Guests: Katie Orr, KPBS News Metro Reporter
Andrew Donohue, Editor, voiceofsandiego.org
Alisa Joyce Barba, Senior Editor, Fronteras Changing America Desk
Related Story: Roundtable: Battle Over Birth Control
PENNER: This is KPBS Midday Edition Roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner. Today is Friday March 9th. And with me today at the Roundtable are Katie Orr, KPBS metro reporter. Good to see you, Katie.
KATIE: Hi, Gloria.
PENNER: And Andrew Donahue, editor of VoiceofSanDiego.org. Haven't seen you in a while.
DONAHUE: It is a true joy to see you again, Gloria.
PENNER: And Alisa Joyce Barba, my old producer -- not so old. Now the senior editor of Fronteras, the Changing America desk. You do move on, Alisa.
JOYCE-BARBA: Do. Nice to see you, Gloria.
PENNER: I know you are going to want to join this discussion. The deadline to submit papers to run in the San Diego mayor's race was yesterday. But we've known for weeks who the four main contenders are for the June†5th primary. The top two vote getters will move onto the November general election. All four, San Diego councilman Carl DeMaio, district attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Congressman Bob Filner, and assemblyman Nathan Fletcher hold elective office now. So they know how to raise campaign money and get the voters to support them. What do the voters need to know to make up their minds? KPBS metro reporter Katie Orr just finished a series of radio television and web features about each of them. And they were great features. What was your goal in putting together the series?
KATIE: Well, I wanted people to know obviously the basic positions of where all these candidates are coming from, some of their basic goal, some of the challenges they might face in running for mayor. The idea of getting each of them to give us a hobby to do was just to sort of learn a little bit about them, maybe, from something -- we all see them on the campaign trail, and it can be very scripted, and the same thing over and over. So to just get a little peek into their personality. That was the basic idea.
PENNER: For those few souls who did not see the video and weren't aware of the hobby, just very briefly, tell us what hobby you chose for each. It does give them a sense of personality and not just people on the trail.
KATIE: I let them tell me what they wanted to do. So Carl DeMaio, we went out with him on a Sunday and he knocked on doors and talked to potential voters.
PENNER: That's his hobby!
KATIE: That is what he does in his free time. The man works basically 18 hours a day.
DONAHUE: I think that does perfectly define his political personality and perhaps even his life.
KATIE: Absolutely. He said that he really does work like 18 hours a day. And he carves out a small amount of personal time on Friday night, and that's the time, like four hours that he has his personal life. Even that day, we spent about three hours with him on a Sunday, and when we left, staffers were going to come over and start going over some campaign literature and things like that. So he knocked on doors. Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, we watched him do a cross-fit workout, which is pretty telling. He was a former marine, and this is it a very intense workout. Bonnie Dumanis walked her dog through little Italy where she listens. And Congressman Filner played the piano, which I thought was surprising!
PENNER: I really don't think I'm going to try to interpret all of those. I mean, it's clear we'd have a workaholic mayor if we had Carl DeMaio. I don't think we should do that. Did you focus on any of the issues?
KATIE: Absolutely. The one thing that I heard from a lot of them, all of them, really, is that we need to fix San Diego's finances and the roads, obviously. They can tell that's a big thing with voter, they all talked about fixing infrastructure around San Diego. Bonnie Dumanis at an event talked about how she got out of her car in the college area and fell down because she stepped in a pot hole. And I think you guys had a blog post on that.
DONAHUE: Yeah, she described skinning her knee, actually.
KATIE: That's what they talked on. Dumanis and Fletcher talked about the education system. Filner talked about his plans for the pension system because he is the only one that does not back the pension reform measure.
PENNER: I think it's interesting. This is certainly not an opportunity for people to learn something from your features. But I'm going to ask our audience, what is it that you would like to know about the four people who are running for mayor of San Diego that you don't know and that perhaps our panel can help you out with? Our number is 1-888-895-5727. What differences do you see among the four of them?
DONAHUE: Well, they're actually in my opinion quite stark even though we have three Republicans and one Democrat. You have Carl DeMaio is sort of relying on his encyclopedic knowledge of city issues. And he really is sort of like the workaholic you described in your story. He's very focused and disciplined on his issues. And so it's pension and pot hole, right? City finance and infrastructure. There's not anything -- there's not much else. There's not much personal frill, there's not a whole lot. It's really keyed in and focused on that. Bonnie Dumanis is almost very much the opposite in that she's very, very light on the details, but much more focused on what here experience and leadership will bring. She very candidly points out that she has more years in public experience than DeMaio and Fletcher do on earth, I believe.
