By Doug Porter
County Supervisor Dave Roberts is in the fight of his political life. He’s the lone Democrat (first in two decades, actually) in a powerful political entity with few of the checks and balances Americans expect to find in government.
He’s tried to go along to get along, continually stressing the virtues of the entire board in public statements. But a series of poor management (and maybe personal) decisions, costing the county $310,000 in legal settlements, within Robert’s office created an opening for local Republicans.
They’re pressing their advantage, hoping for a return to the one-party system that’s served them well in the past. The race for District 3 supervisor is one of the few bright spots on the local GOP’s horizon.
Republican strategist Jason Roe is running the campaign for challenger Kristin Gaspar. He’s been the GOP’s go-to guy as of late, running Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s re-election campaign, along with the disgraceful anti-minimum wage increase campaign in 2014.
The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the business-oriented Lincoln Club have spent just over $200,000 in support for Gaspar. Roe told the UT he expects the finally tally in support for his candidate to top out at a half million dollars.
An Exclusive Club
The Board’s five members operate in a legislative, executive, and quasi-judicial capacity. It passes ordinances for the unincorporated areas (ordinances that affect the whole county, like posting of restaurant ratings, must be ratified by the individual city), tells the county departments (17,033 employees) what to do, and is the final venue of appeal in the local planning process.
The ability of just five elected officials to shape the county’s priorities in big and small ways was once a ticket for lifetime tenure in part because supervisors also draw their own district lines.
The decision of local unions to overcome their natural opposition to term limits and support Measure B in 2010, changed the game. Now the Supervisors are more dependent on using the powers of incumbency to determine the future make up of their club.
Last year the local Republican organization, concerned about the ideological purity of the board, coughed up $200,000 towards replacing second district Supervisor Diane Jacob with State Senator Joel Anderson. The Sacramento legislator put that idea on ice after the money became public knowledge.
Due to a loophole in the state’s campaign finance law, Anderson can fire up a 2020 campaign (Jacob will be termed out) with the $200,000 in party money, while anyone opposing him will be bound by the $25,000 limit.
When a local politician well known for his liberal stances was thinking of challenging another long-term Republican member, I’m told that other Democrats stepped up to the plate and endorsed the incumbent, blocking his path. (Names omitted because they all deny it, FYI.)
Why? Follow the money. As in the county’s $5.4 billion budget. Most of the delivery of goods and services throughout the region flows through the county. So the money for human services and the economic safety net goes through the Board of Supervisors. If you’ve got the Republican point of view on social services, you’re gonna get as little as possible most of the time.
Then there’s land, a precious commodity in an overpopulated state with a housing shortage. While the Supervisors don’t always agree on policy in this area, the financial possibilities are always going to be a source of tension. And opportunity. (I’ll have a fuller discussion about this in my coverage of Measure B next week.)
A Bad Stumble
Incumbent Supervisor Dave Roberts was doing all the right things an incumbent should do as an election approaches. The strategic press releases, the public appearances, and constant fundraising were all proceeding on schedule.
Then the bottom dropped out.
Part of Roberts’ success in winning the seat in 2012 following Pam Slater-Price’s retirement was her cross-party endorsement. That blessing came with a price tag, namely continued employment for her staff. Things didn’t work out as planned.
Over the next period, eight staffers left Roberts office.
UPDATE: Emailed Comment from Pam Slater-Price: …I just wanted to let you know that there was NO requirement for Dave to hire any of my staff. He interviewed those who wanted to stay and selected 4. They all stayed for at least 2 years and one of them is still there. While my former chief of staff managed his office there were no problems or scandals. After 3 of them retired the problems started. But I believe he now has a good Chief and his office is well managed. That’s why I agreed to again endorse him…
In the spring of 2015, three former staffers filed claims against the county alleging Roberts had misused the power of his office. He was accused ordering employees to do political work on county time, having an inappropriate relationship with an employee, and asking a staffer to mislead a human resources inquiry.
The County of San Diego asked one of those former employees to return personalized baseball cards with the supervisor’s face. It was beyond embarrassing.
Roberts consistently denied the allegations.
Political consultant Tom Shepard parted ways with Roberts. There were reportedly discussions within the Democratic party about cutting their losses. Fundraising tanked.
Roberts stayed the course, though, and weathered the scandal. District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis decided there was no basis for criminal charges. The man who ran Roberts’ initial campaign for office, Gary Gartner, returned to the fold to aggressively challenge the credibility of the accusers.
In the end, the county settled, saying it would cost way more to litigate these cases.
Sam Abed, the feisty Mayor of Escondido and Kristen Gaspar stepped up to challenge Roberts in the primary.
I’ll go back to a quote from earlier this year by Democratic activist Don Greene on Abed’s announcement:
That weird shudder you felt on Monday morning was not a change in barometric pressure. In something akin to a “disturbance in the force,” Mayor Sam Abed announced his candidacy for County Supervisor. This is problematic for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that he has demonstrated he is neither qualified nor fit for the position.
