‘He’s Unhinged’: Why Dems Mobilized So Quickly to Endorse a Candidate for Sheriff

Politics

‘He’s Unhinged’: Why Dems Mobilized So Quickly to Endorse a Candidate for Sheriff

Almost none of the high-profile politicians who recently endorsed Kelly Martinez for sheriff wanted to talk about the decision. But one of them did, and his reasoning might provide a window into what motivated the quick announcement: They’re worried about another likely candidate.

Rep. Juan Vargas and Dave Myers
Rep. Juan Vargas and Dave Myers / Photos by Adriana Heldiz and courtesy of Dave Myers

This post has been updated. 

Something sure seems to have provoked many of San Diego’s most high-profile Democratic politicians to swiftly and publicly unite around a candidate to replace longtime San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, who announced late last week that he will not run for re-election.

Just days after Gore’s announcement, his top deputy, Kelly Martinez, announced she had the support of Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher, Rep. Juan Vargas and many others. (That list even included Gore himself, though he had just told the Union-Tribune he didn’t plan to publicly discuss who he was supporting.) Martinez had been a registered Republican and switched her registration to the Democratic Party in November 2020, a representative for the Registrar of Voters confirmed.

Almost none of the Democrats who announced their support for Martinez wanted to talk about their endorsement for an important public safety position. But one of them did, and his reasoning might provide a window into what motivated the quick decision: They’re worried about another likely candidate.

Vargas told me that he thinks Martinez would make a good sheriff, but said his endorsement was largely motivated by a desire to ensure Dave Myers, who spent more than 30 years with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, doesn’t get the job. Myers ran unsuccessfully against Gore in 2018 but has not yet formally announced a run – he said he’d make an announcement in the coming weeks.

“I think he’s unhinged,” Vargas said of Myers. During our conversation, Vargas also referred to Myers as “an idiot” and “a total nut case.” “That’s the last thing we need in one of these very important positions. I think everyone that knows him well disrespects him. I think he’d be a disaster. I think he would be awful for my community,” Vargas said.

Vargas said he spoke with Martinez last week before deciding to endorse her bid.

I asked him whether he has concerns about data that has showed the Sheriff’s Department stops and searches Black drivers at a higher rate than their share of the population, and searches them at higher rates even though they’re found with contraband less, and whether he believes Martinez has plans to address those outcomes.

“That’s the case not only here but throughout the United States of America. There’s no department that doesn’t have those outcomes,” Vargas said. “I brought it up with her. I do think she’s sensitive to that.”

Myers said he was surprised by Vargas’ comments and noted that as a City Council member, Vargas appointed him as a board member for a youth empowerment program in Barrio Logan.

Myers said he was disappointed Vargas didn’t discuss the race with him before making an endorsement or speaking out about him publicly.

“If he’d like to sit down and talk with me, I’d be more than happy to,” he said.

Vargas was the only elected official I reached out to who would discuss his decision-making. No public official is required to endorse in this or any race, yet many of those who willingly and publicly endorsed Martinez would not talk about what went into that decision and why it was made so quickly.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins pledged to make policing reform a priority this year after a bill to decertify officers who commit serious misconduct failed to pass last year. When VOSD and other outlets across the state revealed that hundreds of police officers who’ve themselves been convicted of crimes, California was one of only five states that didn’t have a mechanism to decertify officers. Since then, another state has passed a law decertifying officers, making California only one of four. Another attempt at the legislation is making its way through the Legislature.

A spokeswoman for Atkins would not say whether the senator discussed decertification or other police reform measures with Martinez. She would not say whether she’s met with Martinez at all.

“Unfortunately, the Pro Tem is unavailable for comment,” Liz Crowley wrote in an email. She did not respond to follow-up questions.

Another member of the Legislature, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, is the author of a measure to ban the use of police kinetic projectiles and chemical agents to disperse protests. Last year she sat on a special legislative committee on police reform.

A spokesman for Gonzalez said he didn’t know whether she asked Martinez about her position on the projectiles bill, or the Sheriff’s Department’s troubling record of releasing documents under SB 1421, and that Gonzalez wasn’t available to comment.

Representatives for Mayor Todd Gloria, who in April laid out a package of policing reform proposals, didn’t respond to questions about his endorsement of Martinez.

Update: This post has been updated to include confirmation from the Registrar of Voters that Kelly Martinez switched her party registration in November 2020.

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