Former County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has formally declared her intention to run for the Fourth District Supervisor seat. Finally.
This will be one of four San Diego County contests I will focus on throughout the coming year. Simply put, the County government is the biggest entity impacting the most lives in San Diego. And if you look closely, it’s apparent the decisions of the Board of Supervisors regularly favor interests whose fundamental values do not align with those of most of the people living in the region.
The 2018 election represents an opportunity to begin changing that reality. As is true with any big institution, change will not happen overnight. But you have to start somewhere.
Four big County races coming next year–Board of Supervisors, District Attorney, Sheriff, and Assessor–offer the opportunity for citizens to peer inside the workings of this government entity.
Today’s column will focus on Bonnie Dumanis, the candidate of the status quo. Future columns will discuss her primary opponents. We have nine months until the June primary, and there will be plenty of time to examine the personalities and issues at hand.
A few fast facts. The Fourth Supervisorial District encompasses nearly all of the City of San Diego.
, plus Coronado. With 630,000 residents, it’s the County’s most ethnically diverse district. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1.
The County of San Diego is the second-largest employer in the region, behind the University of California.
Two major demographic trends will have an impact on the makeup of the region and need to be taken into consideration in discussing the 2018 election. Latinos and the over-65 population are the fastest growing groups.
Although whites make up 47% of the population and Democrats have a six point registration advantage, the Board of Supervisors is all white and all Republican. County offices are supposed to be nonpartisan, but campaigns follow party lines.
Bonnie Dumanis was a Superior Court judge who was elected to the County District Attorney’s office in 1992, making her the first openly gay head prosecutor in the country. She ran unopposed in 2006 and 2010, winning re-election in the June 2014 primary with 55% of the vote.
One of her selling points has always been projecting herself as a moderate. Lots of folks don’t realize Dumanis is a Republican. The dark horsemen of local right wing partisanship–the Lincoln Club–have been laying the groundwork for her candidacy for many months. City Council member Lori Zapf thought about running for supervisor but was discouraged by GOP leaders.
In July Dumanis resigned as DA, saying she was considering a run for supervisor and didn’t want a campaign to distract from her work as DA. She is hoping to replace termed-out Ron Roberts, who has served on the Board of Supervisors since 1994.
Her 2012 campaign for mayor of San Diego, finishing fourth in the five-way primary election, has continued to haunt Dumanis. She was a ‘subject of the investigation’ in the Azano corruption saga and accused of having improper contacts regarding the case with the then-U.S. Attorney.
The former District Attorney has denied knowledge of improprieties and was not charged. But, as Union-Tribune political columnist Michael Smolens pointed out:
Dumanis’ star has been dimmed, perhaps tainted, by her connection to José Susumo Azano Matsura, the wealthy Mexican businessman who was convicted last year on some three dozen federal counts relating to political corruption.
Among his sweeping transgressions was trying to funnel more than $100,000 into Dumanis’ mayoral bid in 2012. It’s illegal for foreign nationals like Azano to do that. It’s also illegal for a candidate to coordinate with an independent expenditure effort, which is what Azano was doing.
Dumanis said she wasn’t really familiar with Azano and was unaware of his effort to boost her candidacy. Turns out she was pretty familiar with both. Despite news reports and evidence in the trial detailing a much deeper connection, she has never admitted that her initial public characterization of her knowledge of Azano and what he was doing was simply not true.
As District Attorney, Dumanis made some enemies. Despite statements claiming to support the use of medical marijuana, her prosecutorial choices have indicated otherwise.
In 2012, after a jury refused to convict in a case filed against a legally operating medical marijuana collective her office ordered another raid on the clinic. Although she won a conviction in that case, it was overturned by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Appellate District.
Undaunted by the court’s decision, which rejected her office’s narrow definition of the state laws in the case, Dumanis ordered yet another raid on the same clinic, just hours later.
I could go on, but the fact is that the County District Attorney conducted an ongoing crusade against medical marijuana users and collectives. There is an ongoing case where the attorney for a local medical marijuana distributor was charged with concealing “evidence of illegal activities” following a court ordered return of monies seized from her client.
Another piece of the puzzle pointing to a pattern of vindictive behavior emerged this week on the Facebook page of Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher (formerly Secretary Treasurer of the San Diego & Imperial Counties Labor Council), whose husband Nathan is running against Dumanis.
