By Frank Gormlie / OB Rag
Intro – Doug Porter, the main political writer for the San Diego Free Press – sister online publication of the OB Rag – and one of 7 SDFP editors, has been observing and critiquing elections in San Diego City and County from a progressive point of view for years. Here is an interview he did with the OB Rag over the weekend on the recent mid-terms:
Doug – you’ve been one of the keenest observers of the San Diego political scene of late. You wrote at least 200 articles at the SDFP about this year’s elections, both the Primary back in June and last week’s Midterms.
You, probably more than anyone else locally – and certainly within the progressive community – have a pulse on the electoral fortunes of the political class. I want to ask you to focus now on the Midterms held on November 6 for San Diego.
Question: Can you give us some of the overall trends you’ve witnessed and observed in terms of voting patterns and types of voters – and who’s on first?
More people than was expected were interested in voting, thanks to outreach efforts by a variety of groups not seen in previous elections: Indivisible, Moms Demand Action, the Brady Campaign, NextGen Climate, Together We Will, to name a few.
This energy encouraged traditional groups, especially when they doubled up with the newbies. Organized labor and Democratic clubs all saw an uptick in enthusiasm for canvassing and phone banking.
The fundraising platform ActBlue, which serves as a conduit for small donors to give to campaigns all over the country really lived up to its promise in this cycle. Donations averaging $34 went to 13,000 candidates, and are expected to top $1.5 billion by year’s end. Expect to see a Senate investigation/right-wing pr campaign aimed at damaging ActBlue’s brand.
The biggest trend of them all was the increased involvement of women in the political process. Nationally, more than 2000 women were elected to office in 2018. They account for 61% of ActBlue’s 3.7 million contributors this cycle, up from 54% in 2016.
At every level that I interacted with campaigns this year, women were stepping up to the plate.
Question: So, was there a “blue wave” in San Diego County? How so?
Well, the Blue Wave thing was an effective motivational ploy. The mass media picked up on it as shorthand for Democrats winning contests. What they mostly missed was—by and large—it wasn’t “just” Democrats who were winning. It was more Democrats who were more representative of what America looks like, and more Democrats who weren’t willing to go along to get along.
Monica Montgomery’s victory in the D4 City Council contest this year, and Georgette Gomez’ victory in D9 in 2016 are excellent examples of candidates who wanted more for their constituents because they were connected to realities of day-to-day life in their districts.
The enthusiasm of newly energized canvassers and phone bankers translated into an unexpected and decisive win for Dr. Jen in the D2 City council race, and the drubbing Nathan Fletcher gave Bonnie Dumanis in his win for the D4 Supervisor’s seat.
Escondido saw its incumbent Mayor lose and its Council flip from Red to Blue, thanks in part to the “Beto effect” of the intense campaigning for Ammar Campa-Najjar. Those door-to-door people couldn’t overcome the rural redneck vote, but they did encourage enough city folks to vote Democratic and it made a difference.
Question: What were some of the high-points of the election – with respect to progressives?
The biggest thing was people supporting candidates and causes learning what it feels like to win, and in many cases, win big. I can remember my first campaign volunteering for Senator Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and how discouraging it was to see our efforts either crushed or co-opted.
The people new to politics with a more progressive orientation will be back in 2020. Some of them may even be running for office. This year we started to build a bench, one that will help us in the future.
The evolution of the anti-Issa protests into an all-out effort to speak with virtually every voter who answered their door or phone in the 49th Congressional race could serve as a template for the future. Independent progressives, labor, and the Democratic Party all worked side-by-side.
Question: I have to ask – and what were some of the low-points?
The lowest point was Duncan Hunter’s naked embrace of hate, vis-a-vis the Islamophobic and racist ads aired against Campa-Najjar. It’s particularly sad because the misinformation used probably came via one of Ammar’s opponents in the June primary.
And that brings me to the question of playing the political purity card. People and their supporters who persist in re-litigating electoral contests they’ve already lost are hurting the very causes they claim to support.
Once the votes are counted and you’ve had your ‘pity me’ drunk, it’s time to move on. I’m NOT saying those who are defeated have to play lovey dovey, particularly after a hard fought campaign. There are always other issues and candidates needing attention.
Those assholes who persist on trashing candidates post primary are wasting everybody’s time. And I’m sad to say I saw some progressives falling into that trap.
Question: What about Duncan Hunter, re-elected while under indictment? What’s going to happen to him? Then what? Who will replace him – and how will that happen?
My best guess is that Hunter will agreed to a plea bargain minimizing his exposure to actual jail time. Part of the deal will include resigning. A special election will be called to replace him.
