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'It's Time for Me to Come Home': U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier Says She Won't Seek Another Term

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A woman in front of a microphone.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, speaks at a press conference on sexual harassment in Congress on Nov. 15, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images))

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, the San Mateo Democrat who escaped death in Jonestown and went on to represent the Peninsula in elected office for more than four decades, announced Tuesday she won't seek reelection in 2022.

Speier's retirement comes after serving more than 13 years in Congress and nearly two decades in the state Legislature.

"It's time to come home," said Speier, 71, in an interview with KQED Tuesday morning. "It's time to be more than a weekend wife and mother and friend and it's time to pass the torch to a new generation."

Speier said she made the decision after reflecting on the upcoming anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre. On Nov. 18, 1978, Speier, then an aide to Rep. Leo Ryan, was helping her boss investigate the activities of the Peoples Temple cult in Guyana, when she was ambushed on an airstrip by followers of Jim Jones, the group’s leader.

Ryan was shot and killed. Speier was shot five times and had to wait hours to receive medical attention.

"Forty-three years ago this week, I was lying on an airstrip in the jungles of Guyana with five bullet holes in my body," Speier said in a video message announcing her retirement. "I vowed that if I survived, I would dedicate my life to public service. I lived, and I served. It's been a remarkable journey that has surpassed my wildest dreams."

Speier said her survival at Jonestown instilled a fearlessness that she would carry into future political battles — like her years-long push to reform how the U.S. military handles sexual assault cases.

"Jonestown was a defining moment because it allowed me to become more fearless than I would have been otherwise," Speier said.

After returning home and recovering, Speier threw herself into an unsuccessful campaign to succeed Ryan in Congress. In 1980, she won her first election, to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

Six years later, Speier went on to win a seat in the state Assembly, where she backed California's assault weapons ban and broke ground as the first state legislator to give birth while in office. During her 18 years in Sacramento, Speier became a strong consumer advocate and critic of the state’s troubled prison system.

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Following the death of U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos in 2008, Speier won a special election for his seat, which she has held ever since. She currently serves on the Armed Services, Oversight and Reform, and Intelligence committees — the latter of which put her in the middle of the House investigations that ultimately led to the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump.

During her time in the House, Speier has also championed women's rights. At the outset of the #MeToo movement, she shared her own story of being sexually harassed as a young congressional aide by an office chief-of-staff.

"I know what it’s like to lie in bed at night, wondering if I was the one who had done something wrong,” she said in 2017, encouraging other women who worked at the Capitol and who had been subjected to harassment to come forward. “I know what it’s like years later to remember that rush of humiliation and anger.”

Her work helped pass the Congressional Accountability Act Reform Act, which went into effect in 2019, and expands protections for congressional aides who have been subject to harassment.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who also represents the Bay Area, praised Speier in a statement, calling her "a force in the fight to combat sexual assault and harassment in all places."

"Her courageous and values-based leadership, particularly on behalf of the women, survivors and the vulnerable, has made a difference in the lives of countless Americans and has strengthened our nation," Pelosi said.

These last five years in office, Speier admitted, have been especially exhausting.

"It is a rigorous schedule to make that trek [to Washington] each week and that's what I have done almost every single week," Speier said. "And fighting for the democracy when it was always in question was difficult."

Speier said she didn't have an heir apparent in mind to fill her seat, although a possible contender is state Assemblymember Kevin Mullin, a Democrat who lives in her district and will be termed out next year.

"I had the privilege of closely observing [Speier] in action as her Senate district director and Assembly district aide before that," Mullin said in a statement. "I was awed by her ability to stand up to powerful interests regardless of potential political consequences."

Speier is the 14th House Democrat to not seek reelection in 2022. That pileup of retirements is a foreboding sign for Democrats, underscoring the fact that the party that wins the White House typically loses congressional seats in the subsequent midterm elections. Faced with the prospect they could find themselves in the minority, more members are expected to announce their departures in the coming months.

This post includes additional reporting from The Associated Press.

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