Brian Bilbray and Carl DeMaio: San Diego’s Republican Shapeshifters

By Lucas O’Connor / Special to the San Diego Free Press

If there’s one thing that’s been particularly consistent to campaigns of the far right in San Diego this fall, it’s the unusually desperate attempts to hide the real agenda from voters. It’s one that should be cause for optimism as long as voters pay attention, and betrays an almost impressive self-awareness from the top of the GOP that the party’s agenda has drifted well outside the mainstream.

From the special exemptions of Prop 32 to Brian Bilbray’s teetering re-election bid to Carl DeMaio’s bizarre mayoral campaign, extreme conservatives are doing everything they can to hide their record and who they are.

For the backers of Proposition 32, the deception was part of the design from the very beginning. They surveyed the political landscape and found that, unsurprisingly, nobody wants millionaires and corporations to be able to buy off our political process. Rather than abandon a wildly unpopular idea, they came up with a different plan: fake it.

That’s Prop 32, from the same white knights of campaign finance reform who broke the system to begin with by using the Citizens United case to overthrow existing regulations on special interest money. This year, they simply took it a step further, called the plan reform and packed in enough special exemptions to create a system that only works for corporations and millionaires.

It makes sense because everyone wants campaign finance reform. But the reason they want campaign finance reform is specifically because of what Prop 32’s backers have done and continue to do.

The hundreds of millions of unregulated, unlimited political cash flowing into SuperPACs exists specifically because of Prop 32’s backers, and now its being funded by the Koch Brothers  and other super-rich conservatives that saw Citizens United as the starting pistol to buy off democracy. Prop 32’s hoping to trick voters. Will they see through it?

At the same time, there’s Brian Bilbray. He has cobbled together a decades-long career of faking moderation when election time comes around, but the reality just doesn’t match the myth he’s built for himself when push comes to shove. Bilbray wants to cast himself as an environmentalist, but mustered just a 17%  score on the League of Conservation Voters 2011 scorecard. And it was Bilbray’s early work trying to gut the Clean Water Act that once inspired Donna Frye to become a clean water activist.

Bilbray’s done his best to avoid the ramifications of the national GOP’s war on women, right on through to Todd Akin’s ‘legitimate rape’ comments. But the reality of his record remains, including a pitiful 8% score from Planned Parenthood’s scorecard.  Brian Bilbray may not want to be lumped in with the war on women, but if that’s what he’s hoping for, maybe he shouldn’t have signed up for it in the first place.

All of that could maybe be overlooked if Bilbray had taken up the mantle of the millions of Americans devastated when the economy fell apart near the end of the Bush administration. But while Bilbray will certainly have populist talking points on the stump, it’s worth remembering that he voted for the Paul Ryan plan to dismantle Medicare and destroy Social Security in response to increased economic security.

And Bilbray’s plan for economic recovery? One part rewarding tax-evading corporate interests , one part ‘Let them eat a Yacht Race!’ Not exactly your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.

For Carl DeMaio , the attempt to whitewash nearly twenty years as a professional politician has been even more depraved than elsewhere. After coming up with the likes of Newt Gingrich, Virginia Thomas, the Jack Abramoff crew, and the Koch Brothers, it seems to have dawned on Carl that the city of San Diego, well… really doesn’t like that at all.

During his tenure on the council, DeMaio has received the lowest cumulative score on the annual Environmental Quality Report Card. And despite being appointed since joining the council, DeMaio hasn’t appeared in the minutes of a single meeting of the San Dieguito River Valley Regional Open Space Joint Powers Authority since January 2011.

Reality didn’t matter to DeMaio though when he took a week out to declare himself an environmentalist. He didn’t get very far with that, so he moved on to a plan to encourage biking by investing in more roads. Doesn’t make sense? It isn’t supposed to. It’s just supposed to distract from his career-long record on the wrong side of these issues.

Word on the street is, DeMaio spent some time recently trying for an endorsement from the Victory Fund, which led to an unexpected declaration from Carl that he was pro-choice. It has to be considered unexpected since it was certainly news to Planned Parenthood. Why? Because despite the clear reasons that choice matters at the local level, DeMaio has always refused to fill out Planned Parenthood’s questionnaire. And today, if you’re looking for pro-choice candidates in November, you sure aren’t going to find Carl DeMaio on the list.

