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Election 2022: Two Democrats and one Republican face off in state Senate 38th District primary race

Candidates for the 38th District seat in the California Senate are Catherine Blakespear, Matt Gunderson and Joe Kerr.
Candidates for the 38th District seat in the California Senate are Catherine Blakespear, Matt Gunderson and Joe Kerr (from left).
(Courtesy photos)

The three candidates running for state Senate in the newly redrawn 38th District all list California’s supply of affordable housing for lower-income residents as one of their three top issues. But their approach to resolving that situation, and their view of what voters are looking for in a candidate, differ sharply.

Democrats Catherine Blakespear and Joe Kerr and Republican Matt Gunderson are vying to represent the district. The top two vote-getters in the June 7 primary election will advance to the general election in November.

The 38th Senate District had covered an inland area, including Escondido. But the recent redrawing of its boundary lines has it stretching from La Jolla to Orange County’s Rancho Santa Margarita.

The change in the boundary lines has created speculation among political observers about what type of candidate is most likely to prevail in the 38th, and the three people running for the seat cite different reasons when asked what they believe gives them the winning edge.

Blakespear, 46, who is in her third term as Encinitas mayor and previously was a City Council member, announced she was entering the race before the new district lines were created. She is the only candidate who lives in San Diego County and said that’s important because three-quarters of the district’s voters live in San Diego County.

The fourth-generation Encinitas resident emphasizes her political experience, as well as her work on regional government boards and the many endorsements she has received from fellow Democrats.

“The other thing to note is I’m the only woman in the race” and this is an election year when women’s issues, particularly abortion, are of concern to the nation’s voters, she said.

Gunderson, 59, a former owner of three auto dealerships in Mission Viejo and the current owner of an event rental business based in Santa Ana, points to his work experience in the private sector.

“I’m a businessman and not a politician. My perspective comes to this from a very different viewpoint,” he said.

Though he has never been elected to office, Gunderson said he is dedicated to public service, noting that he recently completed a 10-year term on the Mission Hospital Foundation board, has served on the Saddleback College Foundation board and has coached many youth sports teams. He describes himself as tough on crime and said he thinks California needs to do more to protect crime victims rather than “protecting criminals” through criminal justice reforms.

“If you think everything in Sacramento is heading in the right direction, then I’m probably not your guy,” he said.

Kerr, 62, a retired Orange County fire captain, describes himself as the fiscally conservative, anti-new taxes, “moderate in the race” and says his extensive background in fire issues, particularly public safely legislation, gives him a unique perspective. He’s a second-generation firefighter who worked for the Orange County Fire Authority (previously the Orange County Fire Department) for more than 34 years. He was the first president of the Orange County Professional Firefighters Association and is a former vice president of California Professional Firefighters and the Orange County Central Labor Council.

When it comes to increasing California’s affordable housing, Kerr says the state shouldn’t be seeking “one size fits all” solutions and should be deferring to local jurisdictions because they know best what will fit their communities.

More needs to be done to preserve established single-family neighborhoods rather than forcing them to accept apartment buildings, Kerr said. He added that he’s also concerned about the proliferation of accessory dwelling units, or “granny flats” — small secondary units on single-family properties.

“I just don’t believe the pre-existing infrastructure was engineered for that,” he said. He noted that his background in fire safety makes him aware of the additional burden such extra structures place on a neighborhood’s water, sewer and electric lines.

Kerr’s position on ADUs puts him at odds with Blakespear, who has been a strong proponent of them as a way to increase Encinitas’ housing options. In her role as mayor, Blakespear also has pursued ways to free up available housing by reducing the number of illegal vacation rentals, and she has supported the creation of an overnight parking lot for homeless people who are temporarily living in their vehicles while they look for housing.

Gunderson said California’s affordable-housing solution is fairly obvious. The state makes it too difficult for contractors to build new units, he said, so it should “roll back barriers to building new housing and let homebuilders do their jobs.”

38th District candidates at a glance

▶ Catherine Blakespear
Occupation: Mayor of Encinitas
Political affiliation: Democrat
Previous political experience: Encinitas mayor (2016-present); Encinitas City Council member (2014-16); Encinitas traffic and mobility commissioner (2011-14); Cardiff Elementary School Site Council member (2012-13)
Three key issues:

  • Supporting small businesses
  • Environmental protection
  • Housing affordability and homelessness

▶ Matt Gunderson
Occupation: Small-business owner
Political affiliation: Republican
Previous political experience: Never elected to public office. Served 10 years on the Mission Hospital Foundation board, served on the Saddleback College Foundation board and coached youth sports teams.
Three key issues:

  • Affordability
  • Homelessness
  • Public safety

▶ Joe Kerr
Occupation: Retired fire captain
Political affiliation: Democrat
Previous political experience: Never elected to public office but has worked with Democratic and Republican state lawmakers on public safety legislation and served on local and state firefighter association boards.
Three key issues:

  • Affordable housing
  • Wildfires and fire insurance
  • Taxes ◆