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Running For Mayor, Lobbying For The City, Watching CBS Again

September 6, 2013 1:17 p.m.

Mayor's Race, City Lobbyists, CBS-Time Warner Settle

HOST

Mark Sauer

GUESTS

Sandhya Dirks, KPBS News

Dean Calbreath, San Diego Daily Transcript

Bob Laurence, San Diego Media Writer

Related Story: Running For Mayor, Lobbying For The City, Watching CBS Again

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

SAUER: Welcome. It's Friday, September 6th. I'm Mark Sauer. Joining me at the roundtable today are KPBS metro reporter, Sandhya Dirks, Dean Calbreath of the San Diego daily transcript, and TV writer Robert D. Lawrence. Two weeks after Bob Filner's dramatic farewell before a packed council chamber, leading the way to replace him are two moderates, and Democrat Nathan Fletcher. Sandhya, let's start with the two mod rates, Mr. Faulconer, and Mr. Fletcher. You made the wonderful comment this week about initials.

DIRKS: There's something about the letter F and the mayor shift in San Diego.

[ LAUGHTER ]

DIRKS: But what's interesting about these two, there's a little bit more known about Faulconer's record in terms of he's been on City Council for a long time, so we have a sense of where he is, and he's very much in the middle. He's not really on social issues at all, typical Republican party stances. But definitely he's a fiscal conservative, very friendly to the business community. They've given him their endorsement. And he's definitely a centrist Republican, what we're used to seeing in San Diego.

SAUER: And Nathan Fletcher, a different journey.

DIRKS: Nathan Fletcher has been just about everything in the past year. He's been a Republican, an Independent, and now he's running as a Democrat. But we don't really necessarily know that much about what that means. We haven't seen his plank in terms of what that transition means. And right now, my big question is between Fletcher and Faulconer, what's the difference? What is actually distinguishing these two very centrist candidates?

SAUER: Why did Fletcher leave the Republican party?

DIRKS: I talked to him last week. And one of the things he told me was that he just realized more and more that his point of view and his priorities were not in line with where the Republicans were. For example, he said, are look, I support Obamacare, I support money for public education. So he found himself, he says, realizing that he was just more in line with democratic interests. But we'll have to pin him down in terms of what that means in a platform.

LAWRENCE: This morning's UT had a story about revising the issue. The Padres stadium. Is that an issue?

DIRKS: It is in every mayoral campaign, a huge issue. And it absolutely is an issue. That is a huge, major project. And it's a project which has some echos in projects of the past which have gotten San Diego in trouble, including what happened when the baseball stadium went downtown. So I think it's going to be something watched by both the business community and by the progressive community who feel that Filner was their guy who was going to stand up to big business interests.

SAUER: A referee.

DIRKS: Now that we no longer have him, what are the options and what are the politicians that we do have going to say about another big downtown project like that?

SAUER: A big name that has dropped out is Carl DeMaio. Ran and narrowly last to Bob Filner last year. And he's going to go for Congress. He's got about half a billion dollars, $500 million so far?

CALBREATH: Actually half a million dollars.

SAUER: Oh, I'm way ahead.

[ LAUGHTER ]

CALBREATH: The campaign hasn't gotten that big yet.

SAUER: Thank you for correcting me. But you did a story onthat. What was the money problem? Could he have taken that?

CALBREATH: Yeah, he couldn't take it all because federal rules are more lenient in terms of the amount of money that you can take in than city rules are. So he would have had to give up about $150,000 of that. And one of the things that's come out in terms of how he made his decision to drop out of the race, a lot of the people who have given him the federal max of $52,00 or so would have been limited to a contribution in the mayoral race. But they already made that contribution in his congressional campaign. And a lot of people said we want you to stay in the congressional campaign. We've made this commitment. We'd been behind if you suddenly jump out of it. So we want you to stay there.

SAUER: Yeah, and the national folks, you know, who helped him raised that were keen on him running against the democratic candidate up this.

LAWRENCE: And is Mike Aguirre in or out?

DIRKS: He has pulled papers which means he is in the process of potentially saying that he's in. He's definitely a huge character in San Diego politics. Our last mayoral election, we had these two very polarizing forces, and these have very partisan forces in terms of Bob Filner and Carl DeMaio on different sides of the political aisle. In this election, our two frontrunners are much closer together.

