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Politics Report: San Diego's Wave

The races that are too close to call. Did San Diego finally flip blue? And … are you ready for another election? The mayor is.

Escondido Mayor Sam Abed / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

First, for those of you who participated in this cycle’s Elections Predictions Contest, we have bad news. Five of the races we put a line on are simply too close to call as far as the over/under is concerned.

Yes, this is our way of bragging about how good our lines were.

No, we don’t need to talk about how bad they have been in the past.

But this brings up the second most important-too-close-to calls of the November general election: the actual races that are too close to call.

Every day, at 5 p.m. hawks like us are furiously clicking on the registrar’s site to see the updates. Here are the races we’re checking first when we see the updated vote counts:

San Diego Community College District: Sean Elo just went ahead of San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez in the latest vote count. Elo is now up 696 votes (out of almost 170,000 cast) after falling behind Alvarez in updates Wednesday and Thursday. What an extraordinary loss this would be for Alvarez.

Escondido mayor: Who is Paul “Mac” McNamara??? Well, we’re going to soon learn more about him (here’s his website) because he’s chipping away at Escondido Mayor Sam Abed’s now 275-vote lead (out of almost 27,000 votes counted). Wow. Abed, you’ll remember, got to go to the White House not too long ago.

San Diego City Council District 8: We and others have characterized Vivian Moreno’s spread over Antonio Martinez as a win but it’s certainly much closer than it was on Election Night. Moreno is up 652 votes over Martinez (out of almost 16,000 cast). Though Martinez has not been chipping away at all. Seems like Moreno’s in.

Oceanside: Esther Sanchez is just 41 votes ahead of Chuck Lowery for a City Council seat.

Carlsbad: Priya Bhat-Patel is just 45 votes ahead of Corrine Busta for a City Council seat.

They Turned Out

If you do the math — how many votes are still to be counted, how many are counted, divided by how many registered voters there are — turnout in San Diego County will hit 65 percent. That’s extraordinary for a midterm election. In November 2014, turnout was 45 percent.

That mirrors data around the nation. There are some areas of the country that will see higher turnout than even November 2016.

The Long-Rumored Dem Takeover Is Here

Georgette Gomez Jen Campbell

Councilwoman Georgette Gomez (left) celebrates Jen Campbell’s San Diego City Council win on Election Night. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

For years, political observers have predicted San Diego’s changing demographics would translate to changing political outcomes.

Tuesday’s election results revived those predictions.

A challenger knocked off a San Diego City Council incumbent for the first time in 27 years, winning in a landslide and giving Democrats a super-majority. A Democrat replaced a Republican in the Board of Supervisors District 4, in a landslide, while Democrats flipped North County congressional and Assembly seats, too.

“This feels like the election where San Diego changed forever,” said Rachel Laing, a political strategist who worked on the unsuccessful Measure E campaign.

Major races loom in 2020.

After Mayor Kevin Faulconer easily won re-election in 2016, he’s termed out in 2020 and multiple Democrats are positioning themselves to run while the presumed Republican frontrunner said this week he is out. The county has two open supervisor seats that are viable 2020 Democratic pickups; if they win both, they could go from being shut out on the board to a 3-2 majority within two years and a day. And they’ll have a boost, thanks to an electoral reform that passed Tuesday.

Steve Erie, a retired UC San Diego political science professor, said he first heard predictions that San Diego’s changing demographics would result in Democratic electoral wins during the beginning of the Clinton administration.

Clinton won San Diego County, and Democrats took it as a sign that they had a brighter future in store, he said.

It just never seemed to take.

“The so-called blue wave, we’ve been waiting for it for a quarter-century,” Erie said. “What may happen in the next five years, people thought was going to happen 20 years ago, and it just didn’t happen. But now, the blue wave, it does appear to be slowly rolling to the coast,” Erie said. “Emphasis slowly.”

Countywide, Democrats had a five-point registration disadvantage to Republicans in 2000 and have turned that into an eight-point registration advantage today. Citywide it’s even more stark: Democrats had a four-point advantage in 2000 but have opened a 20-point lead in registered voters today.

The percentage of Democrats, though, hasn’t changed much. Rather, it’s been Republicans leaving the party to become independents that accounts for the large gaps. Registered voters who aren’t in either party increased 13 points in the county from 2000 to 2018, and 14 points in the city.

