Politics Report: School of Faulconer | Voice of San Diego

Politics

Politics Report: School of Faulconer

The former San Diego mayor is running for governor on opening schools. But what did he do to open them as mayor?

Illustration by Adriana Heldiz

Kevin Faulconer officially launched his campaign for governor this week. It always seemed like he had two choices for where to stage the official launch: either at a closed school, or at the French Laundry. Those are the two sites where Gavin Newsom kryptonite has been found to form naturally.

The former because Newsom was able to get some of his kids into schools that were operating in person while most of the state can’t get their kids on campuses, and the latter because of his infamous night out at the not-very-outdoor fancy restaurant while he was imposing tight restrictions on dining across the state.

Without those two political storylines, is there a recall campaign? Does Faulconer run?

Maybe.

Anyway, Faulconer went with the school – a school in Los Angeles. It was a closed public school across the street from a private school operating with students on campus.

Here is a transcript of me talking to myself.

What was his campaign theme? California Comeback.

Catchy. What did Faulconer do to open schools here when he was mayor? Nothing.

Didn’t he have some meetings? Yeah, he did spend several weeks meeting with San Diego Unified School District and its teachers union and others. And remember, as first reported in the Politics Report, the three of them sent a letter to the governor demanding that the state help the district administer, at a minimum, 10,000 COVID-19 tests per day for students and staff. This would allow schools to open.

That’s a lot of tests. I know. It was really kind of a shocking demand. I remember being equal parts thrilled that the mayor was engaged on the topic and horrified that he had helped set and publicize a standard to open schools that was unachievable.

Newsom has a lower testing threshold for opening schools. He thinks it would be sufficient for teachers to be tested once per week, and he hasn’t mandated a testing regimen for kids. For San Diego Unified, that would only be about 1,000 tests per week – not 10,000 per day.

But now Faulconer says they should just open. Yes, I think what he is gong for is a sort of I’m-more-competent-and-would-have-gotten-all-this-done angle, as opposed to the who-cares-about-the-pandemic-just-open approach. But he hasn’t made clear what he would do policy- or management-wise to open schools.

Newsom is trying to get the teachers unions and administrators to outline what they need to open. Perhaps Faulconer would be more combative with them, but its unclear that would have the desired results either. Though it seemed to be constructive conflict in San Francisco, where the mayor and city attorney sued the school district to force it to outline a plan to open did result in the teachers union outlining what its members needed to see.

What did they want? They said if community spread of the virus gets San Francisco down to the orange (moderate spread) tier, they would open. If the city gets spread down to the red (widespread) tier, they will go back to schools only if they have full access to vaccines.

That seems reasonable. Yeah, seems pretty workable. San Diego County, for example, is at 42.5 cases per 100,000 people. The red tier is below seven cases per 100,000. But just a few weeks ago, we were at 69 cases per 100,000. It’s going down rapidly.

Do you have a fun fact? Turns out I do. More people have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine than who have been verified to have gotten the virus. As of Friday, 244,069 people had developed COVID-19 as confirmed by tests. And, as of Friday, 347,533 people had gotten at least the first dose of the vaccine. That’s almost 12 percent of the county’s population over the age of 16.

You can follow the vaccine dashboard here.

Cannabis Workers Shafted

The state created an exhaustive list of the various health care workers who are right now eligible to receive the vaccine. It included every kind of professional they could think of who comes in contact with sick or injured people besides the obvious doctors and paramedics, etc. The list included cannabis workers.

Many cannabis workers do serve very sick people. But it did seem like the kind of distinction on which someone could tomahawk dunk, and there was County Supervisor Jim Desmond, ready to jam. He slammed the county that he helps oversee for ranking cannabis workers essentially ahead of police and teachers in the great vaccine line.

And the county buckled. By the end of the day, it had produced a new list that did not include cannabis workers.

(Though it did still include ski patrol. For all of them. The San Diego Ski Patrol.)

The county put out a statement: “While the state includes medicinal cannabis industry employees in Phase 1A, the County has made a decision to include this group in Phase 1B, Tier 1 Food and Agriculture for growing, production, storage, transport and distribution. References to cannabis workers being eligible for vaccination have been removed from the County’s vaccination website.”

Michael Vu Gets a New View

Michael Vu / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Dispatch from Randy Dotinga: Michael Vu, who was appointed assistant chief administrative officer for the county last month, has served as registrar of voters since 2012 and got to oversee last year’s unprecedented almost-all-by-mail election. I talked to Vu about the challenges he faced on the job in 2020, the future of elections and why he feels a special bond to San Diego.

Last year, you had to dramatically redo how the county runs elections. How did that go?

We got through the March primary election, then we went into COVID: How do you redefine the voting model where it’s going to keep everyone safe?

It was like turning the Titanic on a dime, and doing it effectively and overnight. Normally in elections, you are very methodical and very thoughtful about changing a model like that over a series of years.

The outcome was that 88 percent of all votes cast were mail ballots. Fortunately, the community came together, fully understood it and embraced it. They weren’t as polarized as the country was.

What made you think that voters were with you?

When you have a presidential election, you get a flood of complaints. But this may have been the first where it was the reverse – more compliments than complaints. The community in general was very supportive in terms of, “Hey, we’ve got to make sure that we do this thing right.”

Will voting at polling places become a thing of the past?

There’s already legislation to send everyone a mail ballot for every election, and I think that’s a good policy moving forward. We were already near that point here in San Diego County, where we were approaching 80 percent of voters being permanent mail voters and 20-25 percent of the population still going to a polling location. The questions are going to be: How many polling places should be out there and for how long? We’ll need to really need to dig deep into a policy analysis and then hopefully come up with a reasonable threshold.

How common was voting by mail when you first came to the county to work in elections in 2007?

In the presidential election of 2008, it was the other way around: About 24 percent of people were permanent mail voters.

Do you think that we lose anything if almost everybody votes by mail?

There will still be polling locations, so if you want that experience, you can still have it. But you may not necessarily walk to your neighbor’s garage down the road. Now, having said that, that’s not where we are at this point in time. There are decisions that need to be made if we want to move away from the traditional neighborhood precinct model that we have now.

Do you think we’ll ever have online voting?

A: Not in my lifetime. There are two components you need to have: Technology and trust in technology, which might be the most difficult part of getting there. You’re talking about something [voting] that’s fundamental to the way this country is governed.

You worked in elections in Utah and Ohio before coming here. How’d you end up in Utah?

My parents were refugees from the Vietnam War, where they were one of the last families to get out of Saigon on an airplane. My dad was in the South Vietnamese military, and they knew that he’d probably be sent to a re-education camp.

They first landed in Camp Pendleton, settled in the Four Corners area, then decided to go to Salt Lake and raise a family.

There’s a connection there for me. My parents left Vietnam because of communism. I came back to San Diego with my wife and boys, back to where they first landed. And it was because of elections, democracy and the freedoms that we’re afforded. Life makes a sweet circle.

If you have ideas or feedback for the Politics Report send it to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org but he should not be blamed for, or complimented about, any part of this particular Politics Report. 

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