peters aide Pintar “when you falsely tweeted about her role in it and encouraged others to bring this matter to her attention at the August 2 CLERB meeting. This brings her under our jurisdiction, even had you not named her in your complaint.”

Bier also accused Saldaña of lying to news media about her Zoom appearance Aug. 27 before the Ethics Committee. (Saldaña says she was given only a minute to talk.)

“We have been informed that you have told the press that you were not notified about the complaints against you and that you were therefore not given the opportunity to address those complaints,” Bier wrote Saldaña. “That is provably false and constitutes yet another violation of our Code of Conduct.”

Commenting on the latest Bier note, Saldaña said she has been discriminated against by Peters, his staff and Taylor, “based on disability, age and ethnicity.”

“I will be filing ADA complaints against both the San Diego County Democratic Party and Peters’ office for failing to provide reasonable accommodations (a written transcript) of a recording upon request, with the intent of making it impossible for me to comply with their request to remove and/or correct a social media post,” Saldaña said.

Democratic observers who spoke with Times of San Diego on condition of anonymity support and fault Saldaña.

One party leader said the intraparty tiff is the latest between progressives and the more moderate Peters wing.

“There’s no outside people in there,” the leader said in a phone interview. “They’re a very closed group and they’re all friends of Will [Rodriguez-Kennedy], and that brings up another point: If Lori so bad. Why is Will still in the Central Committee?” after being accused of sex abuse in a civil suit (but not facing criminal charges).

(The party site doesn’t list former party chair Rodriguez-Kennedy as having a Central Committee role.)

The leader said Peters and party powers-that-be “do not want any accountability, they do not want to be questioned. They have to squash Lori. They have to get her off the Central Committee.”

The leader alleged that Nathan Fletcher “brutally” attacked Saldaña during a Central Committee meeting.

Threat to Dem Money?

“They do everything they can to discredit Lori to abuse her,” the leader said. “She’s a woman — a woman of color. They always forget that.”

Saldaña, whose Twitter handle currently is “Following political money (so you don’t have to),” also is seen as a threat to Democratic revenue sources, the leader told me.

(According to OpenSecrets.org, Saldaña and her campaign committee gave the San Diego County Democratic Party $1,425 between 2005 and 2022, while Peters sent the local party $17,170 between 2005 and 2016.)

But a keen observer of local and national Democrats told me via email that Saldaña “has had nothing good to say about Scott Peters for over a decade” because “it’s personal, having something to do about how she was treated in the 2012 primary.”

“While Peters is the most pro-establishment elected Democrat congresscritter in Southern California, he’s never hidden how he stands politically. The best characterization of Lori I can think of is that she’s like the evil stepsister in a novella — always lurking, waiting for the opportune moment to strike out at her family out of personal bitterness.”

The observer added: “Nobody I know of wants to work with Lori. She likes to say she’s persecuted, but in fact she’s dealing with the consequences of her own actions. As the kids like to say, she fucked around and is finding out.”

Times of San Diego sought comment from Goldbeck, Montgomery Steppe, the California Democratic Party and others on the 12-member San Diego executive board. None have responded.

One politics expert who would go on the record was UC San Diego professor Thad Kousser, though he declined to talk about the specifics of the Saldaña case.

The political science expert sees the matter more as a tempest in a teapot.

“While dust-ups within party organizations like this one can be embarrassing and demoralizing for the party faithful, they are unlikely to register with the broader public or bring electoral consequences,” Kousser said.

“That’s because the stakes are often quite low; American parties are weak and growing weaker. Central committees are no longer central to campaigns, with rival sources of fundraising through independent expenditures, dark money and ideological donors playing more important roles.”

Kousser conceded that party endorsements still matter along with member communications.

“But because parties are not the kingmakers of San Diego politics,” he said, “the internal battles within them don’t always spill over onto the broader political stage.”

For her part, Saldaña is taking things seriously while retaining her sense of humor.

“In terms of local history, for the last 10 years, I have pointed out sexual harassment issues, and then been attacked for it, while the men who were doing the harassment were elected, and then both resigned from office,” she told me (referring to Fletcher and former mayor Bob Filner).

“It’s OK to complain in generalities. But when you start naming names of politically powerful people, they get a little uneasy.”

Saldaña said that as a confirmed Catholic, she could try this apology :

Confíteor Deo omnipoténti
et vobis, fratres quia peccávi nimis
cogitatióne, verbo,
ópere et omissióne:
mea culpa, mea culpa,
mea máxima culpa.
Ideo precor beátam Maríam semper vírginem,
omnes angelos et sanctos,
et vos, fratres,
oráre pro me ad Dóminum Deum nostrum.