When I was the head of Labor, Bonnie Dumanis had the FBI come question me over the failure of an Education Reform Initiative after I blasted her for supporting it in the media. It was both one of the the scariest & oddest things that have happened to me. My only involvement in opposing the initiative was working with our teachers to inform folks why the initiative was bad. The agent asked me some questions for about 45 minutes then thanked me and apologized for taking my time. She noted that they were required to follow up on things when certain people call: like the DA. I didn’t make a big deal about it publicly, – and I only spoke with some attorneys and my brother and the teachers union about it. I didn’t say anything because I took it as a clear threat: if you take on Dumanis she will abuse her power and use it against you even if you have done nothing wrong. I was a single mom at the time and knew it was in my best interest to stay out of her way.
Following her retirement as District Attorney, Dumanis granted an interview with the Union-Tribune to discuss what can only be described as the nadir of her legal career, namely the prosecution of rapper Brandon “Tiny Doo” Duncan and student Aaron Harvey because they allegedly promoted or benefited from crimes committed by gangs.
They spent months in jail based on song lyrics and Facebook posts as evidence, with the fact of their Blackness and having lived in a certain neighborhood as probable cause. The case attracted national attention as an example of abuse of prosecutorial power, prompting a visit by Cornel West, where he called the law in question “a policy of a police state.”
She said some information about the gang-conspiracy law spread by media outlets and members of the public was based on a “false narrative,” having to do with violations of the First Amendment, that her office could have done more to correct. She said her intent in filing those cases was to help the community, not hurt it, by going after the gangs responsible for at least nine killings.
She had not expected the backlash. Dumanis, the first openly-gay district attorney in the country and the first woman to serve in that post in San Diego County, has often stressed the importance of diversity in her office and its focus on community outreach.
She was “frustrated” by the criticism, but said she paid attention when “people she respected,” whom she did not name, came forward with concerns about Penal Code 182.5.
In any case, the UT article explained that Dumanis has beefed up on Black history and now realizes it’s important to check your implicit biases. I suspect this particular assertion will be a topic of discussion during the upcoming campaign since the election includes the certain neighborhood mentioned above.
She’s been the keeper of the flame for local politicos of a certain persuasion during her term as DA.
Dave Stutz, who spent many years in the DA’s office after leaving the IRS, issued this statement during the 2014 campaign in support of Dumanis’ opponent:
I served with the 2 previous DAs and, after she was elected, Dumanis appointed me to be in charge of all political violations. In a short period of time it became apparent she was using the office for her own political gain and not the public good. I retired rather than watch her destroy a great office and she has continued to abuse the office for her own personal benefit. Bob Brewer will return the office to what it once was before she ruined it.”
In a comment left on a story I wrote in 2014, Stutz amplified his on misgivings:
Within 3 hours of making a call to Sycuan to ask about a $25,000 contribution to “Kolender for Sheriff”‘, which would be illegal, I was called into her office and told to stop the investigation. No one knew about my call expect Sycuan and myself. Either Kolender or Sycuan called her and she stopped an investigation without knowing what is was about nor did she ask. For the next year Dumanis was led by a leash by Kolender endorsing right wing candidates on a “law and Order” ticket. She has been in their bag since day one.
And this brings me to my final point about Bonnie Dumanis’ candidacy: It’s all about preserving the status quo, including a legacy of favoring the wealthy and ignoring or shaming the poor whenever possible.
How do I know that? Consider this Facebook posting from David Lagstein, political director for the union representing many county employees:
A quick thought as Bonnie Dumanis officially enters the 4th District Board of Supervisor race: This is my third election cycle as the Political Director for SEIU 221 representing 10,000 county employees that serve the public every day. We’ve had a number of people attend our endorsement interviews even though they knew an endorsement was unlikely. We have spoken to candidates like Joel Anderson and Ernie Dronenberg, with whom we agreed to disagree, but at least they listened to the perspective of our members. In fact, there are only two people running for county office that have been invited to address our members as part of this process that have declined: Bill Horn and Bonnie Dumanis. There will be plenty of time to discuss her record as District Attorney, but her decision to decline even a conversation with the county workforce she is supposed to direct speaks volumes.
I’ll have lots to say about the issues and candidates concerning San Diego County in the coming months. Consider this an opening salvo.
Looking for some action? Check out the Weekly Progressive Calendar, published every Friday in this space, featuring Demonstrations, Rallies, Teach-ins, Meet Ups and other opportunities to get your activism on.
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