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Politics Report: Gaspar's Decision Sets Up Huge County Race

Kristin Gaspar has decided against a congressional run. Plus: answers to some of the many questions about her support of President Trump.

County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar / Photo by Megan Wood

County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar answered one of the biggest outstanding questions of the 2020 election cycle Friday, announcing her run for re-election in the North County coastal seat. The race is likely to determine which party controls the County Board of Supervisors.

Gaspar had been flirting with a run in the 49th Congressional District, where she ran unsuccessfully in 2018. Her focus on federal issues like immigration landed her on Fox News and in the White House for a meeting with the president on the state’s so-called sanctuary law.

But she’s now decided to settle in at the local level. We recorded a bonus podcast interview with her on Thursday, where we talked about why she decided to run for re-election, her views on immigration enforcement and a border wall and the push she’s spearheaded at the county to oppose SANDAG’s plan to beef up transit across the county.

Click here to listen to the podcast. Here are some highlights:

On frustrations with county government: “It was really challenging, the early days on the Board of Supervisors, recognizing that we’re a pass-through agency for state and federal programs and their dollars, and some of the decision-making out of Sacramento in D.C. can’t be classified as good decision-making, and it has a real local impact.”

On meeting with President Donald Trump: “We absolutely need to engage more with our state and our federal government, and we are doing that on the board. And that’s why I’ve been under criticism for sitting at the table with the president of the United States. I want to make something clear: I know he’s not popular in San Diego. I know this is the case. But whether or not I believe someone’s popular, that’s not my job. My job is to do what’s best for San Diego to produce results for San Diego. I can say, in watching Speaker Pelosi just last week meeting with the president on infrastructure, that to me represents the finest in governing.”

On SANDAG’s plan to kill 14 highway projects that were part of a voter-approved sales tax measure: “Do I think that all 14 highway projects that have been ignored, that were voted on as part of that TransNet tax, specifically spelled out to the voters, should be included in this new plan? I’m realistic. That’s not going to happen, but there are projects that we have been promising to our community for a lot longer than the TransNet tax, decades, that have been kicked down the road. Specifically, [improving the 78]. I invite anybody to go drive on the 78 in that morning, evening rush hour, even during the mid hours of the day.

On SANDAG’s plan to cut regional carbon emissions in its new transportation plan: “We absolutely have to meet our state mandates. We do. I appreciated [SANDAG director Hasan Ikhrata] coming to the board and saying, ‘Look, the the status quo plan isn’t going to cut it. We actually can’t get there and meet the state greenhouse gas reductions.’ I think that’s very important. And he was supported by the entire board and coming back and granting him more time to do so. Now in the interim, it meant the other plan was completely tossed out and now we have a strategy that’s mass transit only. Do I think we needed to go that far? No. Now we have about a 30 percent reduction in GHG, which is well over the state mandates that we need to make. Now I’m OK, you know, exceeding the state’s goals sometimes too. I’m not suggesting that we just always do things bare minimum, but I don’t think it meant that you had to kick out some of those vital public safety improvements. … We always need to be doing our best to protect the environment. So this is something that I believe in strongly, that we do need to reduce greenhouse gases.”

We also had this exchange over the president’s proposal to build a border wall.

The Stakes in District 3: Republicans have a lot riding on Gaspar’s seat, which she won from a Democratic incumbent in 2016 in a district where Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans.

A Gaspar win could mean Republicans continue to control the County Board of Supervisors, as they have for decades, even as the body has become newly active as new faces have replaced officials who held their seats for decades.

But with losses in Gaspar’s race and the mayoral race, Republicans could wake up the morning after Election Day 2020 without control of the County Board of Supervisors, the San Diego City Council nor either of the citywide elected offices.

Kersey to GOP: Peace Out

Councilman Mark Kersey / Photo by Dustin Michelson

A couple months ago, an insider in the Republican Party texted the Politics Report a teasing question: Who would be the next prominent local Republican to leave the GOP?

We couldn’t think of who it would be. While the party was in a bad place, it seemed like after Assemblyman Brian Maienschein left and became a Democrat, there weren’t any obvious candidates. Then our source sent a photo over with an image of a handful of influential Democrats and labor advocates having either drinks or a bite to eat with a guy. The guy’s face was blocked but he had the unmistakable hair of City Councilman Mark Kersey.

We checked on it but the theory was immediately debunked. He was with the Chamber of Commerce on a visit to Sacramento. What kind of place are we in if a guy can’t meet and talk to people from the rival party?