KATIE: That's true.
PENNER: So now we have focus and leadership experience.
KATIE: And she points out that she is the only one that actually runs an office -- being a legislator. So she implements. They come up with ideas but she actually implements ideas.
DONAHUE: And Fletcher is interesting in the standpoint that he's saying I'm a new generation of leader for a new generation of a city. And also sort of talking about turning the page on the financial issues. So I think he admits that they're important, but unlike Carl, he's focusing on, okay, let's turn the page and do things like -- I thought very interesting, and close to my heart, he pulled out a man on how to make San Diego one of the world's most bike-friendly cities. So he's focusing on infrastructure but with a lot more focus on that sort of quality of life issues. And Filner sort of two aspects of it. One is him just saying I'm the Democrat. And the push here is for everybody to make it to the runoff election. And a lot of his campaign is, hey, I have a D next to my name.
DONAHUE: And I want you to vote for me for that. But his other big focus is the port. He wants San Diego to really, really push to be a maritime industry leader.
PENNER: Okay, Alisa, you've heard what your colleague vs to say about their impressions of the mayoral candidates. You've covered a lot of elections. Which of these is really important to the electorate?
JOYCE-BARBA: You know, at this point, it's personality. At this point, I think people are looking for somebody who's going to be intriguing and interesting is compelling. And one of the problems that all of these candidates have is that they're very familiar names. They're bandied up in the blogosphere, and TVs, that to a lot of the electorate, it's kind of like same old same old.
PENNER: But throughout the nation, not just here in San Diego, the driving issue is jobs. How important is job creation in San Diego? Our unemployment rate is at 9%.
JOYCE-BARBA: It's a huge issue. But I think that none of these candidates are coming up with a job program that's going to be anything different from what anybody else has. On that level, everybody is kind of looking at the national stage and seeing what's going to happen with the presidential election.
DONAHUE: It clearly is polling as a very important issue. All the candidates are making it a top issue. Even though the mayor does have very little to do with job creation. They all really beat the jobs word over and over on the campaign, and they all have come out with various levels of plans. And it's interesting because each one of them reflections exactly what we just talked about on how they're differentiating themselves. Carl has details, right? He has a glossy plan. Bonnie says I'm going to lead. Not a whole lot of details. Fletcher has a bunch of specifics and talks about I'm going to make San Diego an innovative city. And Filner looks to the port. He said he's going to expand the port and create a lot of jobs there. The so it's a big issue and it's interesting because it really isn't something that a mayor has a lot of control over.
PENNER: No, but both assemblyman Fletcher and Ms. Dumanis want to appoint a jobs czar. How wise is it to promote another city department?
DONAHUE: It creates one job, right?
[ LAUGHTER ]
KATIE: Well, I think they're talking about it, something that voters care about, and if this is something they think will resonate with people, whether or not it actually has any effect, it's something that they might promote. I was talking to
Fletcher in my profile, and he was saying how he's talked to people at Qualcomm, and they have thousands of jobs but they don't have the skilled workers to fill those jobs. So he said he would focus on developing this workforce. Filner made the point that years ago, San Diego had a very strong defense contracting industry. And that sort of shriveled up. But he was saying even then, there was, like, 60,000 jobs. And Qualcomm today I think is about four thousand. So the comparison of what we used to have, there is none. And again, it's this need for middle class jobs that San Diego is lacking at the moment.
PENNER: Let's check it out with our listeners. Are jobs the most important issue for you as you consider what you would vote for mayor? Or is there something else? I'd like to hear from you at 1-888-895-5727. I spotted something else that was a little bit different. Three candidates are part of a larger body. Congress, and that would be Filner and the legislature, and that would be Fletcher, and the City Council. And that would be DeMaio. Now, Dumanis is her own person. She's district attorney. She says the only one in that seat. Is this evidence, do you believe Alisa, looking at this that they want to step out front, those three? That they're tired of being a part of a team? That they'd like to be their own individual and lead the team?
JOYCE-BARBA: Well, yeah, I think if you spend any time working for an organization, the some point you want to break free and do your own thing, and you want to be in charge of an entity that you can run and direct. So yeah, I think that makes sense.
PENNER: Congressman Filner just about said that to you when he talked about what it's like being in Congress these days.