“It’s been a story of moderate Republicans becoming independents, and they sometimes vote for Democrats,” Erie said.

Despite those numbers, Republicans have regularly punched above their weight in winning elections and holding seats.

Some structural factors that helped them do so are coming down. Term limits on the County Board of Supervisors opened seats, removing incumbency as a hurdle Democrats needed to overcome. And at the city in 2016, and the county this year, voters approved measures forcing all elections to be decided in November, giving Democrats another lift.

But even with all the big changes, the results weren’t uniform. Republican Councilman Chris Cate won re-election by 13 points over Tommy Hough in District 6, where Democrats hold an 8- point registration advantage. And in District 4 and District 8, Monica Montgomery and Vivian Moreno are ahead of fellow Democrats who won their party’s endorsement.

Michael Zucchet, a former councilman, current Port commissioner and leader of the city’s Municipal Employees Association, said he can’t find a coherent through line in Tuesday’s results.

Montgomery and Campbell’s victories, he said, flipped conventional wisdom on its head. But Moreno’s win, since she was a staffer for the district’s incumbent and had his endorsement – despite all the other forces against her — fit together with Cate’s re-election.

“That’s two status quos, and two change elections,” he said. “I see a series of races with their own specific dynamics.”

Podcast: The Future for Republicans

We usually gather a couple people to talk about the elections results and this week, we brought in some new faces. Dwayne Crenshaw, CEO of RISE San Diego, joined us as did Republican fundraiser, Ashley Hayek, who runs Golden State Consultants.

The Union That Went With Montgomery

Monica Montgomery

Monica Montgomery appears at Golden Hall on Election Night. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Monica Montgomery knocked off Council President Myrtle Cole without any institutional support. Mostly.

On Election Night, she delivered a victory speech at the party for local Democrats and made that clear.

“We did this without labor, without the party— this was all, all community,” she said. “And it’s going to change how we do politics in San Diego.”

The organized labor groups most active in city politics – the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, the San Diego Building and Construction Trades, and the Working Families Council – all endorsed Cole. The United Domestic Workers and Unite Here, the hotel workers union, went further and dropped attack mailers against Montgomery.

But Montgomery did have some labor support.

She got the endorsement from Service Employees International Union 221, the largest union of county workers.

Last year, that union took a different tack in its contract negotiations with the county. In what it calls “common good bargaining,” it brought civil rights organizations and community groups to the negotiating table as well, broadening its demands to include policy changes that didn’t directly relate to the union’s wages, benefits and working conditions.

Montgomery represented the ACLU in those negotiations.

One of the arguments in favor of that approach is that it aligns labor groups with their would-be allies on the left.

“It is our hope that the same perspective Montgomery brought to common good bargaining, she’ll bring to the City Council,” said David Lagstein, political director for SEIU 221.

SoccerCity’s Fall

Photo by Margie Mulligan

From Scott (adapted from a Twitter thread): When the investors behind SoccerCity first began talking about their idea, they came to visit Voice of San Diego staff. I personally like soccer and think having a soccer team would be great. I used to write columns fantasizing about how to pay for one.

But the very first thing I thought about their plan was: “Well, they must have SDSU on board if they were even coming to us. Because that would be ridiculous not to.” They acted like that was coming along.

In March 2017, I wrote this. I outlined the exact way the project was going to die if they stayed on course to challenge all the diverse interests they were taking on. I think it holds up!

But I’m not doing an I told you so. I mean, I guess I am. But that’s not the point. The point was, they did what I see way too often around here. They didn’t accept any weakness. They couldn’t acknowledge a shortcoming properly.

And so they soldiered on until they had completely lost SDSU, lost unions, lost City Council supporters, lost the Lincoln Club. Lost everybody. Now, they would point out they made powerful enemies early who worked to shut them down. Yeah, that’s true.

But there was nothing illegal or unfair about what happened to them. There were some misleading attacks but on a spectrum of misinformation in campaigns, it was not bad. The complexity of the plans was overwhelming and confusion itself was devastating.

And I wasn’t kidding the other day when I said SDSU and Measure G supporters really do have SoccerCity to thank for forcing the university to get its plan together. Measure G wouldn’t have happened without SoccerCity.

Anyway, San Diego needs to get to be the kind of city where leaders listen when others thoughtfully try to offer criticisms and concern about their direction. You can attack them for what you think that does to your reputation. Or you can try to be with it.