Kersey did not seem like the next shoe to drop in the ongoing drama about what’s going to happen to the local and state Republican Party. He’s not a particularly liberal guy. Sure, his predecessor in that City Council seat, Carl DeMaio, called him a RINO, but Kersey has always been in step with the other Republicans on the Council.

Kersey didn’t want to talk about why he left the party beyond his announcement on social media. On Twitter, he wrote, he’d always been independent-minded and said that both parties had good and decent people in them.

“But today’s political climate rewards ideologues, not problem-solvers. I ran for office to rebuild San Diego, not localize the debate over federal and state partisan malice,” he wrote.

He said his decision was not based on a single issue or vote.

So we’re just going to take a moment to speculate about what it was about.

Theory 1: He wants to run for mayor.

Case for it: There is still no Republican candidate for mayor of San Diego. That’s bananas; the current mayor is a Republican. San Diego may be a heavily Democratic city but it’s abrupt to go from so many recent Republican mayors to not even having a candidate. None of the Democrats in the race has started to run to the right either. So there’s still kind of a lane on the right. Perhaps Kersey thinks he can grab some business and right-of-center financial support and make a case he’s a problem-solver, not tied to the GOP and Trump. Without a Republican running, Kersey wouldn’t necessarily get hit from both the left and the right like Nathan Fletcher did in 2012 when he left the GOP in the middle of the mayor’s race.

Case against it: He didn’t make a huge deal out of leaving the party. He’s refused interviews and generally seems to want it to go away. If you don’t want to make a big deal out of something, then it’s less likely you want it to help you politically. And it doesn’t look like he’s running for mayor. The primary is 10 months away. It’s time to get going.

Theory 2: Carl wouldn’t let him sleep.

Case for it: A few weeks ago, the chief conformity enforcer of the Republican Party in San Diego, DeMaio, threatened Kersey. Kersey sits on the Airport Authority board and that agency was considering a deal with labor unions, called a project labor agreement, or PLA, for reconstruction of Terminal 1.

Kersey, as we saw during the hearing, believed that since the airlines that were paying for the job didn’t mind the deal, he would try to make it as fair as possible to nonunion workers. But DeMaio was having none of it.

Kersey revealed an email he’d gotten from DeMaio: “Mark — if you vote for a PLA, I’ll bash you every day I can on the radio. And we’ll do social media ads and emails into D5. You won’t get a moment’s rest.”

Kersey ended up supporting the PLA, so our theory is that he, just as DeMaio promised, hasn’t been able to rest since then and so he really needed some rest.

Case against it: Kersey probably doesn’t care about DeMaio.

Theory 3: The Poway shooting aftermath

Case for it: The timing of Kersey’s announcement was interesting. It came right after a terrorist attack at the synagogue in Poway. Rep. Scott Peters tweeted: “Enough. Enough hate. Enough gun violence. I stand with all Jewish Americans today.”

It wasn’t a particularly noteworthy response but local GOP Chairman Tony Krvaric had been triggered. “Shame on you making this political,” Krvaric wrote.

It was genuinely befuddling. What exactly had Peters said that was so shameful? “Enough gun violence”?

Maybe that’s what provoked Kersey’s move just a couple days later. Was this the kind of localization of “the debate over federal and state partisan malice” he was done with?

Case against it: He may not have even seen the tweet and Krvaric has always been a loose cannon. Why would that be the tweet that broke the councilman’s back?

Reaction to Kersey’s Move

We did a quick survey of some in the GOP around Kersey to see what they thought of his move. We asked Councilman Chris Cate why he remained a Republican. He said his core values of free markets, limited government and individual responsibility were still the heart of the Republican Party.

“In California, we’ve seen the Democrat Party lead us to overburdensome regulations, high taxes, a housing crisis and increased poverty,” Cate wrote.

Joe Leventhal, a Republican running to replace Kersey, said he thinks Kersey’s perspective on policy still is consistent with the party.

“I’m disappointed that he believes he can be more effective outside the party rather than within. But I agree with his disdain for the increased partisanship we see at the local level, which only hurts our region,” Leventhal said, in a written statement.

Pat Batten, another Republican running to replace Kersey, was far less charitable.

“I’m disappointed in the decisions by politicians to change their party preference for political expediency. As a Marine, it is not in my DNA to retreat because the challenge is too daunting. In fact, it’s time to double down and fight for our values: fiscal responsibility, protecting families, ending homelessness, and restricting government growth,” he said in a written statement.

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

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