KATIE: Yeah, he said it's just very partisan, you can't get anything done, he's in the minority, so he especially can't get anything done. And he really just sounded tired of it. I said, well, you are losing any power in Congress? And he said no, the longer you're there, are the more seniority you get. He's the ranking member on the veterans' affair committee. So a relative powerful guy. He just was tired of it. And he probably saw an opportunity, this is the first time we'll have a strong mayor. Maybe he felt with Obama running for reelection, there was a good chance that a Democrat could slip back into the mayor's office after decades of Republicans.
JOYCE-BARBA: Slip is a good verb. He does seem to be very much sitting back and waiting until the primary is over to see then, maybe hen then he will actually galvanize and fight. But I heard the piece that you did, and he did just sound, like, oh, I want to come back to San Diego, I'm going to play my piano. So I think a lot of Democrats, and the city now is a majority Democrats, so that is something he's seeing as a new arrow in his quiver. We are waiting to see whether he's going to step up and actually have a campaign.
PENNER: Let's talk about him being a Democrat for a moment, okay? He's actually thought of by many as being a liberal Democrat. How might that affect the way he would shape San Diego?
DONAHUE: That's one of the stark differences you see between him and the other candidates, is how they stand to the pension reform measure. He's very much come out and very clearly said we don't need to throw city employees under the bus, and has been the one who's going to be the defender of the city employees. So I think that's a big one. He's very much relying on that being the democratic. He said that very early in the campaign. Pretty much that he had already made it to the runoff. And I think he started to learn that maybe he hasn't. Because one important thing is on the local -- on the mayor's race and City Council race, there's no party identification on that ballot. So somebody who's going to walk into the ballot box isn't going to see Democrat, Republican, Republican, Republican. They're just gone see a bunch of names. So he's got to make sure that he's out there, connect welcome those people. And then you see somebody like Fletcher who is quite moderate as a Republican and is coming out with a bike plan that environmentalists and bike enthusiasts love. So he capturing some of these Democrats.
KATIE: I think that's what'll be interesting. All the polls and conventional wisdom will tell you that DeMaio will likely make it through the primary. I think that's sort of the interesting play there, between Filner and Fletcher. Because Fletcher is pretty moderate. And he's gotten his name out there, and who knows? He's been coming up in the polls, I believe a little bit. So it would be interesting to see what'll happen.
PENNER: Let's take time now to hear from one of our listeners. Jim in city heights is with us. Welcome to Midday Edition Roundtable.
NEW SPEAKER: Thanks for taking my call.
NEW SPEAKER: I would like to hear kind of a side by side analysis on where the candidates stand on medical marijuana dispensaries, and also same-sex marriage.
PENNER: Who wants to take that on?
KATIE: The medical marijuana community does not have fond feelings for Bonnie Dumanis. Honestly, it's not a subject that has come up a lot in the race, you know. San Diego doesn't have any laws right now, zoning, where medical marijuana dispensaries can be located. So basically that means they can't be located anywhere. And that's something that the City Council has discussed and anyone back and forth on. And to be quite honest, I don't know specifically what Nathan Fletcher thinks about it. I don't know what Bob Filner --
DONAHUE: Yeah, we've actually polled them on this, and we publish today on the site. And I edited it. But I'm not going to take a stab at the medical marijuana one. I could get that wrong. And I believe they all support --
PENNER: How important is it in this race?
DONAHUE: I don't think it's a main issue.
PENNER: It's important to Jim.
DONAHUE: It's very important to a small group of people. But it's not going to be anything that tips the race, in my opinion. I believe they do all support same-sex marriage.
JOYCE-BARBA: I don't know.
PENNER: You don't know whether they all support it or not?
JOYCE-BARBA: I do know last fall I had done a series, some stories on medical marijuana shops closing in San Diego, and I was speaking to an owner, and they had -- she had a lot of support for Bob Filner. I'm not implicating what Filner's position is, but that group was very supportive of him. And she said we're going to get him elected.
PENNER: We're going to take a short break now. When we come back, we'll continue talking about the mayor's race and add in another aspect of it, the education crisis.
PENNER: This is Midday Edition Roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner. And I'm at the Roundtable today with Andrew Donahue of VoiceofSanDiego.org, from the Fronteras desk in NPR, we have Alisa Joyce Barba, and also we have Katie Orr, from KPBS news. So we are delighted to welcome you as well. We're talking about the mayor's race, and we're going to relate that to the education crisis. Before we get into the whole education thing, because it is a crisis, 170,000 people have received layoff notices in the San Diego City schools. Let's talk about the electability of these candidates thus far. Some of them have sort of developed, oh, tags among some of the electorate that DeMaio is polarizing, that Filner is lack-luster, his campaign is lack-luster, that Fletcher is relatively unknown and that Dumanis hasn't really come up with any forward-thinking ideas. Will this affect their electability Katie?