Abed holds his record on the Escondido City Council high and proud, for all to see. I have often described his description of the job that he’s done as something from the Orwellian Ministry of Truth. Wrapped in a weird double speak, Abed delivers the litany of his destructive policies as proud accomplishments: Sure we closed your library, but think of the money we saved you on glasses.
Gaspar won the support of the the four Republican members of the San Diego City Council and much of the downtown party establishment. The term “Coastal Republican” was bandied about to differentiate her style from Abed, who (somehow–he doesn’t look like that) invokes my memories of cartoon character Yosemite Sam.
On election day, Roberts won a plurality by a small margin (38.79%). Republicans Gaspar and Abed received 34.29 percent and 26.93 percent, respectively.
The seat is officially nonpartisan, but Democratic registration in the county rose from 35% of the electorate to 37% as of June. The share of GOP voters is the same (33%) as at the beginning of this year and the number of no party preference voters declined.
District 3 includes Del Mar, Encinitas, Escondido, Rancho Bernardo and Solana Beach, as well as a large expanse of northern San Diego, including parts of Carmel Valley, Mira Mesa, Scripps Ranch and Rancho Penasquitos.
Roberts is now back to campaigning as if nothing ever happened, keeping up a full schedule of appearances designed to give any incumbent an advantage. No doubt he’s hoping for the Trump effect on down ballot races to help him out.
The ‘Moderate’ Challenger
Much has been made of the Coastal Republican tagline for Kristin Gaspar, who became the Encinitas’ first elected mayor when the city switched to a directly elected mayor system earlier in the decade.
There wasn’t much of track record in politics for Gaspar and that suited the party just fine. “Reasonable” candidates are hard to find on the right side of aisle lately.
Then Gaspar went in front of the cameras on primary day. Somebody should have told her about Donald Trump’s toxicity with the electorate, even in Coastal Republican areas.
— Andrew Bowen (@acbowen) June 8, 2016
A Facebook page now exists, entitled The Same Photo of Kristin Gaspar Endorsing Donald Trump Every Day.
Her statement flies in the face of the approach Gaspar was taking during the run-up to the primary election.
From the Escondido Grapevine:
Gaspar has been focused on working the phones and stressing her bipartisan approach — and appeal. She points out her record of avoiding partisan politics and her focus on listening to the people of Encinitas whom she represents. “This is about service, and it’s service at its finest,” she told a group of supporters at an April 14 fundraiser in Encinitas.
Now candidate Gaspar has declined to appear in local forums via the Leucadia-Encinitas Town Council, and the North County Arts Network. Both forums, now canceled, were to be sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
Encinitas residents will have to travel to Mira Mesa (Mira Mesa Town Council) or Escondido (San Diego County Farm Bureau) to hear the candidates present their case.
Campaign manager Jason Roe told the Coast News the decision to decline the invitation was not politically motivated, but a result of scheduling conflicts.
The Escondido Grapevine sees her candidacy as a bad idea, saying Gaspar’s track record as mayor has been undistinguished:
Gaspar proposed to address homelessness by sending $100,000 of Encinitas-city funds to the Escondido-based Interfaith Community Services rather than contribute those funds to the Community Resource Center in her home town to support the same type of program.
Since Gaspar was running for supervisor against the Escondido mayor Sam Abed at the time, could that have been a political move to sway voters in Escondido? The remainder of the Encinitas City Council rejected that give-away.
Gaspar’s other initiative was a measure renaming the library for the wife of a wealthy campaign donor.
Meanwhile, things in the race to replace her in Encinitas are getting a bit murky. Gaspar’s husband is running. There are local tensions, brought on in part by that community’s issues with (a lack of) low-income housing.
The North Coast Seaside Courier is running editorials saying electing Paul Gaspar mayor (along with two of their choices or City Council races) amounts to “Take Back Encinitas.”
Now…exactly where have I heard that kind of rhetoric before…?
For More Information:
End Notes: Our endorsements will be included in our General Election Progressive Voter Guide, published shortly after mail-in ballots are delivered in October.
Other San Diego Free Press coverage of the 2016 general election.
Tomorrow: Election Odds and Ends. Monday, it’ll be the first in several articles about Measure A, SANDAG’s long shot at future funding. We’ll be writing about various state and local contests Monday-Friday for the next five weeks.
On This Day: 1845 – Some 5,000 female cotton workers in and around Pittsburgh, Pa., strike for a 10-hour day. The next day, male trade unionists become the first male auxiliary when they gather to protect the women from police attacks. The strike ultimately failed. 1923 – Oklahoma was placed under martial law by Gov. John Calloway Walton due to terrorist activity by the Ku Klux Klan. After this declaration national newspapers began to expose the Klan and its criminal activities. 1997 – The domain name “google.com” was registered.
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