Assemblyman Steiner? Good News from the Third Floor

Erica Holloway Erica Holloway 10 Comments


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.


Comments 10

  1. Post

    Dear Vidosic:

    Very good people.

    Nice to relay good news here now and then.



  2. RE: “He’ll face an uphill battle in Sac”.

    He’ll face a bigger uphill battle getting past June. There are a lot of wealthy Republicans in this district and donors aren’t thrilled about heavy giving in primary races like this, especially in this economy.

    It is going to be a long haul for a young newcomer with only political experience and no business background. If you can’t raise at least 250k in a seat like this, you can’t compete.

    Dustin is a great guy and all but I doubt he has it in him.

  3. Dustin Steiner is a dangerous man. And I mean that
    as a Compliment! He has brains and moxie, and those
    are powerful ingredients. Not a man to underestimate.

  4. Post

    Dear Insider:

    Quite right.

    But I remember another young newcomer who didn’t have a team, such as Shepard and Freelove, backing him in a highly contested state race.

    He admittedly was no fundraising barnstormer and was largely considered an “insider” – a lobbyist. His opponent collected all the top endorsements, launched a massive series of hit pieces against him, and by all accounts, she was the front runner.

    But Charlene Zettel did not recently retire from the Senate.

    State races are different beasts entirely and when, as back in 2001, you’re getting a re-drawn seat – demographic shifts could play an interesting role.

    Steiner will have to work hard to raise the bucks and prove himself viable to party stalwarts and moderates alike. Wealth can be a good tool to prove viability, however Steiner doesn’t have a voting record or losing races to defend.



  5. Post
  6. Well Erica I think we will agree to disagree about the Zettel race. Hollingsworth WAS a sitting assemblymember. A bit different than a staff member.

    Insider is right. I am sure that Dustin will be a very good campaigner. However, the jungle primary favors moderates – especially in THAT district. Honestly, it is Brian M’s at this point on a silver platter.

  7. Post

    Hi Erik:

    No doubt it’ll be a tough road. It will be interesting to see how Maienschein might approach the race and brand himself after his city council days. Certainly, they’ll have to square off on the moderate ground – how they distinguish themselves will be fun to watch.

    One interesting note: bringing up age would be a mistake given his age when first elected, which he often brought up as a source of pride.

    And to your point on Hollingsworth, Zettel was also a sitting Assemblywoman with higher name ID in the newly acquired areas of the district closer to San Diego. It was also hers to lose.



  8. What I will close on in the DH/CZ race is that Hollingsworth did a fantastic job in turning out his base in the Temecula Valley. For a variety of reasons, I-15 didn’t show up.

  9. Two words about that famous 2002 state senate primary
    race….. JOEL ANDERSON.

    He ran Dennis Hollingsworth’s campaign within San Diego county. In a stunning upset, the candidate from Riverside (Hollingsworth) beat the candidate who lives here (Zettel)
    within the San Diego county portion of the district !


    Hollingsworth won the much-smaller Riverside county
    portion 10,828 to 4,682.

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