KATIE: Well, I think people get perceptions of these candidates rightly or wrongly. You hear stories like mine, you're driving in your car, you might get a basic idea. So I think yes, if people get these ideas in their head, I could definitely affect whether or not they vote for these people, whether or not they have the same ideas of these candidates as the one you just listed. Who knows? Some people -- I asked DeMaio if he thought he was polarizing and he said absolutely not. He just represents what the voters want, like the pension reform initiative, it's polling around 70% or something. So if you think that's polarizing, he says you'd be out of touch with the voters.
PENNER: On the other hand, Fletcher does say he works across party lines and he's worked across lines in the state legislature. So if you've got something who's thought of as polarizing and somebody who walks across party lines, what is more appealing? Or don't the voters care?
KATIE: I think -- you know, the thing that Carl DeMaio has going for him is that he's on the City Council right now. So he weighs in on stuff that the council deals with. And I can tell you, he weighs in a lot. His press people are calling all the time saying do you want to hear from this? So he's out there. And that's one advantage he has over the other candidates is that he is so much in the public eye. And again, the idea of him being polarizing, it's something that we in the media might see. But maybe to a voter, they might just see him as someone who's out there, on top of the issues.
PENNER: I mentioned a few minutes ago that 1,700 layoff warnings for educators are out there. It doesn't mean all 1,700 will be laid off. It's certainly a scary thing for people whose jobs are on the line. The education crisis could potentially affect thousands of teachers and students because when you cut teachers, then you have to have larger class sizes. Bonnie Dumanis has the strongest plan for the mayor's office to get involved in education. She wants to appoint four new members to the San Diego City School Board. Andrew, how feasible is that idea?
DONAHUE: Well, it would have to go to the voters. So I think as far as feasibility goes, we're seeing mayors get very involved in education in different ways through mayoral control in big cities all across the country where some of the more innovative and interesting things are happening in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, are the mayors are all heavily involved so she got a good deal of criticism, people saying why would will the mayor get involved? And we ask our mayor to get involved in whether or not we build a football stadium, so I don't think it's as wild as people think for a mayor to actually get involved in education. Is this supposed to be the premiere leader of our region.
PENNER: Do you believe that the mayor should be involved in education issues? K-12 issues, especially considering the fact that there is a potential budget shortfall of almost $100†million? Or at least $100 million at this point, and the layoffs of course, and then there's the question of a stalemate between the School Board, the district, and the teachers' union. So I'd like to hear your opinion of that. This was a caller who called in who wanted to know what the role of the mayor in education is. Is there a role, Katie?
KATIE: Well, are the city charter spells out what the makeup of the school board is. And it says in there I believe five members. So to change that, you would have to change the city charter. So it would be an election. So to the extent that the city controls what the School Board looks like, that's what the mayor's role would be. Bonnie Dumanis's plan to appoint four more people, this was a similar measure going around and actually didn't collect enough signatures to make it onto the June ballot. So it's an idea that has been talked about but didn't get much traction at that point in time.
PENNER: Well, it's been not only talked about, but it was protected by some pretty well-known people in San Diego.
KATIE: Right. I believe doctor Irwin Jacobs.
PENNER: Yeah. So it's interesting that it got very little traction. Does that mean people don't care or does it mean that it's not a good idea?
DONAHUE: The question actually is, if there was something wrong with the signature collection process. Of so it's not necessarily that people didn't like this, it sounds like there was actually more logistical or structural problems on the actual collection. Those signatures. So I don't think we can automatically assume that people weren't interested in this.
JOYCE-BARBA: I don't think that there was a clear message out there about why adding people to the School Board was going to reform the school system. What role are they going to play? And how is this going to improve the situation? I think that that's the message that needs to get out there. If we do this, then this.
DONAHUE: It's a really important point. And I think that was the biggest struggle that they had in this campaigns, which was they really wanted to reform the way I think educators are evaluated and the way education is gonna in the classroom. But they hid it sort of behind a process structural thing, and that obscured what they wanted to do, and it was a hard thing for really anybody to get too excited about.
PENNER: So it sounds as though Andrew was saying that this has to do with the quality of performance of the teachers. And if you can organize the School Board even by appointment, it's going to properly evaluate teacher, this would benefit the students.
