Outgoing state Sen. Jackie Speier says farewell

Outgoing state Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, has authored some 300 successful bills in her 18 years as a state representative, but her major regret upon leaving office is that she couldn’t do more to reform California’s prison system.

Speier, speaking at a press conference in San Mateo on Wednesday, said she once spent a day and night in Chowchilla’s Valley State Prison for Women. While there, she met a 21-year-old mother of two who had been convicted of three DUIs.

“I asked her whether she had received any programming, and she said she hadn’t. She had been there 18 months and had not received a single day of rehabilitation,” Speier said.

While crime has gone down, prison populations have risen. Roughly 80 percent of women in California’s 33 prisons are incarcerated for minor crimes, but held in medium-security prisons, Speier said.

Meanwhile, guards maintain “extraordinary power” and prisons are hemorrhaging money. She challenged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to be courageous enough to create a better parole system.

Speier, 56, was born in San Francisco and raised in Burlingame. She worked as a staffer for Congressman Leo Ryan, and was shot five times in November 1978 during a fact-finding mission regarding the Rev. Jim Jones and his People’s Temple human-rights abuses.

Speier served on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors from 1980 to 1986, when she was elected to the California Assembly. She moved to the state Senate in 1998, and this month lost the Lieutenant Governor’s race to Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi.

During that time, she also suffered two miscarriages, lost her first husband, Steven Sierra, in a car accident and became the first woman to give birth while serving in the California Legislature.

Though she has risen to state politics, Speier’s legacy is still felt widely in San Mateo County, according to Supervisor Jerry Hill.

“Every aspect of our life and our children’s life is better, healthier and safer because of Jackie. She is a giant of integrity and a giant of compassion,” Hill said.

Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, will succeed Speier in representing District 8 and said he plans to continue fighting for some of her key causes, including education and health care, particularly for children.

Speier plans to spend some time as a stay-at-home mom with her two children. In March, she’ll launch her first book, “This Is Not the Life I Ordered,” co-authored with friends Jan Yanehiro, Deborah Collins, Stephens and Michealene Cristini Risley.

Don’t think Speier has given up politics for good, however. When asked whether she would consider running for governor, she paused, and then nodded.

“If the opportunity availed itself, I think I could run this state very well,” she said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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