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Politics Report: It’s Happening! Plus, the Elections Contest

Michael Vu, the registrar of voters for San Diego County, reads our tweets. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Now, more than ever, the world requires fearless, independent journalism.

That does not always need to be lengthy investigations, public records fights over hundreds of pages of documents or novel data analysis. No, sometimes it requires a single, brave tweet.

“Submitted: the Registrar should drop its ‘100% of precincts reporting’ formulation,” wrote heroic journalist Andrew Keatts [1], in March. “It doesn’t mean what people think it means. I spend a lot of time explaining that these aren’t final results. Thank you for your consideration. Bless.”

His complaint: The Registrar reported the status of vote counting by listing the percent of precincts that had reported. But that number ignored many other votes, including mail ballots dropped off in person, provisional ballots and late-arriving ballots. Yet, every year, the “percent precinct reporting” results showed up at the top of the website. By the end of Election Night, it would always show 100 percent reporting.” That led reporters and interested onlookers to assume results were final.

It needed to change.

The public response was overwhelmingly supportive, though there was one misguided naysayer [2].

In a post-election interview on another topic, County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu mentioned that he saw the tweet, and that a change was under consideration. The march of progress is long, but we press on.

And then! This week, a breakthrough. Early returns will now include mail ballots as well as ballots cast in person between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2, Vu wrote in a letter to stakeholders [3] about what to expect on election night.

“As a result, ‘precincts reported’ will not be displayed on our website or on hard copy paper bulletins,” Vu wrote. “Instead we will be emailing and providing updates on Twitter @sdvote, of the overall progress of the night’s count by percentage (20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, and 100%) until all Election Day consolidated precincts have reported in.”

We cannot say that this will end the confusion. But we can say that few people knew what “precincts reporting” referred to, and that it now resides in the dustbin of history.

Donate to Voice of San Diego [4]. Who else is going to write about matters of such importance?

What to Expect

As of Friday, the Registrar reported more than 1 million people had already turned in their ballots and they’ve been processed. That’s well over half the total number of registered voters. In 2016, they had only processed about 443,000 by this point.

A lot of people are going to vote in this election. Like maybe more than 80 percent total turnout? That means, on Election Night, we should have results very quickly from more people than ever. There’s no reason to think Election Day itself will have dramatically higher returns than the days leading up to it. Maybe a little bump. That means the number of votes counted for that first batch of results on Election Night will probably be pretty solid compared to previous years.

We hope that will result in more clarity on Election Night than we have had before.

But it could be as tense as ever.

The Voice Poll: The Closer, the Better

This week we have been poring through the data from our first-ever Voice Poll. Just to review: We surveyed 712 voter across San Diego County but we also took extra samples to do scientific surveys of both the mayor’s race within the city of San Diego and the county’s District 3 supervisor race. We ended up with 1,200 responses.

We got the political stories out first. But we are still grinding on so many of the fascinating insights within all the data. We’ll send out the full crosstabs and everything we have soon.

One of the things we noted [5] was the odd phenomenon that both in the city of San Diego and District 3 of the county, if voters thought the agency was going in the wrong direction they supported candidates who were currently in charge.

Well, here’s a broader take on how the United States, California and San Diego did on just the basic question of if they’re headed in the right direction or if they are on the wrong track.

Basically, the closer to home a government is, the most optimism respondents had for it.

We noted Friday that if respondents believed the city was headed in the right direction, they were more likely to support Todd Gloria for mayor. And if respondents thought the city was on the wrong track, they tended to support Barbara Bry for mayor.

A natural followup, then, is what do people actually think? Is the city of San Diego headed in the right direction?

We found that 49 percent of respondents felt the city was headed in the right direction and 39 percent thought it was on the wrong track.

Could We Get a San Diego-born Mayor for the Third Time Ever?

A dispatch from Randy Dotinga, History Man: Next week’s mayoral election is going to make national history no matter what happens. As I’ve reported [6], San Diego could become the first city with over 1 million residents in the country to elect three women as mayor. That’s if Barbara Bry wins. Victory for Todd Gloria, meanwhile, would make us the first city larger than Seattle (No. 18) to elect a gay man as mayor.

Gloria will stand apart in another way if he wins: He’d be only the third elected mayor in our city’s 170-year history to have been born and raised in San Diego.

It’s true. We’ve had a lot of different kinds of mayors: Men and women. Protestants, Catholics and Jews. Good ones, bad ones, resigned-in-disgrace ones. There are a whole bunch [7] in that last category, sadly. There was even a father [8]-and-son [9] pair.

But with two exceptions – Maureen O’Connor, mayor in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and John D. Butler, who served in the 1950s – every one of San Diego’s 30-plus elected mayors has come from elsewhere. (In case you’re wondering, Bry was born and raised [10] in the Philadelphia area. Gloria was born in San Diego and grew up in Clairemont, [11] where he attended Madison High School.)

