Candidate for the 78th Assembly District
By Daniel Munoz
When you first meet Shirley Horton, a very attractive, petite, blond greets you. She does not come across like many, boisterous, politicians and in fact is rather self-effacing. But don’t let those first impressions fool you!
Shirley Horton is not your prototypical politician that you are accustomed too, you know the type where facts and figures roll off their tongues as they confuse you with their political speak. And you may wonder if this petite, shy woman has what it takes to get the job done. But once you get to know her and as you watch her work, as many in Chula Vista have over the years, you quickly grasp the fact that this is an aggressive, effective leader, who gets things done in a quiet, determined manner.
Horton has served as an elected official for the City of Chula Vista for 11 years, eight as mayor, and during her tenure the city, which many have considered a bedroom community for the City of San Diego, has grown and is developing into a thriving metropolis.
For example, under Mayor Horton’s leadership, what were once vacant rolling hills east of I-805 have been transformed into beautiful thriving communities. What was once a solitary road from 805, east (Main St., now Auto Park Way), dominated by auto recycle yards, now features an amphitheater, a water park, and new auto dealerships contributing to the economic well being of the city.
Property has been set aside for a future college campus. There is a designated Hi-tech/Bio-tech zone. New industries are moving into Chula Vista bringing with them jobs. Border trade business is growing, the center city area of Chula Vista is going through revitalization, and the bay area, adjacent to J Street, is being developed into the crown jewel for the city.
But this is the political side of Shirley Horton, the city leader that many in the community are already familiar with. Many, in particular those in the new 78th Assembly District, however, don’t know who the other Shirley Horton is? And why did this woman heed the call to public service?
“I have deep roots, in the district. I grew up in the district,” stated Horton. “I went to elementary school in Paradise Hills. I went to Jr., high school at O’Farrell, in George Stevens’ 4th district, and finished Jr., and high school at Bonita Vista. I went to Bonita Vista High School the very first year that it opened. And then I went on to San Diego State. Those schools cover all parts of the district. That is why I say I have deep roots in the district. I know the communities”
While Horton grew up in the 78th district, she was actually born in Japan. “My father was in the Navy, in Japan, and that is where he met my mom. I am a naturalized citizen.”
Proudly she talks about being raised in a multi-cultural family. Yet at the same time it has presented problems in the past with racism/discrimination raising its ugly head and having a profound impact on Horton. But she looks upon those experiences as growing experiences that help in dealing with the many different cultures that encompass the 78th district and understanding how prejudices and racism impact upon people’s lives.
The 78th Assembly district encompasses the Eastern side of Chula Vista (east of 805), and goes north through Bonita, Paradise Hills, Encanto, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley, and La Mesa, all the way up to San Carlos. The 78th is one of the most culturally diverse districts in the Assembly. And not only is one of the more culturally diverse districts it is one that is economically and socially diverse.
After graduating from college Shirley Horton showed that she had a good head for business, had a knack for developing a vision and could get things done.
“I graduated with a degree in accounting, but decided that I didn’t want to be an accountant,” Horton recalled. “So I decided to invest in real estate, because my mom was a real estate investor. I got a job with a real estate company, left within the year and started my own real estate company. It was a challenge, but we made it for 16 years.”
At the age of 23 Horton bought her first office building in Chula Vista.
“There was a medical building that was located on the corner where the court house is now located. I decided to buy the building and have it moved to another location. And I had it remodeled. That was an idea that worked, and that was my office for many years.”
But what motivated Shirley Horton, successful business-persons and happily married, to go into politics?
For many, politics is a way of life, something that they have planned all their life. For others it is to promote a cause or fight an issue. And yet for others it is circumstances that have the burden of civic service thrusted upon them. For Horton it was a little bit of a cause and a lot of circumstance, something that has continually followed Horton throughout her political career.
“I was the chairman of the planning commission when our Mayor, Gayle McCanliss died. We went to the same school, though she was a couple of years older than I. We played tennis together and I considered her a friend. After she passed away, Tim Nader was elected Mayor and that left an opening on the council. I put my hat in the ring. A lot of the issues the city was facing at the time were land use oriented and I had that experience. And, I knew that a couple of the people that had put their hat in the ring, I knew Gayle would not have liked to have them selected. And lo and behold I was appointed.”
And it was circumstance and loyalty to that friend that provoked Horton to run for mayor.
“I had never, ever aspired to be mayor. When Tim (Nadar) ran for assembly that left an opening for the mayor’s seat. Penny Allen, who was not a friend of Gayle’s, came and said she was going to run for mayor. I asked her, ‘why don’t you run for council first and get your feet wet?’ Basically she told me her experience was so broad, that she was too good to be just a councilperson. That all the roles she played in her life, and her experiences made her suitable to be mayor. And I guess I took offense at that. I looked at her, and I had never thought of being mayor, and I said ‘Penny if you run for mayor, I am going to run against you!’”
Eight years ago Shirley Horton was elected to her first term as mayor. Four years after that Horton received over 70% of the vote sweeping her into office for her second term. And for all intents and purpose this was going to be Horton’s last year in public office. The city of Chula Vista has term limits and Horton had no plans to run for any other public office.
Whatever plans Horton had in regards to life after public office were changed when the community, friends and the party came to her and implored her to run for the newly redrawn 78th Assembly District.
Horton cites her ability to bring different groups, segments of the community together. And as she often does, sites the City of Chula Vista as a great example of a diverse city with everyone working together - collaborating.
“I have the highest approval ratings of any elected official in the South County, and the polls say with the lowest negative rating. I think that is partly because I don’t play games with people. What you see is what you get with me. I try to be very upfront. And I try to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard.”
Horton is intimately aware of the issues that face the residents of the 78th district. She cities education as one of the key issues to empowering minority students. She views the cross border business community as one region that needs to work together, to build for the future. Horton views gridlock on our freeways as a major issue, stating that all gas tax monies raised locally should be spent locally.
As she walks the neighborhoods the residents tell her that redevelopment is high on their list. Building parks and recreation for their children is key for them. “We can plan and require that these facilities be built. There is a need for additional funding to build these facilities, which is the challenge. In the northern part of the district we have schools that help provide recreational playgrounds and most of their fields are gravel instead of grass. We need to raise money so they can plant grass and the kids can play soccer. And in George Stevens district you have a lot of redevelopment needs.”
The Assembly districts were redrawn, with most of them created to protect an incumbent or to make the district safe for one party or another. The 78th was created as a safe district for a Democrat that was until Shirley Horton decided to run for that seat. Now it is the most hotly contested seats in the state and is no longer considered safe.
Because of her strong support base, her ability to collaborate with the various communities, City of San Diego 4th District, which is part of the 78th, councilperson George Stevens (Democrat) has endorsed her campaign, as well as the Mayor of San Diego, Shirley Horton has positioned herself to be the new assemblyperson for the 78th Assembly District in her quiet, determined way!