There are still more examples. He runs as a fiscal conservative while voting against hundreds of millions in taxpayer savings  and getting the BS treatment  from Mayor Sanders. He tried out medical marijuana but that fell flat once anyone read past Carl’s own statement .

He took a quick stab at being for the middle class and affordable housing over the summer, trying to pass off support from a landlord group as support for tenants The claims were called “preposterous,” and the former CEO of the San Diego Housing Commission said in no uncertain terms that “Carl DeMaio is not an advocate for more affordable housing.”

Heck, DeMaio has even tried reaching out to the Latino community while trumpeting an endorsement from Pete Wilson, the father of Proposition 187. And after casting the only vote on the council in support of Arizona’s SB1070, his Latino outreach has featured a plan to have local police enforce federal immigration law.

The most amazing part is the special brand of doublethink that DeMaio has going on in all this. He isn’t just making up an entirely new self for the general election, he’s doing it while criticizing others for the same thing. Like this week at the KPBS mayoral debate:

“The U-T CEO mentioned that he got support from labor, and yet labor has not supported it, that he got support from business groups, but very few groups that are out there have supported the plan,” DeMaio said. “And so I just think that the email probably was making some claims that are not grounded in reality.”

Now, it wouldn’t be shocking to discover the UT making claims that are not grounded in reality. But compare that to DeMaio’s recent record. He’s an affordable housing advocate unless you ask affordable housing advocates. He’s an environmentalist unless you ask environmentalists. He’s a medical marijuana advocate unless you ask medical marijuana advocates. He’s pro-choice unless you ask Planned Parenthood. He’s a friend to the Latino community except for wanting them to be harassed by the police. He’s a fiscal conservative except for imposing a billion dollar tax increase without a vote of the public.

But when Doug Manchester and John Lynch — the very same duo who helped DeMaio defeat essentially the same tax increase in 2005  — don’t poll well, then maybe reality has come loose.

Does it work? Maybe not with anyone who has the time and interest to dig into the substance. But those who never catch more than headlines because they have lives full of working to make ends meet, struggling with health care bills, working into retirement thanks to Wall Street, trying to figure out what to do after a foreclosure… they understandably won’t ever have that time.

And that’s the whole idea. Keep up the game of whack-a-mole long enough that voters never get a chance to examine the truth.

It’s said that great writers steal outright, so here’s a heartfelt tip of the cap to the inimitable Ann Richards  before saying: Poor Carl.

He’s never once had a job that asked him to appeal to a majority, or even anyone resembling moderates. So now that he’s stuck in a general election, he’s like Columbus discovering America. He’s found the environment. He’s found the middle class and working people. He’s found women. He’s found the sick and suffering. He’s found Latinos.

Poor Carl. He can’t help it. San Diego just doesn’t want what he’s been selling his whole life.


  1. avatar says

    This is no silly season, Nadin. It is deadly serious.

    We have the best mayoral candidate in more than a generation in Democratic Congressman Bob Filner, an energetic, highly intelligent person with a long history of public service. Filner is competing with extreme right-wing candidate Carl DeMaio, a liar who distorts the truth and the record at will, who enjoys big money from secret national PACs and has local support from the megalomanical owner of U-T San Diego and media outlets like KPBS which is politically compromised by its donor list.

    Let’s hope it’s not only political junkies who figure all this out in time to vote right. One way to counteract ignorance or disinformation is to walk neighborhoods or phone for Filner in these next weeks. Call 619 231-6200 and commit to action.

    It’s exactly as Lucas O’Connor describes: Councilman and candidate DeMaio looks and sounds slick and sincere — if a little robotic. But there is no daily newspaper to tell us unvarnished facts. Instead, huge right-wing money underwrites the lies of the no-new-taxes, public employee pension-hating privatizer candidate; and all the DINO and RINO movers and shakers see an opportunity in remaining silent or calling for “civility” — which is actually code for Anyone but Bob Filner, who they fear might interfere with their decades-long lock on power and conduct of business-as-usual.