You might think, well, sure. Everyone in California is from elsewhere. But that’s not it. San Francisco has had a whole bunch of native mayors, including several recent ones, while San Diego and Los Angeles have not. Our lack of them probably has something to do with how Southern California didn’t have a growth spurt until decades after Northern California sprouted like crazy during the Gold Rush.

San Diego didn’t start growing until long after the Civil War. That’s when we became “a city of transplants,” as Cal State San Marcos historian Andy Strathman describes us.

First, he said, “you had health-seekers in the late 19th century who were coming from the East Coast or the Midwest.” (We had “swift electric cars” and a “perfect” sewage system, raved [12] a 1894 guidebook. Wow, that is nice!) Portuguese, Italians and Japanese came here to fish, and the Chinese set up services [13] like laundries and brothels. Facing redlining [14] elsewhere in the region, Black residents moved to southeastern San Diego.

Then the Navy set up shop. In fact, we were nearly the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet during World War II instead of Pearl Harbor. “Even before the war, the growing naval presence in San Diego meant you had a lot of people passing through, and U.S. Navy officers became important boosters for the region. Many naval personnel decided to settle in San Diego once they retired,” Stratham said.

In recent decades, transplants have come from Latin America and other parts of the world like Somalia. We’re now the nation’s eighth-largest city.

But we’ve only been big for a few decades. With the exception of Kevin Faulconer, a 50-something, every elected San Diego mayor for the last 49 years was born in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, when transplants were still turning us into a major metropolis. At some point, our population will level out, like San Francisco’s, and more hometown politicians will run for the highest office in the city.

For now, though, we who were created here – what are there, a dozen or two of us? – can still enjoy the fine art of sniffing our noses at all those San Diegans-come-lately.

Bonus history tidbit: A mayor of Los Angeles was born in Poway [15], of all places.

Hot Tub Time Machine

More from Dotinga: While digging through online newspaper archives, as is my wont, I found a Sacramento Bee story dating from the 1970s, when Barbara Bry was a reporter there. Under the headline “They Find Hot Tubs ‘Comfortable,’ ‘Invigorating,’” photos depict Bry and a male co-worker in hot tubs at The Tubbery showroom. They were there to test the merchandise. “I like the bubbles,” Bry declared.

No one should make fun of Bry for having to work on a newspaper trend story. (Hot tubs were the hot new thing back then, along with waterbeds and the environmental movement.) It’s a rite of passage for just about every journalist. And it should be noted that she looks the same. Perhaps all of us who want to age well should consider this advice: Get thee to a Tubbery!

The Council President’s Race

We’ve reported in this space over the last few weeks that Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe and Councilwoman Jen Campbell are both actively seeking the Council president’s chair.

Congrats, political junkies. Fresh off election season, you’ll have a new election to follow.

This is unlike the elections we’re following now, though, because you won’t be able to vote. The only people who will vote are the nine Council members themselves, and we won’t even know who they are until we know the results of the five Council races on Tuesday’s ballot.

But it seems, for the first time in our memory, that there is actually a public race taking place to be the person who sets the Council’s agenda and makes committee appointments.

Supporters of Montgomery Steppe put up a campaign page [16] for the “race.” They’re asking people who support her to add their name to a list, and touting the organizations that have endorsed her bid. Campbell hasn’t gone that far, but she was happy to confirm to us that she’s running, and laid out what she’d like to do with the job and some of the groups that encouraged her to go for it.

How it normally goes, is that everyone in City Hall knows who is running, and which electeds and interest groups are lining up around which would-be candidates, but everyone tries to play coy when reporters call around and ask how the vote count is shaping up. It doesn’t take much work to figure out what’s going on or anything, but generally speaking the debate and the maneuvering all takes place behind closed doors.

Looks like that just changed.

Middle East in Local Races

Jewish Insider, which “covers U.S. politics, philanthropy and business news with a Jewish angle,” had an interesting piece this week [17] about Georgette Gómez, who’s running for Congress in the 53rd Congressional District. It said the national progressive group Justice Democrats had “all but revoked” its endorsement of Gómez after she disagreed with it on matters regarding Israel.

“A source close to the Gómez campaign, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, tells JI that Justice Democrats is no longer actively fundraising for Gómez because of disagreements over Israel,” reported the outlet. Justice Democrats is most often associated with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who have both maintained and reiterated their support for Gómez.

JI also reported that Democratic Majority for Israel had stepped in to provide support for Gómez. Justice Democrats pulled back its support immediately after Gómez expressed strong support for Israel [18] and criticized the movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel. Her opponent, Sara Jacobs, was a bit more critical of Israel, arguing that U.S. aid to Israel should come with conditions.

Update: After this was originally published, Jacobs’ team clarified her position, as reported in the JI piece, saying she supports aid to Israel without pre-conditions: “However, she believes the United States should have a clear, red line against any sort of unilateral annexation. No U.S. aid money should go toward annexation of any part of the West Bank,” wrote Jacobs’ spokeswoman Morgan Hill.