The wildest, yet entirely possible result of that contest will be Daddy Duncan Hunter coming out of retirement.
Darrell Issa—who could run and win—has taken himself out of the running via his appointment as Director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. Carl DeMaio seems hell-bent on getting even for getting his butt kicked on Proposition 6, and is going all-in for more recalls along with a rumored run for the top dog’s seat in the state GOP. El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells could be a candidate, but only if Joel Anderson decides not to run.
GOP State Senator Joel Anderson’s loss to perennial candidate and former San Diego City Council-member Mike Shaefer in the contest for State Board of Equalization leaves him without a job. And he’ll take it with the blessing of the Republican Party leadership when Hunter goes away.
I don’t think a Democrat has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning a special election in DuncanHunterLand.
Question: I know Carl Demaio has been a particular nemesis for progressives in San Diego for years. Have we now seen the last of him with the defeat of his baby, Prop. 6, the repeal the gas tax initiative that was defeated?
Can I make a joke about herpes here without getting sued? I think Carl’s day has come and gone. I’m sure he feels otherwise, and he does have a history of failing up, so maybe he’ll run for something.
His one asset is the mailing list built up over the course of qualifying and campaigning for Proposition 6. One school of thought is that he’ll use the list to build an organization to complete with the Howard Jarvis tax busting crew.
Question: And ol’ Bonnie Dumanis. She lost badly to Nathan Fletcher for District 4 of the County Supervisors Board. Was this her last race? What can she do now?
Bonnie Dumanis has a nice fat pension. And, now, a history badly losing elections for seats where she’s not the incumbent. I’d guess her running for office days are over. If she opts to stay in the public eye, look for her to land a job for an already big name non-profit.
Question: Speaking of Nathan Fletcher. What are your projections of how much he can accomplish being the only Democrat on the board? Has Fletcher now been totally rehabilitated?
Fletcher’s good at working the crowd, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a coffee-klatch or a smoke filled room. I think his job at this point is to get some actual facts on the record, via (mostly) symbolic proposals requiring public hearings.
At some point the cycle of delay, deny, and defer will begin to break down, particularly as the next election approaches. Make no mistake about it, Fletcher has a Sisyphean task in front of him. He does, however, have a high speed fiber-optic line to Sacramento and it will surprise nobody should he choose to leverage his ‘connection.’
Another thing Fletcher has going for him is that he doesn’t owe the regional land barons squat. They spent big money to sully his reputation and failed.
My view of Nathan Fletcher is that he’s a work in progress. His true test will come when the progressive ideals he now professes to hold run smack into willful ignorance. Will he ‘go along to get along?’ I don’t think he will.
Question: With the changes on the San Diego City Council, what can we expect?
How good the City Council becomes depends on who gets to be president. If Georgette Gomez (who wants it) makes it through the gauntlet, better things are possible.
Chris Ward is smart enough to see which way the winds are blowing, and the three newbies will take some time to find their place in the pecking order.
Georgette has indicated she’s interested in building an alliance with Monica Montgomery and Vivian Moreno to end the transactional nature of relationships between assorted power brokers and city government.
My big hope for Monica Montgomery is that she’ll undo the willful obstruction of moving forward on criminal justice issues by her predecessor.
Looming over the Council will be the 2020 Mayoral election. Barbara Bry wants the Democratic nod which could be a plus, provided she’s not using her position to build support among the hoteliers and land barons. Chris Cate could still run on the GOP side, since his SoccerCity scandal has turned out to be a nothing burger.
Question: What with the 6-3 split now on city council favoring Democrats, will this force Faulconer to make more compromises?
Mayor Kevin Faulconer is out of a job in 2020. Unless he moves out of state, there is no future for him as an elected official with an “R” next to his name. So the task before him now is to complete something, anything, as a legacy accomplishment. That’s his ticket to a better paying job in the private sector.
It’s my feeling that the council has a lot of leverage. And if hizzoner can find a way to horse trade votes for a convention center deal, he’ll do it. But if he can’t swing a special election to raise taxes to pay for it by promising streets paved with gold in La Jolla or free beer in Hillcrest, look for a new side of Kevin to emerge. It could get ugly. Thankfully, Jan Goldsmith is now a former City Attorney, so his special brand of roadblocks won’t be an option
Question: Labor was split in who it supported this time around for city council races. What does that mean for the immediate future?
Labor is always split. They’ve got different interests when it comes to representing their membership; the Building Trades aren’t always going to want the same things as the American Federation of Teachers.
The good news here is that Executive Secretary-Treasurer Keith Maddox seems to be a Steady Eddie kind of guy when it comes to trying to find common ground.
