Former California state legislator Lori Saldaña, a Democrat, is seeking to represent San Diego's redrawn 52nd District in the U.S. Congress with a campaign based on her work in education, environmental causes and the defense of immigrants.

The daughter of Frank Saldaña, a Marine veteran who pursued a career as a reporter at the San Diego Evening Tribune, she grew up in the city's Claremont neighborhood.

Lori Saldaña will compete in the June 5 open primary against fellow Democrat Scott Peters, chair of the Port of San Diego; Republican Rep. Brian P. Bilbray, who currently represents the 50th District in Washington; and two other GOP hopefuls, John Stahl and Wayne Iverson.

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Under California's new election law, the top two vote-getters in June regardless of party will face off in the November general election.

Saldaña was elected to the state Assembly for the first time in 2004, was reelected twice and also has been an instructor for San Diego Community College, associate dean at San Diego Mesa College and is an acknowledged expert on water quality.

"Traditional Democrats and Republicans don't know what to do with me. I'm not a traditional Latina, since instead of participating in established organizations I directed the Sierra Club and grew up in the middle class neighborhood of Claremont," said Saldaña in an interview with Efe, adding that she is very proud of her Panamanian and Mexican roots.

Her work in the state Assembly led her to sponsor bills to reduce greenhouse gases, make solar energy cheaper and train small businessowners to take advantage of development opportunities.

"I was married to an oceanographer, and so for many years I crossed over to Ensenada every day so that I learned the trans-border dynamics," said Saldaña, who has a B.A. and M.A. in education from San Diego State University.

"After college I taught at the community college where I also administered the scholarships for the technical training of students by the Labor Department. Due to budget cuts, those scholarships disappeared, which made me take note of the need to do legislative work to restore them," she said.

The 52nd District, where the population is about 15 percent Hispanic, is facing challenges mainly associated with the high cost of education and the reduction of well-paid jobs.

"The Republicans accuse us Democrats of wanting to raise taxes and spend, while they are borrowing and spending. Our position is more responsible," Saldaña said.

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The candidate, who opposes walls along the border arguing that she considers them costly and inefficient, said that it is key for the regional economy to implement an intelligent immigration policy that recognizes the contributions of undocumented immigrants.

She also said that she believes undocumented foreigners should be able to obtain U.S. citizenship if they prove that the only laws they have violated are the immigration statutes.

Saldaña received the support of Emily's List, a non-profit political organization supporting women candidates.

"This shows my popularity among the organizations of the Democratic base and activists. It's paradoxical that the traditional sectors of my party, including Hispanic organizations, have supported Peters. However, I believe that my platform is the most progressive and the best," said Saldaña.

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