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Politics Report: San Diego's Blue Wave May Not Be Big

In this week's roundup: A political data maven puts potential anti-Trump passion in context for local races, an update from signature gatherers, a potential riff in unions on the supervisor race and a new Yimby club.

City Council candidate Carol Kim goes door to door to make a last minute push to get voters to the polls. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

Paul Mitchell, president of Political Data Inc. and one of California’s campaign experts, has some sobering news for anyone hoping a Democratic wave can flip downticket seats this year.

Mitchell said it’s unlikely anti-Trump passion – if it holds – will itself translate into big wins for Dems in local offices.

Evidence suggests a wave is coming. Voter registration rates in 2017, Mitchell said, looked like what you’d expect preceding a presidential election year, not a gubernatorial election. “You can safely say there’s going to be a wave,” Mitchell said.

California just isn’t that susceptible to big national shifts, he said. A 2006 Democratic wave and big Republican years in 2010 and 2014 didn’t translate here. “We’ve been inoculated from waves because our state has its own political climate,” Mitchell said. “California is California.”

However, watch CA-49. Five Republicans and five Democrats competing in June to replace Darrell Issa in Congress could make for big turnout. A lot of campaigns will be spending money to drive a lot of people to the polls. “Having that many candidates could have an impact, independent of any wave,” Mitchell said.

• Ballot dropoff: Low-propensity voters may lose interest once they get past high-profile races. Big turnout for CA-49 might not mean much of anything for Oceanside City Council or the contentious county supervisor race in North County.

• Nonpartisan races: Ballots don’t tell voters which party candidates are part of for down-ticket races. Lots of Democrats may show up and stick around long enough to get to County Assessor/Recorder/Clerk, but not know whether Ernest Dronenberg or Matt Strabone is the Dem. “Unless there’s an ethnic cue in their name, or a cue from their ballot designation, they might not know,” Mitchell said. “A nurse you may assume is progressive, a cop you may assume is conservative.”

The takeaway: It looks like turnout will be big in 2018, and that’ll help Democrats nationally, but it won’t be a big deal in California as a whole or in local races specifically. “The wave is going to be more impactful in the places that got wiped out in 2010 or 2014,” Mitchell said.

Update from Signature Gatherers

A signature-gatherer asks customers at the Lemon Grove Walmart to sign a petition opposing One Paseo. / Photo by Dustin Michelson

The effort to force races in county elections — like sheriff and district attorney — to go to automatic runoffs offered signature gatherers a special premium this week. If they collect 100 signatures in a week, they get double the payoff at $3 per signature.

Right now, the district attorney’s race will likely be settled in June. As will the sheriff’s race. The races for county supervisor may be forced to November runoffs because of how many candidates may run in both.

Background: The ballot initiative seeks to change that and force county races to November runoffs no matter how well one candidate does in the primary. Last year, Assemblyman Todd Gloria shepherded through a bill to allow for this change.

What’s really happening: The largest employee union of county workers is paying for the campaign: San Diegans for Full Voter Participation, sponsored by Service Employees International Union Local 221 PAC. The latest disclosure shows the union put $100,000 into it.

More: Voters signed off on a similar change for San Diego city elections in 2016. It’s assumed it will help Democrats in the long term. The first test of how it impacts San Diego city elections will be this year. If someone like City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf or Councilman Chris Cate wins a majority in June but doesn’t win in November, then you can credit this change with dramatically shifting the dynamics of the City Council.

Awkward! State Sen. Josh Newman is facing a recall effort led by San Diego talk show host Carl DeMaio. Newman just introduced a bill that would make it illegal to pay signature gatherers per signature.

We’re guessing signature gatherers may work for free killing that one.

Speaking of SEIU and the County…

Mickey Kasparian speaks at Voice of San Diego’s Politifest 2016 / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

SEIU is partners with the United Food and Commercial Workers in the still-new Working Families Council, a rival to the AFL-CIO affiliate San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council.

SEIU ardently supports Nathan Fletcher in the county supervisor race against former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, land-use lawyer Omar Passons, former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, former city firefighter Ken Malbrough and businesswoman Marcia Nordstrom. The Labor Council also supports Fletcher.

UFCW is one of the largest union in the county and has not decided who to support in the race. Its leader, Mickey Kasparian, has become isolated after facing major accusations of sexual abuse and discrimination. But he still has a powerful and well-heeled ally in SEIU.

