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A Reader's Guide to the June Primary's Biggest Races

A handful of big races that will be decided outright on Tuesday, including county sheriff and district attorney. In other contests, crowded fields will get narrowed down to two candidates.

Illustration by Ashley Lewis

Just like the word “primary” suggests, the election happening Tuesday is the first of two chances voters will have to weigh in on a number of races and candidates this year.

But that doesn’t mean this first round of voting is unimportant – there are a handful of big races that will be decided outright on Tuesday, including county sheriff and district attorney.

Here’s a refresher on five contests that will get a final decision on Tuesday:

In other races, like the race for governor, California’s 49th District seat in Congress and the District 4 county supervisor seat, crowded slates of contestants will get narrowed down to two.

Here’s a guide to the races and issues we’ve covered closely over the last year.

District Attorney

Geneviéve Jones-Wright, left, and Summer Stephan. / Photos by Vito Di Stefano and Jamie Scott Lytle

This is the June ballot’s blockbuster contest: Two women, each with devoted and passionate support bases, are vying for one of the most powerful political roles in the county.

Summer Stephan is a career prosecutor who was hand-picked by the previous DA, Bonnie Dumanis, to lead the office after Dumanis stepped down early. Now she’s running to win a full term.

Genevieve Jones-Wright is a deputy public defender who’s drawn national attention for her promises to reform the office from the outside in.

Both had memorable entrances into the race.

Stephan’s appointment rubbed some people the wrong way because it ensured she had the benefit of incumbency. But she had a simple and forceful rebuttal to the people who challenged her appointment: “If they think they’re better for the job, this is what democracy is about. Come out and face me.”

Before she was appointed, the family of murder victim Stephanie Crowe expressed public anger at how Stephan had handled their daughter’s case.

Jones-Wright announced her campaign by discussing being pulled over and having guns drawn on her by police.

What’s followed has been an often substantive race that’s delved into human trafficking and the agency of sex workers, what criminal justice reform should even look like in a state that’s already instituted a number of reforms, when juveniles should be charged as adults and more.

It’s also gotten bitter and intense at times, a fact Scott Lewis captured when he wrote about a particularly fiery debate between the two candidates.

When Stephan appeared on the VOSD podcast, she distanced herself from some of Dumanis’ most controversial decisions and talked up her biggest accomplishments. Jones-Wright, in a separate podcast interview, said the DA’s office needs a new mindset entirely that’s focused less on being tough on crime and more on building community trust.

49th Congressional District

The congressional district that spans a chunk of North County and southern Orange County has long been represented by Rep. Darrell Issa, who barely was able to hang on to his seat in 2016 and decided to retire at the end of this term (but not before giving us some memorable moments).

The guy who almost beat Issa last time, Democrat Doug Applegate, a retired Marine, is running, and so are several other Democrats – nonprofit exec Sara Jacobs, businessman Paul Kerr and attorney Mike Levin. There are also several Republicans running, including County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey and San Juan Capistrano Councilman Brian Maryott.

Two polls released Friday show the race is still a toss-up, and many voters remain undecided.

The Democrats in the race, particularly Jacobs and Kerr, have been spending heavily – the two combined for almost $3.5 million in spending over the last reporting period.

On the Republican side, Gaspar has been vocal about supporting the Trump administration’s push to undo California’s so-called sanctuary state law, a push that earned her a trip to the White House.

Chavez, meanwhile, says he supports allowing DACA recipients to stay in the country and has said “both sides are misrepresenting what’s actually happening” in the debate over sanctuary policies.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has a TV ad against Chavez that’s been in heavy rotation and turned heads locally because it knocked him for the sin of … helping out Democrats.

County Supervisor District 4

County supervisors’ races have long been off the average San Diegan’s radar. But the fight for an open seat in a district that leans Democrat on a board run entirely by Republicans has created an intense political showdown that’s drawn in labor unions, a crush of campaign cash and reignited some bitter feuds.

Democrats have warred with other Democrats, and unions with other unions over Democratic frontrunners Nathan Fletcher and Lori Saldaña, who both once served in the state Assembly.

The Democratic Party, the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council and other unions have directed more than $880,000 to boost Fletcher while a PAC led by the Working Families Council, a coalition of labor unions that split from the Labor Council, has sunk more than $300,000 into attacking Fletcher and backing Saldaña. The Lincoln Club, a right-leaning business group, has stepped up to bolster Saldaña and former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a Republican, and oppose Fletcher. The Republican Party itself has also spent money trying to stop Fletcher.

That’s meant residents of District 4, which spans much of the city of San Diego, are getting piles of mailers about Fletcher.

Meanwhile, retired deputy fire chief Ken Malbrough and land-use attorney Omar Passons, both Democratic political newcomers, are also vying for voters’ attention.

One thing all those candidates have in common: They want to spend more of the county’s substantive reserves on homelessness and housing.

Here’s a little more on each of the candidates:

Bonnie Dumanis

Dumanis spent nearly 15 years as district attorney before stepping down last summer, two years into her fourth term. During her final years in office, she faced questions about her role in a campaign finance scandal and her efforts to line up a successor.

In a wide-ranging podcast interview, Dumanis told us a bout with cancer spurred her to leave that post and consider a run for supervisor, where she believes she could take a proactive approach and bring stakeholders together. Dumanis and her supporters argue she’s uniquely qualified to make a difference on the homelessness and mental health crises the region’s struggled with – and that she was forced to grapple with for years as a law-enforcement leader.

