When a good friend calls you on his first Father’s Day, you think of one two things: it was an accident or he’s about to tell you something big (and you hope it’s good).
So, imagine my surprise when Supervisor Bill Horn’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Dustin Steiner, declared he’s considering a run for Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher’s seat.
NOTE: If this was a secret at the County Administration Center’s Third Floor (which isn’t very likely), then there was just a collective gasp. Yes board floor staffers, we Rostrafarians know you read us. We see you…
Steiner, 31, of Scripps Ranch is already in talks with Republican political consultant Tom Shepard and fundraising guru Jean Freelove, whose lists are probably pretty healthy after coming off the Carly Fiorina fundraising circuit. Approaching such strong team players shows he wants to win and deserves donors to give him a look.
Of course, when you’re a staffer for nearly 10 years, you know all too well what you’re getting yourself into by running for office. So I skipped my usual “Are you sure you want to do this?” speech and just offered my most heartfelt support for a race that’s likely to draw the interest of several folks, such as former Councilman Brian Maienschein.
A little background on Steiner the political and elected office staffer: hard-working and well-respected among peers and department staff alike. He handles a variety of policy areas for Horn, including the labor-intensive land use issues, serves as a community and County Department liaison and he manages the day-to-day office operations.
He’s one of those elected staffers who also loves politics, maybe even more than policy. I guess you’d have to when you accept a station as part of the Republican National Committee 72-Hour Task Force in Grosse Pointe, Mich. for the Bush/ Cheney 2004 re-election race. As he said, they weren’t expecting to win hearts and minds there.
He studies the art of political war with gusto. Every Sunday, we text back and forth during MSNBC’s Meet the Press and share a love-hate relationship with The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne (as in, we love to hate him). Steiner’s a voracious reader and has a pulse on every relevant political story the moment it breaks; it’s all I can do just to keep up.
To say Steiner’s a junkie probably doesn’t quite do his obsession justice (his daughter’s name is Reagan).
And, of course, there’s Steiner the friend: genuinely caring, famously funny and a masterful storyteller. I’m a collector of great laughs and Steiner’s is a gem. We spent many a time standing in the staff annex hall trading work and other stories that ended up attracting other staffers. He’s great fun to be around, be it while pulling an epic prank on a fellow staffer with an unhealthy love for the Jonas Brothers or sharing yet again his famous blow-dart story (which is worth hearing if you have the chance).
Steiner grew up in Santa Paula, California, and received his Bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his Master’s degree in public policy at American University. He and his wife, Jen, a nurse, lived in Washington, D.C. while he worked his way up the staffer food chain in four years from staff assistant for Congressman Elton Gallegly to Senior Legislative Assistant. He then took the position of Appropriations Associate for Congressman Duke Cunningham for just a year. But oh my – what a year.
He then served as Legislative Director for newly-elected Congressman Bilbray during the transition and then in 2006, he moved out to San Diego. A job opened up in Horn’s office and he joined the staff just a couple months before I joined Supervisor Pam Slater-Price’s office.
We often talked about the transition from a partisan to a nonpartisan office, which was more tricky than we expected. Despite the lamenting of the “all Republican Board of Supervisors,” their staffs aren’t quite so uniform. Steiner and I made up two of just four regular GOP meeting attendees on the floor; it was lonely.
Steiner jumped right into the local scene. He served as the 50th Congressional District State Delegate in 2009-10, the 75th Assembly District Central Committee in 2010 and is currently Chairman Tony Krvaric’s appointee as a State Delegate. He was elected to the Miramar Ranch North Planning Committee in 2009, for which he serves as Chairman. He also belongs to the Scripps Ranch Civic Association.
Last year before the annual Lincoln-Reagan Dinner, he was taking bets on who would receive the Wendell Cutting Award for Legislative Staff Member of the Year, a great honor. Wendell was retired Congressman Duncan Hunter’s district chief of staff and one my most influential political mentors. After Wendell was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he continued his humanitarian relief aide in places like Sri Lanka and Thailand for the Rescue Task Force, of which I was a board member.
That night while at dinner with a friend, he sent me a text reporting that he was wrong on his bet: he won the award. He was humble and surprised.
Running for office, especially when the payoff means living on the 7 a.m. Southwest flight to Sacramento every Monday morning, ain’t so great. Being in the extreme minority, it takes true public servants with the fortitude to represent their constituencies well in the hopes of some legislative successes.
You have to be willing to take chances.
You have to be brave.
He’ll face an uphill battle everyday in Sacramento that’s only gotten worse in the years since my tenure. I recently caught up with my former boss, Dennis Hollingsworth, who shared stories from his last days in office as Senate Republican Leader. Sounded like a massive daily headache and despite that, I’m sure there are parts he misses because it’s what we do.
We can’t sit on the sidelines and complain about the outcome of the game. So, Steiner’s suiting up to take his turn on the field.
Good luck, my friend. Where you’re going, you’ll need that sense of humor.
– Follow me @erica_holloway.