Fletcher called for Kasparian to step downfrom UFCW, as have Passons and Malbrough. But Saldaña has not. That raised questions of whether Kasparian would break with SEIU, the Democratic Party and others to support her.

“We haven’t endorsed in that race. Who we endorse and what involvement we would have in that race will be determined at a later date,” Kasparian told us.

Why it matters: If Kasparian decides to throw in with Saldaña — and more imporantly, spend money — it could squeeze Fletcher from both sides. That’s what happened in both Fletcher’s mayoral runs. But it would have consequences for Kasparian’s own coalition. SEIU is as supportive of Fletcher as it gets and it may threaten the union’s partnership with Kasparian.

The Race for DA

We had a fascinating conversation with Geneviéve Jones-Wright, who’s running for district attorney, on this week’s podcast.

Some highlights: She claimed to have the support of many deputy district attorneys who were afraid to say so publicly.

She said she was opposed to the death penalty and wouldn’t pursue it, but also seemed to hedge on that a bit.

We had interesting exchanges on what kind of experience she has as a manager and hiring and firing employees (not much) and her definition of corruption. She pilloried the process for appointing the interim district attorney that ended with Bonnie Dumanis’ chosen successor, Summer Stephan, in the role.

There was a lot of outrage this week after a judge ruled that sex offenders should be included in early parole opportunities afforded in Proposition 57. Many law-and-order types jumped on it but the outrage was bipartisan. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher called the development “disgusting” and said another ballot measure may be needed. Jones Wright said neither Propositions 57 or 47 needed to be changed.

Watch for: Stephan will be coming back on the podcast soon.

The YIMBY Party Joins the Democratic Party

First meeting of the YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County. Image via Twitter.

The YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County submitted their paperwork and are expecting to go before the county Democratic Party by the end of March for approval as the party’s newest local club.

They’ll focus on housing and public transit within the party and hope to endorse both candidates and ballot measures as early as the June primary.

The pro-development YIMBY movement – Yes in My Backyard – is increasingly influential in the state, but getting involved directly in the party is an interesting twist.

What’s going on: Housing and public transit doesn’t always split on partisan lines. Plenty of Democrats are hostile to developers – a key cog in the Republican donor base. Not everyone buys into the idea that building dense housing around transit is the way to combat climate change and lowering housing prices.

“The history of San Diego is sprawl,” said Maya Rosas, president of the YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County. “There’s plenty of Democrats who are rightfully opposed to sprawl development. The point of this club is to foster conversations within the left, to see if this new YIMBY perspective that more housing is good and that we especially need infill housing near transit can take hold.”

Early support: The group has a launch party on Feb. 23. Some heavy-hitters are coming, including Rep. Scott Peters, State Sen. Scott Wiener, Assemblyman Todd Gloria and San Diego City Councilmembers Georgette Gomez, David Alvarez and Chris Ward.

What’s new: There are lots of pro-development groups out there. The Building Industry Association has lobbied local governments for fewer development regulations for years, and the Housing You Matters group came together a few years ago to focus attention on the region’s housing shortage.

Rosas thinks this is different.

“While we’re pro-housing, we need to make sure our policies benefit everyone, and we’re supporting candidates and policies in the direction of improving affordability, desegregating communities and making San Diego more equitable,” she said. “Land use and transportation is multi-faceted. We will look at tenants issues, labor issues. It’s important that this is a nuanced conversation within the Democratic Party.”

What to watch for: Being “pro-development” likely won’t appeal to a lot of Democrats. Some Democratic candidates won’t even seek the group’s endorsement before June.

In the District 2 City Council race, for example, Bryan Pease has said he supports infill development of affordable housing, but was clear on our podcast that he does not think increasing the supply of market rate housing will lower housing prices. One of his Democratic opponents, Jen Campbell, seems to share some anti-development views, while Jordan Beane is advocating for more growth.

“It’s certainly possible that there might not be a candidate seeking the endorsement at this time, but we’re not trying to start a club with the short-sighted goal of influencing the June election,” Rosas said. “YIMBY is the future of urban politics.”

Correction: The original version of this post claimed the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 135, was the largest union in San Diego County. It has 14,000 members. But it’s not the largest. The largest of San Diego’s unions is the United Domestic Workers, the Home Care Providers Union. It has 17,000 members in San Diego County. 

Send your tips and feedback to help the Politics Report improve to: scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org and andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org. 

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