Politics Report: A Desmond Rebrand?

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Politics Report: A Desmond Rebrand?

Jim Desmond
Jim Desmond at the US Grant Hotel on Election Night. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Wednesday, County Supervisor Jim Desmond published an op-ed in the Union-Tribune that was kind of shocking.

“The last year has brought a striking reminder that life is precious. Over 3,700 San Diegans died from this horrific virus,” he wrote.

The commentary ran May 12 exactly a year after he said, on May 12, 2020, that, though county officials had counted 190 deaths from the virus, only a few of them were really from the virus.

“We’ve unfortunately had six pure, solely coronavirus deaths — six out of 3.3 million people,” Desmond said on his podcast. It was probably his most notorious of a series of statements he made as he became the primary critic of the county and state’s response to the virus.

Mega podcast host Joe Rogan and others in conservative media seized on the comments about “pure” deaths as yet more evidence that health officials everywhere were out of control. Desmond himself repeatedly bemoaned county staff and their “hysteria.” He had an argument with an epidemiologist where he took the position that increased infections of the coronavirus were good. We commissioned a reporter to catalogue how he had become the county’s leading pandemic skeptic.

His new op-ed steers clear of how many of the 3,700 deaths from this “horrific virus” were “pure” deaths.” It likewise doesn’t acknowledge the 3,510 deaths that occurred in between his two major discussions of the topic.

It appears Desmond is rebranding. He doesn’t quite explain what prompted the commentary but he goes out of his way to say that now,  health officials are good.

“I also think Dr. Wilma Wooten, our county’s public health officer, Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer and the county team have done an outstanding job dealing with an unprecedented virus,” he wrote.

What’s changed?

“The biggest thing I’ve learned over the past year is that political discourse is driving us apart. Far too often, instead of coming together and finding common ground, we stand in the corner and throw rocks at each other,” he wrote.

The whole thing reads like an apology without an apology – or as though someone blackmailed him. It’s that stark of a switch.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who took much of Desmond’s fire over the past year, was eager to jump on the change in tone.

“When I saw it, I knew the right-wing, Fox News, recall Gavin Newsom, COVID conspiracy theorist, ‘pure deaths’ Jim Desmond has been kidnapped and is being held hostage by a political consultant who understands his district,” Fletcher said in a written statement.

The district: Desmond declined to comment on Fletcher’s kidnapping concern. It could be that Desmond is rebranding for an upcoming re-election campaign. His North/East County district is not the conservative place it once was. President Joe Biden won in the county’s 5th District 55-44 percent over former President Donald Trump.

LMFAOCO

The Local Agency Formation Committee, the agency responsible for determining the jurisdictional boundaries of public agencies, known as LAFCO, posted a series of tweets on Friday that were, well, weird.

“This brief thread responds to concerns raised by the San Diego County Water Authority (@sdcwa) regarding a recent retweet by San Diego LAFCO,the tweet clarification begins, with a commendable level of deadpan humor, we assume.

Yes, LAFCO tweets. And it apparently is so spicy on Twitter.com that it has to retract its tweets. We were very intrigued. What had the Water Authority said to LAFCO to cause this?

We found out: Earlier this week, we published an op-ed from representatives from the Fallbrook Public Utility District and the Rainbow Municipal District explaining why they want to leave the San Diego County Water Authority to join a different agency in Riverside County.

The LAFCO Twitter account retweeted a link to the article, alongside an seemingly anodyne comment in which it promoted an online video of a discussion of the issue the op-ed was about.

LAFCO is the agency that reviews these sorts of issues — like whether agencies can break apart..

The Water Authority was not pleased: Its lawyers sent an immediate take down demand with an implied threat to sue. “This appears to be a conflict of interest, in which LAFCO appears to be endorsing the position of agencies who have a pending application before LAFCO. Our firm and the Water Authority General Counsel called LAFCO counsel at about 10:00 a.m. today as soon as we saw the Twitter post, and demanded that it be immediately taken down by LAFCO.”

This seems a bit oversensitive. The LAFCO tweet was an awkward promotion of its own discussion on the matter. Probably didn’t need to share the op-ed.

The Water Authority felt that was nefarious and demanded that LAFCO explain its tweet. The lawyers said they believed LAFCO was biased on the matter. They said it had already complained after representatives from Rainbow and Fallbrook bragged about having already “pre-arranged” detachment from the Water Authority with LAFCO.

LAFCO’s mea culpa tweets were meant to diffuse this threat.

“San Diego LAFCO’S action to retweet the article was 100 percent aimed at redirecting a Twitter conversation to the actual work of the Ad Hoc Committee and in doing so meet the intent of constructive social media usage in connecting the public with information,” it continued.

