Spring Valley Planning Group Chair challenges incumbent for Assembly seat
By Mike Allen
Photo: Randy Voepel and Liz Lavertu
October 20, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) -- As the state grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, budget challenges, and a shortage of affordable housing, voters in the 71st Assembly district have two contrasting choices.
Randy Voepel was first elected to the State Assembly in 2016 and reelected in 2018, winning both times by substantial margins which didn’t surprise him, given the conservative character of the region. But he notes the winning margins are slipping each election, and he doesn’t expect this November’s victory to be as large.
“I won with 63 percent the first time (he actually won by 65.8 percent margin over Leo Hamel in 2016), and in the last one, I won with 60 percent (accurate, beating James Elia by more than 20 percent), so I anticipate this one I’ll win with 56-57 percent (of the vote),” said Voepel, who previously served as Mayor of Santee.
“The demographics are shrinking,” he says of the district, referring to why the victory margins are slipping. He chalks it up to the gradual increase of younger and more diverse voters.
His opponent, Liz Lavertu, chair of the Spring Valley Community Planning Group, is banking on that changing voter make-up, and gives her some hope she can overcome the odds. But she knows as a Democrat, it’s an uphill battle.
“I’m just asking the voters in this district to give me two years, and let me show you what I can do, and if you don’t like it, then let the Republican Party run a candidate who will actually work for us,” she said, taking a direct slap at Voepel.
Lavertu, a now furloughed jewelry store manager, says in clear terms that Voepel’s record shows a proclivity to negativity.
“To me, looking at his record and seeing all those no votes…he’s not willing to put in the hard work to make sure our voices are being heard in Sacramento,” she said.
As Lavertu sees it, the main issues facing the district are getting the economy back on track and creating living wage jobs, affordable housing and dealing with homelessness, preventing more wildfires, and strengthening the state’s educational systems.
Meanwhile, Voepel said he’s trying to help many small businesses to reopen, and doesn’t like that so many have had to remain closed during the pandemic. His response to the closures and partial closures of businesses comes from the Bible: “As Moses said to the Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go.’”
Given his conservative Republican politics, Voepel says he’s got to tread smartly around the Capitol’s halls to get anything done. He said it took him about two years to figure out how the Sacramento system operates, how committees run, and to develop critical relationships that yield results.
However, when asked to state some of his accomplishments over the past two terms, Voepel said because of the dominance of the Democrats, “my accomplishment is mostly saying no.”
“I voted against the gas tax, the cap and trade tax…and voted no on many, many of the socialist laws we’ve passed in Sacramento,” he said.
He says despite his minority status, he remains positive about his role, which he views as mainly one of an expert critic, pointing out flaw and problems in legislation. “My main job in Sacramento is to point out, in a diplomatic way, the unintended consequences of their proposed laws,” he said.
Voepel says he works well with his Democratic colleagues, who have named him to three vice chairmanships, which is highly unusual for any Republican.
Asked what his agenda will be if re-elected, Voepel said, “I can honestly say I have no idea because everything has changed so much because of COVID…We don’t know what kind of world we’ll be living in. We don’t know what kind of country we’ll be living in. At this moment nobody knows anything.”
Lavertu said a key goal for her if elected would be cutting some of the red tape that goes on, especially when it comes to creating affordable homes. “If we cut the time that some of these projects take to get off the ground, we can create more affordable housing.”
In her campaign statement in the voters’ guide, Lavertu indicates she also wants to invest in education, make healthcare affordable and help parents get childcare so that they can return to work. “I talk regularly with constituents who can’t afford to miss work to stay home with their kids, but also can’t afford quality daycare. We need to create childcare solutions to help get them through,” she states.
She says if elected she’ll prove to both Republicans and Democrats that she’ll put in the time and energy to affect positive changes for the district.
“Some people vote based on party preferences. But if you look at what I’m proposing, and how hard I’m willing to work versus what Randy has done over the last four years, they would be willing to give me a chance.”
Based on the amount of campaign contributions each has collected, it is a heavily tilted contest. Voepel reported his 2020 campaign had $192,505, while Lavertu reported she received $37,859, according to state filings.
Assemblyman Voepel’s voting record, interest group rates, positions and funding: https://justfacts.votesmart.org/candidate/key-votes/70784/randy-voepel
Mike Allen writes about government agencies and other topics for East County Magazine, mainly covering the Santee City Council. Among the newspapers he’s written for are the San Diego Business Journal, San Diego Daily Transcript, the Vista Press, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He has won numerous journalism awards including a fellowship to the Stonier School of Banking by the American Bankers Association while employed as a financial reporter.
East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the Facebook Journalism Project for its COVID-19 Relief Fund grant to support our local news reporting including impacts on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic and our virtual candidates forum series. Learn more: #FacebookJournalismProject and https://www.facebook.com/fbjournalismproject/.
You can donate to support our local journalism efforts during the pandemic at https://www.EastCountyMedia.org/donate.