Nathan Fletcher

After two tough mayor’s race losses, Fletcher publicly mulled the end of his political career. Instead, the Republican-turned-independent-turned- Democrat worked to bolster his progressive bona fides and remained in the spotlight. He methodically built relationships with key Democrats, and threw himself into high-profile veteran and national security debates. He told VOSD’s podcast that he soon realized he could make a bigger difference the causes he cared about in elected office.

Now he’s running with the Democratic Party’s endorsement and has benefited from the support of powerful progressives, including his wife, state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher.

Ken Malbrough

Malbrough, a retired deputy fire chief and longtime community leader, has for years served as chair of the Encanto planning group and more recently led a citywide board that weighs in on community development block grants.

In a podcast interview, Marlbrough said he decided to run for supervisor because he believes the county needs to bring more stakeholders to the table and can bolster its response to homelessness and the region’s housing crisis.

He broke down his priorities and explained what motivated his bid for office in a Q-and-A with the Union-Tribune’s editorial board.

Omar Passons

Passons has for years committed himself to a slew of local causes. He started a successful neighborhood graffiti program and rallied North Park residents behind a local school, but he’s also held a couple short-lived posts and lost a high-profile case against the city that became a defining moment in the fight over vacation rentals.

Passons, a land-use attorney who once worked for the federal Health and Human Services Agency, says his experience and willingness to dig into the details have convinced him that he’s the ideal candidate to evaluate complex county programs. Passons has also championed a greater county focus on youth issues, as he described in a podcast interview earlier this month.

Lori Saldaña

As a Democratic state assemblywoman, Saldaña fought for progressive policies on environmental reforms and marriage equality long before they were standard party platforms. More recently, she’s pushed for a great county emphasis on serving homeless San Diegans and for the city and the county to test rape kits that have for years sat dormant.

But her battles with fellow Democrats have often overshadowed her policy fights. Saldaña has clashed with fellow Democrats over endorsements and her decision to back ex-Mayor Bob Filner despite concerns she privately raised with the party.

Yet, in a podcast interview, Saldaña said she believes she can get buy-in from Republican supervisors on issues like clean energy and affordable housing.

City Council

The stakes of San Diego’s four City Council races are lower than in recent primary elections, thanks to a voter-approved measure in 2016 that made it impossible for anyone to win the races outright in June. Now, it’s a guarantee that the top two vote-getters will move on to a November run-off.

That’s made Republican Councilman Chris Cate’s re-election bid in District 6 especially dull this spring. He has just one opponent who has collected notable endorsements, establishment support or campaign funding. Former 91x disc jockey Tommy Hough is likely to move on as a Democratic challenger to Cate. District 6 covers the Clairemont, Kearny Mesa, Mira Mesa and Sorrento Valley areas.

District 8, meanwhile, is the only open seat, with November voters set to choose who succeeds termed-out Councilman David Alvarez in the area representing Barrio Logan, Sherman Heights, San Ysidro and Otay Mesa. Alvarez staffer Vivian Moreno and San Ysidro School Board member Antonio Martinez have raised the most money and collected the most endorsements. But Christian Ramirez, a staffer with the nonprofit community activist group Alliance San Diego, has raised enough money to make the race interesting. Small businessman Zachary Lazarus is also running.

In District 4, Council President Myrtle Cole is running for re-election against a field of fellow Democrats. Monica Montgomery is a civil rights attorney who used to work in Cole’s office but says she’d be more responsive to concerns in the community, which covers the southeastern portion of the city. Neal Arthur is a developer who previously served as a chief of staff to Leon Williams when he represented the area.

District 2 is perhaps the most contested Council district in the June primary. Three Democrats – environmental attorney Bryan Pease, small business owner Jordan Beane and Dr. Jennifer Campbell – have all mounted credible challenges to Republican Lorie Zapf’s re-election bid. Whoever emerges will likely get party support in the fall, with voter registration totals making it a viable pick-up opportunity, relative to the city’s other Republican-controlled districts.

National City’s Measures B and C

National City Mayor Ron Morrison / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

If two competing ballot measures over term limits in National City sounds less-than-exciting to you, stick with me.

What seems like a relatively technical decision about how best to institute term limits is actually both a fight among labor (isn’t everything?) and possibly a way for Mayor Ron Morrison to hang onto power despite being term-limited.

Measure B would institute a limit of two four-year terms for all officials. Measure C would keep existing limits on the mayor and extend the same restriction to City Council members. It would also keep any official from serving more than six lifetime terms.

Where Morrison comes in: He supports Measure B, which would just so happen to allow him an extra eight years in office instead of being termed out at the end of his current term.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union, led by Mickey Kasparian, and the Laborers’ International Union of North America, support Measure B.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, Unite Here Local 30, the San Diego County Building Trades Council and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers support Measure C.

Chula Vista’s Measure A

Chula Vista leaders say they need residents to raise the sales tax for the second time in two years. And unlike 2016’s measure, which is set to last 10 years, this one would be a permanent increase.

Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas says that the increase will go toward dire public safety needs.

“We have a critical staffing crisis in police and fire departments,” she told us.

But opponents are wary that the money will go toward public safety and only public safety – since the measure is a general tax, there’s no obligation that it must be spent on a specific purpose.

Wait, Aren’t There a Bunch of Other Races?

Yes, there are.

They include competitive races for sheriff, county assessor, Assembly District 76 and more.

There are also, of course, big primaries for statewide offices like governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, state superintendent and secretary of state.

The Union-Tribune’s editorial board has conducted in-depth interviews with virtually every candidate for local office, a tremendously valuable service that has produced gems like the revelation that Sheriff Bill Gore considered firing his opponent.

On statewide races, CALMatters has a fantastic voter guide that covers virtually every issue and candidate.

Lisa Halverstadt and Andrew Keatts contributed to this report.

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