SAUER: Right.

DIRKS: So who ends up entering the race? In this case it looks like we might have some other Democrats from parts of the spectrum entering the race.

LAWRENCE: And does Aguirre stand a chance? Or is he too big already?

SAUER: Well, he didn't fair that well in his last run when he lost to Goldsmith for city attorney as well. You made the point on the moderates. Let's talk about David Alvarez, a progressive Democrat, the folks south of 8 here who lost a champion in Bob Filner and feel at a great loss at this point, would Alvarez come out as a progressive and force Fletcher to run more to the left?

DIRKS: That's seems to be what Alvarez has suggested why he's gotten in the race. He said he wouldn't run if for example the current serving mayor, Todd Gloria, decided to step in. But he said in the lack of that and the lack of somebody who was more to the left, he felt he wanted to get in the race and represent those people. We have a demographic shift in San Diego which changes the political spectrum a little bit. And Alvarez is also a very young candidate, he's only been on City Council one term, I think.

SAUER: Not even a full term.

DIRKS: So he's again a little bit of an unknown. We're dealing with a lot of very young candidates who haven't necessarily made clear what their priorities are and what they're all about. So how this will -- we don't have a lot of time to figure this out.

SAUER: No, it's a short run!

CALBREATH: It seem like Fletcher is already trying to address that. He gained -- on the day that Alvarez announced, Fletcher was bringing out half a dozen Hispanic leaders in the community. And this has been going on a while that the liberal Democrats have been trying to draft somebody to run against Fletcher because they just perceive him as being too moderate. And I think as that was going on, you could see him trying to reach out more and more to the left.

DIRKS: Right. This narrative of neighborhoods which was so lauded by Filner, it's something that everyone is picking up on, not just Fletcher who's been talking a lot about neighborhoods and taking the interests out of the downtown development and putting it back into the entirety of the community. But also Faulconer. So it'll be interesting to see how some of the progressive seeds that were planted in the rhetoric by Filner are going to play out in this very short campaign.

LAWRENCE: Did Filner poison the well in terms of liberals and progressives giving the favor to the voters?

DIRKS: It's a fascinating question, and one that I've been asking a lot in my own reporting, whether or not Filner's behavior was a body blow for progressive politics.

LAWRENCE: Right.

DIRKS: But the demographics are changing, and I don't know if one person can necessarily take down what seems to be an increasingly democratic city.

SAUER: All right. It's a short campaign, and we're going to hear a lot more as we move forward.

[[[ NEW SEGMENT ]]]

SAUER: Let's shift gears now. San Diego should be a pretty easy sell, imagine for example being a lobbyist for the city of Detroit at the moment. But we haven't had lobbyists looking out for our interests in Sacramento or Washington since the first of this year. And it's not that we hire lobbyists to promote San Diego as much as it is for them to flag potential legislation regulations that could affect our city's interests. Todd Gloria said getting or hiring lobbyists is among his pop priorities. How many do we have, and why do we hire them?

CALBREATH: The city currently doesn't have any because Bob Filner cut off their contracts last January. We have had lobbyists. Last year, we spent about $350,000 on our lobbyists in Washington and Sacramento. Among other things, they flag grants and funds that are available from the state government, they have an impact or can have an impact on legislation that might be perceived to affect us. One of the reasons that Filner ended their contracts is that previously our lobbyists allegedly hadn't really been reporting exactly what they were doing or exactly what their priorities were. This was a complaint especially among Democrats in the City Council.

SAUER: So it was a transparency issue.

CALBREATH: It was. People like David Alvarez among others wanted to know how is our money being spent, how much time are you spending on this priority versus that priority? And apparently they weren't getting the answers right. But even David Alvarez and others on the council wanted lobbyists, they just didn't want those lobbyists. And Filner failed to reappoint somebody else who could have been more to their liking.

SAUER: So we have had nobody on that watch.

DIRKS: How unusual is it for a city in the U.S. not to have lobbyists?

CALBREATH: Very unusual. Even smaller cities, Carlsbad, Oceanside, and other cities that have lobbyists in Sacramento which is very important to San Diego, to have a voice up there on coastal regulations, building regulations. They want their impact to be felt in Sacramento. The county spends a million dollars on lobbyists in Washington and Sacramento.

