By Don Greene
While it seems the dust is just beginning to settle on last November’s election, it is a perfect time to begin to look at the 2018/2020 County Supervisor elections and take a look at the players we either know or have heard will be making a run.
The last election put Kristin Gaspar into office in the Third District, replacing incumbent Dave Roberts. This put the composition of the Board back to “all Republican.” This could be disastrous moving forward, especially in the land use arena. Projects like Merriam Mountain, Lilac Hills Ranch, Safari Highlands Ranch and others in the North County could be given the green light by an all Republican, pro-development Board.
Take for example a project like Lilac Hills Ranch. A proposed development in Valley Center, Lilac Hills would have added the negative impact of hundreds of cars and people to the very rural area without the existing infrastructure capable of handling the increase. Bill Horn, Supervisor in the Fifth District, was unable to vote on the project because of an FPPC ruling which identified property owned by him within the sphere of economic benefit. With Horn out, the Board would have been split 2-2, Jacobs and Dave Roberts voting against, Cox and Ron Roberts voting in favor. They sent it to the voters, who rejected it. Now with Gaspar in the mix, the project – after it’s mandatory one-year moratorium – would be able to pass with Gaspar joining Cox and Ron Roberts.
Elections Have Consequences
Looking forward to 2018, the county has the opportunity, based on demographics alone, to turn the Board of Supervisors into a 3-2 Board. Where the D’s and R’s fall in that mix will depend on how much attention is paid to the race and how much work is done by the county political parties.
District One, in the southern portion of the county, is up for grabs. Greg Cox is termed out in 2020 and the open seat should, again based on demographics, be filled by a Democrat. Democratic registration in the area far exceeds Republican registration. The same should be said for the District Four seat, currently occupied by Ron Roberts, which covers Downtown San Diego and along the coast.
In the District One race, SD Council member David Alvarez announced his candidacy at the last San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee meeting. Announcing early, Alvarez prevents other would-be Democrats from entering the race. To date, there have been no Republicans to announce their intent to run in the district. In the District Four race, the candidates have yet to come forward, but you should expect things to change fairly soon.
The possible race which might put the Board in the 3-2, Dem to Rep, split is District Five. Bill Horn is termed out in 2018 and the race for his seat is already in full motion. While it is generally considered a safe Republican seat, analysis of the last election results could change popular opinion.
In 2014, Horn almost lost in the primary election to Oceanside Mayor Jim Wood. Wood, a moderate Republican lost by only 2,495 votes and came close to unseating a long-time incumbent. A popular Democrat has the chance to advance to the General Election and possibly win the seat if the right kind of campaign is run.
Who Are the Current Players?
District Five currently has a bevy of Republicans who are either running or are considering running, and only one known Democrat. Each of these candidates has their established base and all will bring a different voice to the race.
Oceanside Council member Jerry Kern has announced his intent to run. He is known as a right-of-center Republican who ticks many of the boxes for which the Republicans are looking: he is pro-development, fiscal conservative, known to be hard on public labor unions, and fairly socially conservative. He has in the past surprised a number of Oceanside residents with his openness to discuss issues and with some of his votes.
Kern is a knowledgeable candidate whose experience in local, State, and now Federal issues is impressive. He is in his third term on the Oceanside City Council and is very active in local, regional policy making agencies. During his run for the 76th Assembly District, he became known to State Officials as an active advocate for Oceanside and the Tri-City area. And, he currently sits on the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant Decommissioning Community Engagement Panel, which has lead to working with the Federal Government to properly dispose of the nuclear fuel still at San Onofre.
San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond has also announced he is running for the seat. Desmond has served on the San Marcos City Council since 2004 and was elected Mayor in 2006. In those years, while leading the City with little to no opposition (twice the City has not had to hold elections) Desmond seems to be a popular Mayor with the residents of his City.
Desmond also looks like a good alternative to any Democrat who is looking for a candidate for which to vote. Desmond has developed a reputation by being difficult on developers and protective of open space and preserving community character –issues for which environmentally and community-active Democrats are looking.
The rumor mill has turned a list of potential other Republicans for the race. Assembly Member Marie Waldron is rumored to be looking at a run. She has officially moved into the district – moving from Escondido (her long-time home) to Valley Center. The move makes sense for her. 2018 would be her fourth term in the State Assembly and she would be termed out in 2022. She does not fly, so the drive to downtown San Diego, instead of Sacramento, would be much easier. Also, if she is not victorious, she sets the stage for a potential run in 2022, when the seat is up for re-election.
The mill has also produced the names of Assembly Member Rocky Chavez and Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall. Both of these names are still in the deep rumor categories though a move on either of their parts would not be unexpected. Chavez ran a very short campaign for US Senate to replace Barbara Boxer and Hall has been in Carlsbad for over 20 years. Beginning his council terms in 1994, Hall has served as Mayor since 2010. With the unpopular decision over the development of Agua Hediondo Lagoon in 2015 and the rise of the opposition to Measure A, Hall might be reading the tea leaves and predicting a bleak future in Carlsbad politics.
The Not-So-Honorable Opposition
On the Democratic side of the aisle, only one person has announced her candidacy for the seat. Oceanside Council Member Esther Sanchez has announced at various Democratic meetings she is either “exploring a run” or “is running” for the District Five seat. Currently, she is the only Democrat who has thrown a hat into the fray.
While her popularity in her hometown of Oceanside seems to be great enough to have gotten her re-elected to her fifth term, her popularity fades drastically when she ventures past Oceanside’s borders. Known for being abrasive and hard to get along with, her colleagues on the council have begun to implement new rules which, on the surface, appear to be designed to regulate her behavior at council meetings. And while her staunch anti-development position would seem to be favored by Democrats in the mostly rural section of the county, it is not likely to be enough to overcome the negative taste which she has left in many mouths.
No other Democrats have entered the race. If no other Dems want a shot at the seat, it would appear that Sanchez will garner enough votes to make it through the Primary Election and into the General Election, especially with the number of Republican candidates splitting the votes. The challenge for Sanchez will be winning the General Election. And, with her current reputation, she would be easy pickings for a Republican opponent to take down.
The Race is On
It would be safe to expect the County Board of Supervisors races will be the contentious races in 2018. There are a handful of local races which might make a small blip on a few radar screens, but the ideological and political control over the 5 Billion dollar county budget will overshadow any other races in the upcoming cycle.
There are a couple of Mayoral races to consider – Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, Poway Mayor Steve Vaus and Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall will be up for re-election and in San Diego, the even-numbered city council districts will be up. Districts two and four are squarely in the Republican and Democratic camps respectively. Districts six and eight will be interesting to watch to see if Carol Kim takes another shot at running in District Six and who will step up in District Eight for the open seat with Alvarez running for Supervisor.
All-in-all, no matter what happens nationally, we will continue to have interesting battles on the local front in our own backyard.
NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify that Supervisor Cox’s term ends in 2020, and the Board of Supervisors voted to refer Lilac Hills project to the voters.
Don Greene is active in North County San Diego Politics and works for the Deputy Mayor of the City of Oceanside. He is the former North Area Vice Chair for the San Diego County Democratic Party and the former President of the Escondido Democratic Club