And on the Council: Supporters of Joe Leventhal for San Diego City Council dug up a 2010 letter [19] that his rival, Democrat Marni Von Wilpert signed [20]. The letter was critical of an upcoming conference and of Israel’s attacks on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. “None of what Israel is accused of can conceivably be defended on the basis of fighting the war on terror, just as indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinians cannot be defended on the basis of their struggle for self-determination, nor will accountability for these acts and omissions on either side make civilians any less safe from individual or state acts of terrorism in the future – the contrary is more likely: The rule of law is more likely to to lead to regional breakthrough than continued lawlessness.”

Leventhal pointed to that and Von Wilpert’s prior registration and a Green Party enthusiast and her support for Genevieve Jones-Wright in the district attorney’s race as indications of her radicalism.

“There are so many things about my opponent’s recent past that should give voters pause to consider how extreme she is and whether she’s being honest about her current positions,” he said in a written message.

Von Wilpert’s team shot back in its own written statement.

“This Trump-style trash Joe Leventhal is peddling is false and irrelevant fearmongering in a desperate final ploy to distract voters from his extreme anti-LGBT, anti-choice, pro-gun record that’s just too extreme for San Diego,” wrote Dan Rottenstreicht, Von Wilpert’s campaign consultant.

Rottenstreicht pointed out that Leventhal was an adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney and he helped provide support for the case for the war in Iraq.

At that point, we realized we’re way over our heads on foreign policy. This race, which started out so cordially between two very professional people, has gotten a little rough.

And It’s Back: The 2020 Elections Contest

Yes, like every election, we have gone over all the local races of interest a put together a game. The winners theoretically win a lunch with Andrew, Scott and Sara Libby. But the last winners, in March, won squat considering that we were in an unprecedented lockdown. We didn’t even do a Zoom breakfast. All they got was bragging rights, which is more fulfilling than watching Andy eat.

Maybe we could do an outdoor one or something soon.

Here’s what you do:

Do not get bent out of shape about any of our lines! We are not trying to say anything about your candidates. We’re just trying to make it a tough choice.

  1. San Diego Mayor: Choose OVER or UNDER: Todd Gloria, 53 percent.
  2. San Diego City Attorney: Choose OVER or UNDER: Mara Elliott, 55.5 percent.
  3. San Diego County, District 1: Choose OVER or UNDER: Ben Hueso, 53 percent.
  4. San Diego County, District 2: Choose OVER or UNDER: Steve Vaus, 50.5 percent.
  5. San Diego County, District 3: Choose OVER or UNDER: Kristin Gaspar, 43 percent.
  6. San Diego City Council, District 1: Choose OVER or UNDER: Joe LaCava, 51.5 percent.
  7. San Diego City Council, District 3: Choose OVER or UNDER: Stephen Whitburn, 57.5 percent.
  8. San Diego City Council, District 5: Choose OVER or UNDER: Joe Leventhal, 51 percent.
  9. San Diego City Council, District 7: Choose OVER or UNDER: Noli Zosa, 48 percent.
  10. San Diego City Council, District 9: Choose OVER or UNDER: Kelvin Barrios, 43.5 percent.
  11. 50th Congressional District: Choose OVER or UNDER: Darrell Issa, 53 percent.
  12. 53rd Congressional District: Choose OVER or UNDER: Sara Jacobs, 56 percent.
  13. San Diego Measure A: Choose OVER or UNDER: Yes, 53 percent.
  14. San Diego Measure B: Choose OVER or UNDER: Yes, 55 percent.
  15. San Diego Measure E: Choose OVER or UNDER: Yes, 49.5 percent.
  16. State Proposition 15: Choose OVER or UNDER: Yes, 47 percent.
  17. State Proposition 16: Choose OVER or UNDER: Yes, 46 percent.
  18. State Proposition 22: Choose OVER or UNDER: Yes, 51.5 percent.
  19. Oceanside Mayoral Race: YES or NO. Does the winner receive more than 20 percent of the vote?

As a tiebreaker, try to name the winner of the Oceanside mayoral race [21].

The Podcast

The most-listened to podcasts we do are the ones on Election Night when we definitely haven’t been drinking or stuffing our faces with Golden Chopsticks.

We will be doing that on Tuesday evening and posting it by the next day.

This year, we drafted races: The elections we wanted to watch. And so we’ll go back through them in that order on Election Night.

Correction: The original post incorrectly attributed a statement to Marni Von Wilpert. The statement came from Dan Rottenstreicht, her campaign consultant. 

Correction: The original post incorrectly described the campaign marketing being done in the Council president race. It was put up by supporters of Monica Montgomery Steppe. 

We would not have gotten so many cool illustrations of the Voice Poll without Adriana Heldiz, so thanks to her. Remember to send your Elections Contest guesses to scott@voiceofsandiego.org.