JOYCE-BARBA: Well, I think what we're talking about -- the teachers' union or performance pay? Or teachers being evaluated on their performance or reward forward their seniority. So then we go back to the age-old debate that wages over every education story which has to do with protecting the teachers' union, which obviously is where Bob Filner would come in. Or would we be firing teachers and rewarding them for their top performance?
PENNER: Hold onto that thought. We really need to talk about what you just said, where Bob Filner would come in when it has to do with the teachers' union. This call is from Andrew in Ocean Beach. Welcome.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you, great show as usual.
PENNER: Thank you.
NEW SPEAKER: Just want to say, yeah, I believe a mayor definitely has a saying in the teachers, what kind of goes on I would say -- more or less just the performance of getting jobs in there, getting the teacher, making sure the kids are getting educated. And school lunches are being given. But when it comes to in class, that's when you draw the line, when it comes to the actual studies and subjects. I don't think a mayor should be putting his personal preferences and beliefs and tough like that in there. That's my comment.
KATIE: Yeah, and I don't think that this is -- anybody is talking about. They're basically, what these mayoral candidates see is the school district with this huge budget deficit, and this instability of whether or not we're going to lay off these teacher, and talking to them, they see it as an economic issue for the city. Because if your schools are not performing as well as they could be, then families are not going to want to move here, they're not going to want to put their kids in the school, it makes the housing values go down. It's all connected. But it's nothing to do with the curriculum.
DONAHUE: I think a lot of that is set by the state. It's in a lot of ways, these proposals are a counter weight to the teachers' union influence at the ballot box. You naturally in school politics really have one very interested party that's supporting candidate, and there isn't always an organized other side, I guess, is I good way to put it. So rather than organizing another side, what they're trying to do is find a way that they can actually just appoint the people they want on there.
PENNER: Thank you very much for your call. We appreciate it. Let's talk about the unions. You mentioned it first, Alisa. What is this relationship that you've raised about Bob Filner and the unions?
JOYCE-BARBA: Well, he's a union man. He's made it very clear that that's what he's bringing into the race, that he's going to be supporting the unions, and he's going to be supporting the working man and -- men and women out there. And the education debate as Andrew just said very eloquently, they're the elephant in the room. It's the teachers' union.
KATIE: It was interesting because Filner was talking to some supporters the other day, and he was saying if, if the financial election is between him and Carl DeMaio, it sets up this, like, microcosm election that could be representative of the entire country because it's the union supporter versus the man who wants nothing to do with unions. Wants to privatize everything. And so it's really this symbolic election of which direction is the city going to go. It would just be two totally -- a very stark choice, two totally different candidates if that ends up being the general election.
PENNER: That would be a very interesting general election. Getting back to education and money, Andrew, considering that the state really holds the power of the purse in education, what can a mayor do to change the money situation?
DONAHUE: Well, right now, one of the key issues facing the district is their actual employee costs. It's about 90% or more of their actual costs as a school district are just their employees. They have a contract that's set to really increase pay over the next year. So the big issue is trying to find a way for the district to try to get unions back to the table and renegotiate some of these contracts. Or they say that massive layoffs will occur. So there's that big issue. There's a larger leadership issue. We've seen a talk right now about -- there was previously talk and an actual ballot measure that would have increased a parcel tax on people's property. There's talk about another bond. These sort of things have lately lacked any leadership. They bubbled up and died and didn't have any coalition. So I think you could see money raised locally behind a leader with some sort of ability to bring people together.
PENNER: Alisa, I'm going to throw out something that Bonnie Dumanis proposed. She recommended that parents negotiate with the district's employees unions as part of her 8-point plan.
JOYCE-BARBA: Boy, that's just a mess waiting to unravel itself. If you've ever been at a PTA meeting or a meeting, school parents are very opinionated about the education of their kids, and they come at it from any huge variety of angles depending on where their kid stands in the situation. While that might be empowering for a very important interest group in this debate, I think it is not going to be very effective.
PENNER: On the other hand she pledged to donate her mayor's salary if she's elected to education programs. How compelling is that to voters?
DONAHUE: She'll also have a very nice pension to live off if she needs to.
KATIE: I think that might speak more to how much money she has.
PENNER: Let's take a call from carol in San Diego. You're on with the panel.
NEW SPEAKER: I just had a comment about teachers unions and unions in general. It seems like they are having a really negative effect on the budget process, both in the state and locally. And I just -- Bob Filner, I think he has some interesting ideas for the city. But it would be hard to support him because he is so aligned with the Teachers' Unions and other unions. And it always seems like we're pitting business against unions, and a lot of times just regular people are left out of the mix.