    DeMaio’s record is the History of No on City Council: he has more no votes on issues than any other representative. If Demaio is elected, there will be no attention to healthy growth and environmentally friendly development, to innovation and collaboration between agencies such as the County and the School District, to the long-neglected needs of neighborhoods, to improving the presence of diverse communities’ on boards and commissions, to building the strong points of this city which are its exquisite natural location at an international border, its arts and sciences cadres and its polyglot populace.

  2. avatarNadin says

    Well, there is a reason why we joke around here that it is silly season.

    Moreover, I cover city hall regularly, Trust me, I am more aware of the issues, not just in San Diego proper, but a few more cities. I am even willing to bet that there are things happening OUTSIDE San Diego City Hall that are just as serious, if not more.

    In fact, it is not just San Diego where we are facing these stark choices. In fact, this afternoon, while the rest of America listens to a Presidential debate, I will be doing the honors at the EL CAJON debate. Mind you, some of the shenanigans in El Cajon are just as serious as San Diego… but hey, if you want to talk down to me, sure, I will take that.

    I will clue you in… you want the common denominator to a lot of this? No, not the Republican Party… the Lincoln Club. You might want to go read Southern California Watch.

    Now back to silly FIRE season… It’s the kind of combo that I just love… from fire coverage (literally) to city councils, to political debates.

  3. avatar says

    Gosh, Nadin, I surely didn’t mean to “talk down” to you. I actually thought you were minimizing the importance of the two races Lucas O’Connor took the trouble to write about. I must have totally misread what it means to call the last month before a quadrennial election during a major recession with a historically polarized electorate “the silly season.”
    But you are right about one thing: I don’t think El Cajon is in the same league as the City of San Diego and don’t know a thing about a debate there today.

  4. avatarNadin says

    Actually they are in the same league, and I will tell you why, which you do not know, the common denominator. Once again, THE LINCOLN CLUB.

    Sorry, if those of us who have to cover politics for real, and actually go cover multiple city halls, and learn the politics of THIS COUNTY, not just ONE CITY, have some fun with the job.

    But you are correct, most people do not really bother with politics OUTSIDE of San Diego, which is the canary in a very dusty mine… the poor canary really needs some oxygen here. I know, one can be surprised by what people do. But it is not that we do not take it seriously, silly season also happens more often than every four years, like every two, every primary and every special election. Here is a hint, the stakes in EVERY silly season are just as high, if not necessarily for the same reasons.

    Another huge free hint, this election may be a turning point for the control the Lincoln Club has over local politics, alas I am not just talking San Diego politics, their design is not JUST the city of San Diego… look at the Grossmnot School District. Anybody who actually understands San DIego Politics will KNOW that both the City of San Diego and the School District, were targeted by the RIGH WING a while ago, why we have a student of the Speaker here, a student of Southern Style politics, (no NOT DeMaio) and a couple others in this town.

    Oh and another huge free hint, lower your sights from City Hall to the Judicial elections. Right now we have a radical right Tea Party radical, endorsed by the UT by the way, running against a moderate Republican (Prop 14 removed the democrat from the ticket.) Yup, if I were you, I would NOT vote for Judge Miller. but for his opponent. But hey, judge races, nobody ever pays attention to… so why bother mentioning this?

    But you are correct, I am an ignorant oaf that knows nothing of local politics who will have to vote in between covering the stories on November 6th… why, because this ignorant oaf needs to cast a vote. And of course an ignorant oaf that takes this not seriously at all.

    Now if you do not mind, I actually have a story to write on a non important, it did not happen in San Diego so it matters little, (an attitude that explains why nobody covers politics east of the I-15, except for one paper) story about El Cajon City Politics… whoohoo the chickens did show up!

  5. avatarJuvenal 451 says

    Union membership is already VOLUNTARY, thanks to the US Supreme Court. Any employee working in a unionized workplace may elect not to support that portion of union activity which is political in nature. Moreover, political contributions deducted from union members’ paychecks are completely VOLUNTARY as well. When will we have an initiative which allows me, as a shareholder in mutual funds, etc. in my retirement account, to decide whether I wish to receive dividends or see that money become political contributions? Oh, and my written authorrization would be limited by the terms of the initiative to one year, as in Prop 32. Oh the wailing and gnashing of teeth!

    • avatarNadin says

      And let’s not forget Taft Hartley.

      And a few other… events in recent and not so recent history. There is a war on labor, concerted and all.