Hot on the heels of a challenger to incumbent State Senator Scott Wiener from his political left, a Republican has emerged to challenge our nerdy, urbanist senator’s policies.
Erin Smith, a rifle-toting sea captain-turned-startup entrepreneur is the newest rival, gunning for Wiener’s seat from his political right in the 2020 election. And yes, she’s pro-Trump.
“I feel like regulations and rules are straitjacketing San Francisco and California,” Smith told me, over coffee. “McKesson just left. Stripe is leaving San Francisco. All these businesses are leaving for better business climates.”
That’s something she wants to change. And change, as they say, is in the air.
Already, Wiener is facing a challenge in progressive favorite Jackie Fielder, a Native American, queer woman who led the fight to bring public banking to San Francisco. Like Fielder, the Mississippi-born Smith is a newcomer to races for elected office, though she has some political experience in San Francisco’s GOP.
Her candidacy may also open up avenues for Fielder, who may politically benefit from a second salvo of public attacks on Wiener’s policies leading up to next year’s primary.
But Smith’s story carries echoes of Wiener’s, also.
Wiener came to San Francisco embracing our cultural acceptance for the gay community, arriving amid a deadly time for his community, nationally: the AIDS crisis.
Smith came to San Francisco in 2014 to embrace her gender identity, to come to a place where she could be an out and proud transgender woman. At the same time, the transgender community faces a struggle for acceptance, and terrifying violence, across the nation.
As Smith told me, Mississippi is a place where everyone knows everyone, where it’s difficult to adjust to a new identity. But in San Francisco, she found the anonymity she needed.
Now she’s out, proud, and ready for the spotlight.
“I’ve lived so many different lives,” Smith told me. “People have seen me as a man. Seen me as a woman. I’ve loved men, I’ve loved women. I’ve traveled over the world and lived in radically different places.”
Policy-wise, Smith opposes Wiener’s Senate Bill 50, which would upzone neighborhoods near transit lines. In this sense she’s a classic Republican, embracing local control. “You can’t have one-size-fits-all laws,” Smith told me. “We need more housing but San Francisco should say how it’s done.”
And yes, Smith supports tentpole conservative issues like building “the wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border (though she mentioned a need in change to immigration policies as well) and supports gun ownership. Smith regularly practices her marksmanship at a shooting range in the East Bay.
But in some ways, she’s still a political rookie. When I asked what her legislative priorities were — a basic question for any candidate by any stretch of the imagination — she was initially evasive.
When I asked point-blank if she had concrete legislative proposals, Smith answered, “not yet, I’m still talking and consulting with other people.”
So should Wiener be worried?
A campaign consultant on three of his former races, Maureen Erwin, was non-plussed. “Honestly, I’m not worried about Scott. He’s probably met half of San Francisco personally. People see him on Muni. He goes to like 50 events per day,” she said.
Wiener also faced off against a Republican in his 2016 primary against Jane Kim, which didn’t pose much of a challenge. That’s no wonder — Republicans only make up 6.54 percent of San Francisco’s registered voters.
“Jane Kim and I split the Republican vote last time, and many Republicans won’t vote for any Democrat,” Wiener told me. And, he added, “I’ve been proactive in my opposition to Trump, and I’ve authored and voted for many bills to push back against the Trump agenda.”
While this is true — and any look at Wiener’s Twitter feed shows anti-Trump messaging aplenty — Smith also told me she finds herself more politically aligned with Wiener than with Fielder, the progressive.
That didn’t surprise Jackie one bit.
“Scott and the Republican Party align on many things,” she told me by phone Wednesday.
That includes local propositions prohibiting tents on public sidewalks (targeting homeless folks) and coming out against Proposition C, which San Francisco voters passed in 2018 to tax big business to fund homeless services.
“I don’t think people understand his record,” Fielder told me.
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