PENNER: Okay, thank you so much, carol. And Andrew?
DONAHUE: Well, a great test to talk on Filner on this is what is his pension plan. He's come out against the reform that's going to be on the ballot and he has said over and over, he's about to come out with a plan. He keeps postponing that, and so this is still a really big issue for the city finances, and the new mayor is going to have to do a lot. And it feeds into that idea that he is too closely connected to laborer union fist he's not going to come out with any plan at all. And some of the details he has talked about are some of the things the city talked a lot about in 2004 or 2005, and either decided not to do because we thought they were bad ideas or they did the opposite because they thought that was the reform they were doing to cure the ills of the past.
PENNER: Well, we can't let the whole mayor's race go by without asking our panel what kind of mayor has Jerry Sanders been. What do you think, Andrew?
DONAHUE: I think mayor Sanders has been somewhat of a meek leader. I think he promised a lot of big things and has come in and done a lot of small things. The city is no doubt in a better place. He calmed down what was a place in absolute crisis and has moved the city forward. But he has not done it in sort of the big sweeping ways that he promised.
PENNER: Is that what we need?
DONAHUE: I think so, yes.
JOYCE-BARBA: 2 words. I think he's been a jovial caretaker.
PENNER: A jovial caretaker! Is San Diego ready for change from a jovial caretaker? Or does San Diego like jovial caretaker.
JOYCE-BARBA: I think San Diego is perfectly happy with a jovial caretaker which is why we have the same discussions week after week about budgets and schools and everything we do. That's what the establishment has nurtured and promotes and that's fine. I agree with Andrew, I think a visionary, earth-shaking leader would be very interesting in San Diego. And I think we're ready for it.
KATIE: It's interesting. Sanders' visionary claims were at his state of the city when he played that video of the little kid running by these sites, and then the big developments popped up. That's the vision he has for San Diego, and all these missive projects which likely he will not complete before he leaves. They'll fall on the next mayor's plate.
PENNER: With that, we're going to wind up this one and of course be watching this race as we go along. And coming up next, women's right to contraception surfaces like a tidal wave. What start today and why now, and what is the San Diego connection? We'll be right back with Midday Edition Roundtable.
PENNER: This is Midday Edition Roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner. At the Roundtable today with Katie Orr of KPBS, Alisa Joyce Barba of the fronteras desk, and from VoiceofSanDiego.org, Andrew Donahue. A demonstration yesterday in San Diego protesting a movement against birth control. Rush Limbaugh all over the news with his punishing remarks about a Georgetown University law student. Roe v. Wade attorney Sarah Weddington in San Diego speaking out for women's reproductive rights. All this and more in what is perceived as a new assault on contraception. What about that, Alisa? Remind us how this flap over access to contraception started with the provision in the healthcare act.
JOYCE-BARBA: You wonder, you got to wonder whether the White House knew this was coming. There's no way they could have predicted it the way it has gone. Basically Barack Obama announced in January that there would be a mandate as part of the new healthcare reform plan that all employers would have to include contraceptive encourage without a co-pay in their insurance plans. And this included institutions that may have had some kind of a religious prohibition against contraception, such as Catholic universities and hospitals. And this caused a huge outcry among Catholic institutions who said they did not want to have insurance plans that covered contraception. So Obama cycled it back and said you don't have to provide the insurance plans, but you have to be able to refer your employees to an insurance plan that will cover contraception. That was his compromise. I think that the hue and cry even from Catholic institutions took the White House by surprise, and I think it took a lot of us by surprise. Like who knew they still had such strong feelings about this? There's a lot of figures out there. But the vast, vast, vast majority of Catholic women practice contraception. And so like most Catholics, they go to church and pray and talk to the priest and get married and have their babies, but they don't listen to the church when it comes to contraception or divorce or even abortion for many Catholic people. So this was a surprise. But then it kind of took off.
PENNER: Well, it took off, and there is a San Diego connection here, Alisa. And we need to talk about that a little bit. The San Diego connection is Darryl Issa. How did he become involved?
JOYCE-BARBA: Well, are he has a very powerful position in Washington right now. He's the chair of a powerful house committee. And he convened a hearing about three weeks ago, just after President Obama issued this mandate. And he convened a hearing where he called all male witnesses to testify that this was a assault on religious liberty. So basically the GOP is looking at -- they don't like Obamacare. This has nothing in my view to do with contraception. It's just a new way to attack Obama and to find a weakness in the Obama healthcare plan, another weakness they can attack. So this was an attack on religious liberty. And this was the hearing he convened. He refused to include women, which angered the democratic members of his committee who walked out.