I’ll venture a guess they’ll find a way to smooth things over with the people they opposed (Moreno & Montgomery). I can only hope the labor council will listen and learn from the largely successful choices made by SEIU local 221, both in politics and negotiations.
The 800 pound gorilla in the room for local labor is the bruised ego of UFCW President Mickey Kasparian. Look for the wannabe progressive kingmaker to leverage his rump coalition to undermine the wishes of many for the benefit of the few when it serves his purpose. He’s smart. And vengeful.
Question: Can you tell us what were some notable races outside the city of San Diego?
- Sunday Gover--who may still pass Brian Maienschein in the race for 77th Assembly District–impressed me as a candidate and campaigner.
- Another doctor on the way up is Akilah Weber, soon to take a seat on the La Mesa City Council.
- Paloma Aguirre’s win in the race for Imperial Beach City Council was worth noting.
- Alejandra Sotelo-Solis has risen above the trash heap of National City politics to become Mayor.
- Consuelo Martinez defeated incumbent Republican Ed Gallo to join Olga Diaz as Democrats on the Escondido Council. That’s a mighty satisfying red to blue shift.
- Finally, a losing contest by somebody who I hope we’ll see more of in the future. Cory Schumacher came in second in the race for Carlsbad mayor, but damn, she’s good.
Question: Who are some individuals progressive should watch?
- Remember the woman who came in third out of a field of sixteen in the 49th Congressional District primary? That would be Sara Jacobs. She’s got more than money going on.
- Genevieve Jones-Wright didn’t give up the ghost when she came up short in the District attorney’s race. She’s going to stay active, especially in the area of criminal justice reform and policing.
(I guess I’d better throw a couple of guys in here, lest they think I forgot.)
- Sean Elo overcame retiring City Councilman David Alvarez’s massive name recognition to win a seat on the San Diego Community College Board. You gotta respect a hard campaigner.
- Somebody who hasn’t run for office who made a lot of waves this year is Dems for Equality Prez William Kennedy-Rodriguez. I gotta feeling. And, yes, I know he was a Republican in another life.
- Dave Myers retired from the Sheriff’s Department after losing to Bill Gore, but he’s hasn’t retired from politics. I see a lot potential in his future.
- The same applies to Jordan Beane, who came out of nowhere to mount a good campaign and stayed active after losing the primary to Dr. Jen.
Question: Likewise, what groups should progressives watch in the foreseeable future?.
Groups come and go. And typically after an election there’s a reshuffling caused in large part by burnout. So I’ll give three categories of groups worth watching:
- Women – Some of San Diego’s hardest working politicos. Look for some strong leaders to emerge in outsider groups like Indivisible and insiders like organized labor.
- Gunsense – The folks who’ve been fighting an uphill battle against the NRA are starting to sense victory. Look for them to double-down.
- Justice – ICE doesn’t stop deporting people after an election. We’ve got a District Attorney who’s all-in with hardliners, even as she markets her soft side. And the fights for economic and environmental justice aren’t going anywhere.
One other thing to watch for will be the upcoming change in leadership in the County Democratic Party. Over the past year or so, they’ve done a commendable job of building infrastructure. Now it needs to be used on a regular basis, rather than every two years.
While there have always been turf wars within the party, I see the possibility that new leadership will be more willing to listen to progressive activists.
Question: What do you think was the effect of the San Diego Free Press – and to a lesser extent, the OB Rag – in this years Midterms?
Between the OB Rag and the SDFP, we’ve been plugging away at politics for a decade. And people noticed. Candidates reached out to us. Our voter guides saw as many as 25,000 visitors per day during the run up to the general election.
Educating voters by comparing campaigns to a progressive yardstick as opposed to the reductionist wordplay used by the mass media serves a vital role.
I know we made some people unhappy by not being tougher on some of the more traditional Democratic candidates. It was our call that unusual times call for unusual flexibility. And mostly we tried to say as little as possible about campaigns we might have opposed in past elections. It didn’t make sense to be picking unwinnable fights on our side of the aisle, not with Trump in office.
Also, based on the right wing hate mail we threw away, I’d say it was a good year for us.
Question: What’s next for you?
One of my side-projects for 2018 involved working with the Indivisible Downtown chapter to assemble basic research on the candidates for their voter guides. While I make no secret of my opinions, the final choices on who to endorse were left up to the membership.
I’d like to become a hired/volunteer lead researcher for progressive groups producing information and analysis for their education efforts. I actually enjoy scouring the media and public records, a task most folks find tedious.
Given my disability (no vocal chords), I have a difficult time being heard at meetings and demonstrations. I don’t see that challenge getting in the way of being a voice for progressive ideas and activism.