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San Diego’s Biggest November Election Has No Candidates

The biggest race in November isn’t a race at all, it’s the ballot measure that would eliminate the possibility of citywide candidates winning outright in the June primary. Officials with both the Democratic Party and the local labor coalition said they anticipate Measure K to be a top spending priority.

The biggest battle on San Diego’s November ballot might not feature any candidates.

Instead, a measure changing how the city decides elections could attract the most resources and attention this fall.

Officials with both the Democratic Party and the local labor coalition said they anticipate Measure K, which would force all citywide races to end in November instead of in June if one candidate gets a majority of votes, to be a top spending priority. The strategist running the campaign against the measure likewise said it would be a top priority of the Republican and business-friendly crowd.

“It will be a priority for all parties,” said Mickey Kasparian, who runs the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, the primary financial source for left-leaning candidates and initiatives in the county. “It’s a game-changer.”

The measure would amend the City Charter to make all City Council, city attorney and mayoral races finish in November, no matter the vote difference in the June primary. Under the current rules, a candidate can win outright in June if he or she gets just one vote over the 50 percent threshold. That’s largely been a boon for Republican candidates and causes.

A companion measure would also force all ballot initiatives and referendums – voter-driven measures to change or invalidate laws or to enact new ones – to go on the November ballot. Both would take effect for the 2018 elections if passed.

The proposal that’s become Measure K was initially discussed two years ago by Democrats like City Councilman Todd Gloria and Kasparian. It’s seen as beneficial to liberal candidates and causes, since voter participation increases in the general election and new voters tend to lean left. A recent report by inewsource showed Democrats generally increase their vote share from June to November.

Though Democrats believe the measure is important, the extra funding for Measure K is also due in part to circumstances. The mayoral race ended in June when Mayor Kevin Faulconer won re-election with a majority. The Republican candidate in the District 1 City Council race dropped out when it looked like he couldn’t defeat his Democratic opponent, Barbary Bry. And after Democratic Rep. Scott Peters won a hard-fought re-election battle two years ago, his path is seen as significantly easier this year.

“I think the charter change will have the most profound effect on electoral politics that we’ve seen in decades,” said Francine Busby, chair of the county’s Democratic Party.

She said the party would also prioritize Deputy City Attorney Mara Elliott in her race against Republican Deputy District Attorney Robert Hickey.

Otherwise, she said, Measure K was likely to be the party’s top priority.

The party is also expecting major assistance from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, to support Doug Applegate’s bid to unseat Rep. Darrell Issa in North County’s 49th Congressional District. She said to expect lots of national money to show up in the next round of financial disclosures.

Labor is gearing up to get behind Measure K, too. Kasparian said it could be the organization’s top priority, but those decisions can shift over the course of a campaign.

“We don’t want to stick our money down the drain,” he said. “If something is polling well, and we think we have a puncher’s chance somewhere, we’ll move our resources elsewhere.”

The difference between June and November elections was perhaps most stark in 2012, when Republicans came out on top in most races in June, including passing a pension reform measure, but lost in November when the presidential race boosted voter turnout.

Ryan Clumpner, a consultant running Hickey’s race and the campaign against Measure K, said that sort of evidence is misleading: There aren’t any recent races that would have ended differently if not for the current process, he said.

Republicans are prioritizing the measure now because they’re outraged by the process by which Democrats put it on the ballot – skipping the committee dedicated to reviewing charter amendments – and the implicit argument it makes that some of their races were won illegitimately.

“The reasons it provoked so much hostility was that no attempt was made at consensus or bipartisanship, they were not given the normal hearings and research for charter amendments and on top it if all, the issue was presented as an insult to the legitimacy of elections,” he said. “Of course they’re pissed.”

The argument against the measure that will appear on the ballot was signed by an executive at the local Chamber of Commerce, Faulconer and three Republicans on the City Council: Chris Cate, Scott Sherman and Lorie Zapf. Faulconer, Zapf and Sherman were each elected in June primaries.

Andrea Guerrero is running the campaign in favor of the measure. She said she’s expecting plenty of support from larger organizations, but isn’t at liberty to identify them until their donations come in. She expects individual donors to fund as much as half of the campaign.

“We in the social justice community have been talking about this for two years, and when the city opened up the charter this was our opportunity to move on this,” she said. “Once we counted votes and realized we could get this on the ballot, we moved with great gusto.”

She dismissed any concerns over the process the measure went through before hitting the ballot. They followed the City Council’s rules, she said.

“If they think that’s not fair, they should change those rules,” she said.

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