I know it’s not easy. I don’t believe in the idea that some people have “thick skin.” I think most everyone in public life feels the sting of criticism. The ego worry, shame, and nausea that comes with it. I certainly do. You can either run from it, lash out about it or just sit there and live with it. And sometimes, you can actually consider it. Put it in your files as a potential lesson. The complaint as a request — a bug report.

Because really, if we figure out good ways to constructively pass along feedback, information and worst-case scenarios (even if it hurts!), we can help projects and ideas improve and overcome hurdles. Stuff gets better.

In coming months, there will be many moments when SDSU may be off track or misleading. Sometimes the criticism will be garbage or just wrong. Sometimes it will just sting. They’ll have the choice to lash out about it, or sit with it and sift through it for actual insights.

But that goes for all of us. I really believe cultivating a culture of thoughtful, if fierce, and sometimes harsh, debate has the chance to produce better outcomes than what we’re seeing.

Cubby!

This week was Gene Cubbison’s last on NBC 7 San Diego. He’s retiring. NBC did a nice tribute to him here. Because of our partnership, we worked closely with Cubbison for many years.

He’s the dean of political reporting in San Diego and his deep, gravely voice will be missed. Luckily he’s not going far and I’m sure he’ll pop in the studio from time to time. Here’s Cubbison during preparations with Scott and Catherine Garcia for a 2012 mayoral debate.

Time for Another Election!

Kevin Faulconer

Mayor Kevin Faulconer appears at the US Grant Hotel on the night of the June 2018 primary election. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Mayor wants an election: Aimee Faucett, chief of staff for Mayor Kevin Faulconer, said the mayor’s team plans to soon sit down with the coalition behind a proposed hotel-tax increase to expand the Convention Center plus fund homeless services and road repairs to discuss whether they should press forward with a spring special election or wait until 2020.

Faulconer has said he’d like to see a special election and has been eyeing an April 2019 vote.

Faucett expects the mayor’s team and business and labor leaders behind the citizens’ initiative will make a decision in the next couple weeks.

For months, the mayor and his allies have said a special election could offer a shot to pass the tax hike with a simple majority thanks to a 2017 court ruling that suggested citizens’ initiatives don’t need a two-thirds vote to pass. A legal challenge in San Francisco or a future ballot measure could close that loophole.

Now the coalition also faces another complication.

City Council newcomers Jen Campbell, Monica Montgomery and Vivian Moreno could have a different take on a Convention Center expansion – or a special election – than sitting Council members. They’ll take office on Dec. 10.

Now the coalition and the mayor will not only need to decide when to move forward on the initiative itself but when to proceed with a City Council vote if they choose to push for a 2019 special election.

Faucett and Yes for a Better San Diego coalition say they will have to carefully navigate next steps in coming weeks.

The coalition wrote in a Friday statement that it’s weighing the best path to victory and thus the new funding for the Convention Center expansion, homelessness and street fixes.

“We will continue to pursue the path with the greatest likelihood of success in addressing these critical issues,” the coalition said.

— Lisa Halverstadt

Quack

In case you missed it, the Union-Tribune editorial board hit Faulconer pretty hard after Tuesday’s election results. “Suddenly, Faulconer, whose weak advocacy for SoccerCity over SDSU West shows limited political clout, is looking very much — and very early on — like a lame duck.”

Faucett reports the mayor, in fact, is not a lame duck.

This prompted a discussion in the office about what a lame duck is. There’s the literal interpretation, which is that it’s a politician whose successor has already been chosen. But we’ve decided that it’s a subjective determination that a politician is close enough to leaving office — and has become so irrelevant — people begin making decisions without regard to him or her or overtly in anticipation of what it will be like when they leave. Often, an elected leader remains relevant well up until the point that their successor is elected. But other times, well, they don’t.

We don’t take positions on people’s duck rating at Voice of San Diego, whether lame or able-bodied.

More Election Night Pics

Mike Levin and Chrissy, his wife, greeted supports at the Hilton in Del Mar. / Photo by Jesse Marx

Nathan Fletcher

Nathan Fletcher talks to reporters on Election Night. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

State Sen. Joel Anderson appears at Golden Hall on Election Night. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Jim Desmond

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

Correction: We incorrectly asserted that Nathan Fletcher was the first Democrat elected to the County Board of Supervisors in years. He was the first elected Democrat in District 4 in years. 

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

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