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.