PENNER: Wait, wait, let's get that straight. So he had a panel discussing contraception, and didn't include any women.
JOYCE-BARBA: That's true.
PENNER: I see. And does he have that power to be able to name his own members?
JOYCE-BARBA: Absolutely, absolutely he does. But I think there's obviously democratic women on his committee, and they argued strongly that he should include some women, and he refused. He thought he had called the best experts.
PENNER: So your rationale is that this has to do with the Obamacare.
PENNER: Katie, women have had access to contraception since the 1960s, and most thought it was a settled issue. Do you agree with Alisa that it's developing now because of Obama's universal -- I don't even want to call it universal. We'll call it Obamacare.
KATIE: Well, I certainly see her point. It's something his -- his plan is something that Republicans vehemently oppose, and this is a way to call it into question. I think a lot of people, we had a guest on our show on Midday this week talking about this, and it is shocking that it's still an issue. I don't even know the percentage of women who take birth control. But it's for medical conditions, you know, people -- certainly preventing pregnancy is one of the primary things. But this is seven in ten women take birth control for some sort of medical issue. And I think a lot of women were just shocked that this is still something we're talking about.
PENNER: Let me ask our listeners about this. Are you surprised that this issue has erupted? Exploded, actually, at this point in our lives? The 21st century, that it's a question of whether women have a right to contraception? Or is it a religious right, that if your religion doesn't believe in it, you shouldn't have to be forced, you shouldn't be forced to take birth control or have it paid for? Have it paid if are by your provider, I'm sorry, Alisa. Have it paid for.
JOYCE-BARBA: I was just going to say nobody is forcing anybody to take it. It's an issue of paying for it.
PENNER: Andrew, we're all familiar with the way that Rush Limbaugh went after Sarah fluke who wanted to testify in Issa's hearings. Why do you think this issue has such staying power, especially if we agree that it's an old issue?
DONAHUE: I would say this goes beyond Obamacare, and it really highlights sort of the extreme social conservatism that is really driving the Republican party right now. The party was faced with a choice after the 2008 election, whether or not it was going to modernize or not. And it has doubled down on this sort of voters the culture war, and the extreme social conservatism. And this -- if you look at what the main candidates said that are running for president for Republicans in response to his comments, it was basically semantics. They wish he didn't use that word, but he's coming under attack from the elite media. So they didn't rush to distance themselves from this at all. Rather, they went and embraced it, because this is the exact sentiment, and these sort of social conservative values that are driving the entire presidential race right now.
PENNER: Do you think that this issue will impact local contests? For example in the races for Congress?
JOYCE-BARBA: I can tell you that it will definitely -- at this point from what I'm seeing, it will definitely impact the national contest. And it's impacting it now. There's a furor among women in social media, and across the blogosphere about this, the fact that people would call their right to practice family planning into question and actually equate contraception with sexual promiscuity, the debate is so old, it's astounding. And the fact is that yes, is it started with Obamacare, but the vitriol that has been unleashed as a result of the beginning of this debate, and the revelation essentially that the social conservative bloc in this country that Mitt Romney is going for, that Newt Gingrich is going for, that all of the Republican candidates are trying to woo, that they actually on any level can come in and support this kind of viewpoint I think has been astounding to a lot of women. And I know that they are rushing to do whatever they can do to oppose this.
KATIE: And I think it's interesting too because when you talk about contraception, it's sort of something that cuts across party lines. Conservative or liberal, women use it.
PENNER: Do we know about tea partiers?
KATIE: I assume some tea partiers use it.
DONAHUE: We'll see how fast the population of tea partiers grows in the next ten years.
KATIE: I just wonder, it's an interesting thing because it's not a party line issue. It's a health issue. And millions of women use this.
PENNER: You see it as a health issue?
JOYCE-BARBA: That's an interesting thing. And I was reading some stuff about this. Women or men or whomever is supporting family planning, we put it in terms of health. The birth control pill is often used for women's health issues. But the underlying story is really about sexuality, and it's about the ability to have sex without getting pregnant. And that is something that social conservatives could take issue with. They don't -- the sexual promiscuity, the free love that has basically been unleashed since the mid-60s, and the bill, was perhaps a social movement that people watched happen who were not as comfortable with it.
PENNER: Well, wasn't that the whole point of what Rush Limbaugh was saying? That this represents sexual promiscuity?
