Joel Anderson is a name most East County residents know. He has been running for public office to represent the region in various seats since 1998. This year, he is running to represent District 2 on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and in the March 3 primary, his name recognition and resume of public service helped him secure the most votes — 35.5% — in a field of four candidates.
Now that the race for the District 2 seat — vacated by Dianne Jacob after recently-adopted term limits capped her at 28 years on the board — is down to two candidates, Anderson is hoping his record of working on bipartisan bills in the state legislature will catapult him to the board in November.
The District 2 race is predicted to be one of the closest. Anderson, a Republican, will face fellow conservative Poway Mayor Steve Vaus, who garnered 31% of the vote in the primary. Another conservative candidate, Brian Sesko, took 6.8% of the vote and Democratic candidate Kenya Taylor came in third with a surprising finish of 26.7% in the historically deep-red district.
Since the primary resulted in a close race between the professed conservative, winning over votes from Democrats could be a key strategy to winning in November.
History of service
Anderson was born in Detroit but his family moved when he was in junior high school to San Diego, settling in the Casa de Oro area. After graduating from St. Augustine High School, he attended Grossmont College before transferring to and graduating from Cal Poly Pomona.
After college, Anderson went to work for his brother who had started a direct mail marketing firm whose clients included businesses and politicians.
“Through the course of working for different political campaigns, I was encouraged to run for office,” Anderson said.
His first run for office was in 1998 — a race for State Assembly District 75, which he lost. In 2002, Anderson ran successfully for a seat on the water board, where he served four years, followed by successful campaigns for two terms in the State Assembly then two terms in State Senate.
In 2016, Anderson explored a run against Dianne Jacob for her District 2 seat, but eventually suspended the campaign citing difficulty raising the kind of money he felt he needed to beat the incumbent.
Anderson’s time in the legislature wasn’t without some controversy. In 2018, the Senate reprimanded him after an altercation with a lobbyist who said she was threatened by the senator in a bar.
Despite the pitfalls of public life, Anderson said serving in public office has been an overall rewarding experience.
“You have an opportunity to fix people’s problems — especially in the legislature,” he said. “Our focus was constituent services. We did between 20 and 90 cases a week where people would have trouble’s with the DMV or Consumer Affairs or the Franchise Tax Board and we were able to intervene on their behalf and brings things to resolution.”
Anderson said his office was able to do things like cut through red tape for small businesses, like a barber waiting for a license; or help inform constituents of money owed to them by the state (one elderly couple had over $200,000 owed to them); or the time a soldier sent to Iraq worried about the registration of his car he left parked in the street and Sen. Anderson’s office was able to get it registered so it wouldn’t be towed.
“No other job allows you to solve problems like that and that’s why it was so rewarding,” he said.
Anderson credits his success in serving his constituents to two things — an internship program that at times had 50 people working in his office and an open communication policy where he published his personal cell phone number.
“Part of our whole philosophy was that we’re responsible to the constituents, so if you have a question, we need to answer it,” he said.
Anderson’s philosophy also includes bipartisan solutions and he points to the 453 bills he has authored with Democrats during his tenure serving in the state legislature.
“Most people don’t know that,” he said. “I did more bills co-authored with Dems than all the other Republicans put together.”
In 2018, Anderson was recognized for his bipartisanship approach with a Chuck Nichols & Pierre Frazier Bridge Builder Award from the USS Midway Museum’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee during its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Luncheon.
“I’m proud to have received a … Bridge Builder Award. Not many legislators that get type of award, it meant a lot to me,” he said.
Even with his bipartisan record, Anderson still describes himself as an “uber-conservative.”
“There’s no doubt about it — I am,” he said. “But I also understood that I represent a diversity of people and what I think is right doesn’t always turn out to be right and sometimes you’ve got to be open to better ideas. We are doomed if everyone polarizes up and nobody addresses the issues. On both sides, people are laser-focused on serving their base — that doesn’t serve our community. We have to work across party lines.”
Working across party lines may become more important for the District 2 seat after the November election. For many years, Republicans dominated the Board of Supervisors — holding every seat until Democrat Nathan Fletcher’s 2018 victory in District 4. This year, the District 1 seat has already been lost to Republicans and another seat is in jeopardy — Kristin Gaspar’s District 3 seat where two Democratic candidates split 57.2 percent of the primary vote. If District 3 goes blue, the Democrats will have a controlling vote on the board.
Anderson is already looking ahead to what issues he can work on with his potential Democratic colleagues, such as expanding pilot programs that help the mentally ill get treatment.
“On the right, a lot of Republicans hate Nathan Fletcher. But look, Nathan Fletcher is right on mental health. He’s been doing all the right things. I disagree with him on some of his bike lanes, but on this, we’ll partner,” he said.
On transportation, Anderson holds a more traditional conservative approach — that the county should fund roads over green transportation options like bike lanes.
“I’m 60. I’m not going to get on my bike and ride five miles to a doctor’s appointment. I’m not going to take a trolley to a hospital. And to ask seniors to do that is unreasonable,” he said. “So we have to protect the roads to ensure they get the medical care that they need and require.”
In tackling the coronavirus outbreak, Anderson holds a conservative view that favors fewer restrictions on people and businesses.
“Flattening the curve was to make sure hospitals had respirators. Now closures are to make sure no one catches it. If a bunch of 20 year olds want to go out and catch it, as long as they’re not giving it to grandma, where her life’s in peril, very few 20 year olds are dying from this. It may be a miserable experience for them, but they’re not dying,” he said, adding that the county health department should focus less on the number of infections and more on the number of deaths. “If our new norm is that nobody can get sick, we’re doomed as a society because no business will ever open again and at some point you’re not going to have any toilet paper or food or anything else because all those workers can’t afford to be sick and aren’t going to show up.
“I think we have to fight this with science, but unfortunately too many people are fighting it with political science,” he continued. “I think that we need to have a plan, execute the plan and stick to the plan. You look at the news and it’s all arbitrary. It’s OK to have thousands of people rally for a cause — whether it’s for Trump or it’s for Black lives — and that’s OK, but if it’s singing at church, ‘Oh no, we can’t do that.”
On the issue of expanding housing in the county, Anderson also takes a conservative approach by favoring cutting red tape and “antiquated” regulations on projects to lower building costs for developers. When it comes to large-scale developments in the unincorporated areas of the county, he said he would look at projects individually and would heavily weight what neighboring communities think of them.
“But I think you need to be thoughtful,” he said. “You can’t say, ‘I want my children to be able to afford to live in San Diego so I don’t have to visit my grandkids in Phoenix.’ You can’t say that and then say we’re never going to build a house.”
Ultimately, Anderson said he prefers to make decisions based on constituent input rather than rules or procedures that in some instances need to be changed by lawmakers.
“My door is always open, it always has been open and constituent services has always been my focus,” he said. “I do think we deserve better from the county. This rubber-stamping of staff is not representation. When you defend staff against the people, you’ve lost your way. I’ve always fought for my constituents.”
—Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.