They didn’t agree to stop tweeting though. LAFCO has got a brand to maintain. The agency said it’s going to continue using social media to “connect the community with relevant information and resources that fall within our boundary-making and governance-improving strike zones.”

Let this be a lesson to the Board of Equalization, North County Transit District, the Airport Authority or any other obscure agency that thinks it might want to step to LAFCO: don’t.

Campbell Recall Effort Gets a Gab

Two weeks from the deadline for signatures, proponents of the bipartisan effort to recall Council President Jen Campbell are getting a hand from a divisive group.

The group, Republicans of Pacific Beach, has circulated a flier encouraging attendees to wear “anti-Democrat” apparel and to bring along a friend to sign the petition by June 2.

The bottom of the flier includes a little frog symbol, alongside the logos for Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It looks a lot like Pepe the Frog – a harmless Internet comic character-turned fascist hate symbol-turned trolling tool-turned rallying cry by its creator to reclaim it from the alt-right (yeah it’s confusing) – but is actually the logo for Gab, the anything-goes social media platform beloved by the alt-right.

The alt-right is not our expertise, but it is the expertise of our friend and former colleague Will Carless, who covers extremism for USA Today and formerly covered extremism and hate at Reveal.

Politics Report: Given what Gab is, is it fair to read into whether an organization is trying to say something even by saying “we’re on Gab”?

Carless: It honestly depends who you talk to – I would argue Gab is essentially a de-facto White nationalist social media site at this point. But I’m sure they would argue it’s simply a place where they can exercise “free speech.”

I don’t think it’s much of a dog whistle. They’re just showing you that they support Gab, which tells you they rub shoulders on social media with the most blatant White supremacists and hate groups in the country.

Gab choosing to use a frog logo, is that an explicit Pepe reference or something else? Are they trolling, or is it just straightforward use of an alt-right symbol?

Oh, it’s unquestionably a Pepe reference. That’s exactly why they use it. From Gab’s perspective, the use of that icon is 100 percent a dog whistle.

Anything else?

Literally the only thing on their Gab is this event. They joined in April 2021 and their post has one like. They have six followers.

Mayor Seeks Reset With SDG&E

SDG&E has hired Bernadette Butkiewicz as regional communications manager. She is the former political organizer for the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local #230. Labor is in her blood. Her father, Jerry Butkiewicz, is the former secretary-treasurer of the Labor Council. He led the Council for years, setting the groundwork for its ascendance. He recruited Lorena Gonzalez as political director before passing the baton to her when he went to work for … SDG&E.

Bernadette Butkiewicz’s hire seems like another step for the utility as it prepares to manage a new relationship with a completely new City Hall. Thursday, news broke that the company and Mayor Todd Gloria had a tentative agreement on a new proposal to send to the City Council that, if approved, would allow SDG&E to continue to serve residents with power.

The deal: Friday, the mayor announced the major points of his new agreement with SDG&E. It would be a 10-year deal with an option for a 10-year renewal. Four Council members had previously pushed for a five-year deal to allow for the potential for the city to put together a plan to buy out SDG&E’s infrastructure and run power itself. That was important because four Council members can kill any agreement with SDG&E (they need six votes).

The deal would also offer people $10 million in solar-energy rebates in “historically underserved neighborhoods.” And $20 million to “advance the city’s climate equity goals.”

And then there’s this promise: “A reset relationship between the city and SDG&E that identifies pathways for resolving disputes and creates unprecedented transparency about customer rates, environmental commitments and equity.”

Seems like SDG&E will be in front of the City Council far more often if this is real.

The City Council will decide May 25.

(Mitch Mitchell, SDG&E’s vice president for state governmental affairs and external affairs is on the Voice of San Diego board of directors.)

Notes

Cindy Marten is officially going to D.C.: After so many weeks, a lot of social media grousing, the U.S. Senate’s 54-44 confirmation of Marten to be deputy education secretary was kind of anticlimactic. Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema asked if anyone wanted to change their vote and then just quickly said it was confirmed and moved to the next item. Someone’s life changed, and now the school district must find a new leader and it was just a routine moment of Senate business.

Next steps: The group of community leaders set to advise the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education on whom it should interview to replace Marten met for the first time Thursday and it sounds like it was a bit unorganized with nobody knowing who was leading. The group’s first job is to select a firm to help it hold town hall meetings to gather input for the committee.

The district told the Politics Report Friday no contractor for the town hall meetings had been chosen. After the town hall events, the advisory group gets to screen the candidates for superintendent down to 10, at most, for the school board to interview.

If you have any ideas or feedback for the Politics Report, send them to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org.

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