JOYCE-BARBA: That's exactly what he was saying. And that's exactly what he was railing against. And it was as if he had been sitting back for 50 years and said oh, and by the way! I'm not comfortable with this!
DONAHUE: Yeah, and you look at the -- this is painting them in the corner for a general election, and just for the long term. Because I just -- I have to believe, and I have no data to back this up, but just the amount of people that still -- in which contraception is still an issue, they are very much against, is not growing. And it's probably not that wide. And you look at the same sort of issue that the party is setting itself up for with immigration. The Latino vote in this country is going -- is vital, and is going to be so vital for the longest time. But right now with the primary fight that we're seeing, the Republican party is possibly alienating itself to an entire generation of Latino voters.
JOYCE-BARBA: What you're saying is basically they're alienating themselves to an entire generation of Latino voters and they're alienating themselves against an entire generation of young people who see contraception as something absolutely normal.
PENNER: But that demonstration that was downtown, it only attracted a small crowd. Aren't young women today interested in the issue? You're talking about alienating a generation. If the generation isn't paying attention, how can you alienate it?
KATIE: Well, they're paying attention. But I think they're also working. You know? They're at their jobs, they have families, they're doing things. Just because you don't show up at a demonstration doesn't mean that it's not an issue that gets you going.
PENNER: Fair enough. Let's hear from Hector in Chula Vista. He's been waiting to get in on this conversation. Go ahead, Hector. And interesting that our callers are men today.
NEW SPEAKER: I got to say, I'm getting tired of -- all the media outlets characterizing this in a divide and conquer tactic, saying it's about whether or not contraception is moral or right. Sore saying this is the conservatives trying to attack Obama or his initiatives. What does the constitution say? What does the constitution say about what the president is doing? There is a protection of liberty and a protection of religious freedom in this country, and that is the fundamental issue at heart. When the president on a side note, but a very similar issue, says he doesn't need congressional authority to go to war in Libya or in Iran or Syria, that is nothing to do with the president. That's his administration's policy of completely violating the constitution.
PENNER: Well, I think you've got a really interesting point there, Hector. In fact, I just read that attorney general Eric holder threatens to enforce Obama's mandate that Catholic companies through the insurance companies pay for birth control. And I was wondering whether this could become a constitutional issue, which is, I think what your point is.
JOYCE-BARBA: And I think you're absolutely right. And in fact, I saw a cartoon, a political cartoon the other day which had a birth control pill versus the U.S. constitution. And it basically is saying that it is unconstitutional for the president to mandate insurance coverage of birth control pills. But I think that is a real point that can be debated. But I know that people feel very strongly those two are antithetical.
PENNER: Let's see if we have time for another call. We have so many callers coming in. John from San Diego, if you could be brief?
NEW SPEAKER: I appreciate it. So the thing that behalves me is why this is being framed as trying to restrict access to contraception. To flip it the other way so that the other side can understand where social conservatives are coming from on this, what if everybody can be aware of, there's crisis pregnancy centers that do the opposite of planned parenthood that try to encourage a woman to keep a baby, what if that made part of the healthcare plan a broad based things where owl employers had to pay if a woman wanted to go in and be talked into keeping her baby? And planned parenthood as an employer was forced to do something it doesn't necessarily agree with, and pay for crisis pregnancy counseling to keep a baby?
JOYCE-BARBA: My own personal opinion? This would have to be a very personal opinion. I think that sounds totally legitimate. I think that if somebody wanted to go to crisis, to counseling about whether or not to keep their baby, and the insurance coverage covered that, I think it would be totally legitimate.
PENNER: And doesn't it? Insurance does not cover crisis counseling?
JOYCE-BARBA: I don't believe so.
PENNER: Anybody know? It's a very interesting thought, John. Thanks for your call. And Midge, if you are really fast, we're going to get you in before the break.
NEW SPEAKER: Quickly, I really think that when we give money to institutions, whether they're Catholic or Baptist or whatever, the government gives money, we're giving tax money to those people, and if they're going to cover Viagra for God sakes, why not cover contraception which is useful in so many ways? And probably saved my life because I had really horrible pregnancies when I was younger. People don't understand, if it's a Catholic church, okay. But if it's an institution like a hospital where there are people -- an institution that gets government money in a lot of ways.
PENNER: I'm sorry, we're going to run into the next program if I let you keep on talking. Thank you for your comment. And similar to what Katie Orr was saying. It's a health issue, according to at least some of our callers. I want to thank our panel. They were terrific today.