WASHINGTON (CBS SF) — Veteran Bay Area Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who survived the violence surrounding the Jonestown massacre while serving as an aide to slain Congressman Leo Ryan, announced Tuesday she would not seek reelection in 2022.

In a video release, Speier said she had mixed emotions making the announcement while also recalling those darks at the airport in Guyana.

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“Forty-three years ago, as I lay dying on a jungle airstrip, I promised God that, if I were allowed to live, I would dedicate my life to public service,” she said. “I was given that chance, and thanks to you, I was able to make good on that promise.”

Speier was a member of a group who accompanied Ryan in 1978 to Guyana to check on the well-being of more than 900 people — many Bay Area residents — who had moved to a jungle compound to be with and follow People’s Temple founder Jim Jones.

 

After becoming alarmed at what he saw, Ryan headed to an airport in Port Kaituma, but the party was ambushed at the airstrip. Ryan and several others were killed. Speier, shot five times, was among the wounded.

Jones ordered a cyanide-laced drink be given to more than 900 of his followers who died at the jungle encampment.

Speier unsuccessfully campaigned for Ryan’s seat, but eventually won her first election in 1980 when she ran for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

What followed were stops in the California State Assembly, California State Senate, and then she won a special election to fill the 14th Congressional seat vacancy on the San Francisco Peninsula when Rep. Tom Lantos died in 2008.

“It has been a remarkable journey that has surpassed my wildest dreams, and I could not have done it without you,” she said. “No one could have hoped for a better partner. Thanks to you and to others who joined with you, I have enjoyed nearly four decades in a career that defines the phrase ‘chance of a lifetime.'”

But she admitted her time had come to an end after 39 years in public life.

“Now, it is time to take a different path,” she said. “I will be retiring in 2022. It is time for me to come home and be more than a weekend wife, mother, and friend.”

Speier’s announcement comes as Republicans are seen to be positioned in 2022 to flip control of the House of Representatives.

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“Bay Area congressional seats are a real prize,” said political analyst Marc Sandalow. “You have to take Speier at her word, that as a 71-year-old, it’s time for her to spend her time doing other things. She has to be looking at the political landscape, though. It’s not that she had any prospect of losing her seat, but Republicans are in a very strong position to win control of the House.”

Speier listed the achievements she was most proud of during her 13 years in Congress. She fought to:

  • Strengthen consumer protection laws
  • Secure tens of millions of dollars for the San Francisco Bay
  • Root out waste, fraud, and abuse at the Pentagon
  • Clean up how sexual harassment is handled in the halls of Congress
  • Secure hundreds of millions of dollars for service members who were victims of medical malpractice
  • Pass legislation to remove the arbitrary time limit for the ratification of the ERA
  • Recover millions in veterans’ benefits for my constituents

“Just this year, I was finally able to pass legislation to fix our broken system of handling sexual assault in the military, securing justice for survivors,” she said. “I was also proud to vote for our infrastructure bill that will spur the greatest investments in rail, bridges, roads, broadband, and energy in the last half century. I hope to soon vote again for the Build Back Better plan that will invest directly in fighting climate change, and provide help to families through offering universal pre-K and expanding childcare, housing, healthcare and so much more.”

San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President David Canepa told KPIX whoever takes her seat will have big shoes to fill.

“She’s such a fearless leader, and what she’s done around legislation, around the LGBTQ community, women’s rights, when you look at the issues of equity…” said Canepa.

When asked whether he would consider running to fill Speier’s seat in congress, Canepa indicated some interest.

“I think everything’s on the table. So is it a possibility? I would go beyond that,” said Canepa. “First of all, I have to see if I live in the district. But if I do live in the district — because the district lines are changing — it’s something definitely I would consider. But I have to consult two people: my four-year-old son and my jefa; my wife.”

Donna Crane, an adjunct professor in the Political Science Department at San Jose State University, says there are a lot of potential candidates to fill her seat.

“The bench is really deep,” she said. “It’s a big, juicy, meaty, tasty, district in Congress. It’s not boring, it’s not homogenous.”
Sandalow tells KPIX 5 it’s a desirable seat to have, and suspects many people will make a run for it.

“You’ve gotta look to all of the obvious places. The members of the assembly and the senate, the San Mateo Board of Supervisors. It would not surprise me if there are some ambitious politicians in SF who want to move down to that little piece of SF that this district includes, simply so they can run for this seat,” he said.

Speier will serve the remainder of her term.

“We have lots of work, still to do,” she said.

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Max Darrow contributed to this report.