LAWRENCE: What do the lobbyists do for the city or county that the congressional delegation doesn't do?

CALBREATH: The congressional delegation has its own priorities and everything, and they're drafting legislation. And among other things, the lobbyists for the county help them draft that legislation, help them craft laws that might benefit San Diego. Another thing is that these lobbyists concentrate on people who are not from the county to support the county. In Washington, one of the top priorities is on the border relations. And we want to draw people from Oklahoma or from Wisconsin to support the border and to understand the border. And that becomes the duty of the lobbyists or one of the functions of the lobbyists that our Congress people don't have enough time to do.

SAUER: Now, a city this size, how do you figure -- how much should we be spending on lobbyists? Why can't city staffers do this? Have them travel back and forth and work out of City Hall.

CALBREATH: Well, you could do that. And some major San Diego entities do do that. The San Diego Unified School District has its own lobbyists in Sacramento to represent its cause. But there are so many bills coming through Sacramento, something like 7,000 bills last year, 2,000 so far this year that may or may not affect the county but the county wants a voice on. So it has lobbyists there to review those bills, how would it affect us, if it affects us in a major way, we want a voice on that. So that requires a full-time staff rather than just one person.

SAUER: It's very difficult to figure out how good a job these folks are doing. If you hire them, how much should you be spending? Are there notable failures they have had? How do you determine all that?

CALBREATH: The county again, which seems to have a pretty good management of its lobbyists, have some criteria about are you able to get us to the table on important issues? Have you had an impact on how legislation is written? Have you made us aware of grants and other funds that we could come across? And it judges its lobbyists on those three criteria. It sets priorities. Which I'm not sure that we had previously done in City Hall.

SAUER: So has the county been more successful by some objective yardstick than the city has?

CALBREATH: It's probably hard to come up with an objective yardstick, but they appear to have had more of an impact. They can directly say this grant came with this help of this lobbyist. And the grants they've added up from the state are worth much more than what they've got there.

SAUER: We have had this interim period of a couple months of a councilman, Todd Gloria, and his perspective as the actual mayor right now. And in an issue like lobbyists, where he's put this front and center, the RFP out, and we're going to be getting bids and getting these folks back in place, it seems to me maybe the councilman's view versus Filner's view would be that transparency is No.†1 and judging the job these folks do.

DIRKS: One of the things that Gloria has said, and one of the reasons he said that he wasn't actually going to run for mayor was that there was a real mess in the mayor's office. And this wasn't necessarily something completely new. I think Marty Emerald said, yes, it was a big mess that was left by inefficiencies. But Walt Eckert, when he came in to help run the city, he also said, look, these are sort of structural problems in the way the executive branch has been structured for years, dating back years. And I think has somebody who comes from City Council, who's felt the real tension and lack of transparency and communication between the mayor's office, between what's happening up there and what's happening with the rest of the council, Gloria really does want to open this up. He also has the relationship that his colleagues or people he's used to being equals with. So he has said he wants to work with council and wants to work together to get the mayor's office as a place that is open and transparent again, not just after the Filner administration, but by problems that have been there structurally for a long time now.

SAUER: All right, we're going to move on now.

[[[ NEW SEGMENT ]]]

SAUER: A bitter dispute between corporate media CBS TV and Time Warner cable meant millions of viewers were denied access to CBS and Showtime programs for a month. And this deal struck this week was seen as a big win for CBS, a modest win for Time Warner. What was this dust-up all about?

LAWRENCE: I was reading last night about the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. And I was grateful that the people in the White House at that time were not Time Warner executives.

[ LAUGHTER ]

LAWRENCE: When this thing came along, by some miracle, it was settled just before the NFL season starts.

SAUER: A miracle coincidence!

LAWRENCE: Exactly. What it was about was that CBS. Ed more money, and Time Warner didn't want to pay. And instead of a dollar per subscriber a month, CBS wanted to start raising that to two dollars.

SAUER: They don't go up a nickel at a time, huh?

LAWRENCE: No, exactly. So what Time Warner did was it pulled CBS stations off its system. Particularly it was CBS-owned stations, those are owned and operated by the network itself. Come did not include the San Diego's KFMB. So they were left out of this whole thing.

SAUER: But right up to the north, L.A. --

LAWRENCE: Los Angeles, Dallas, New York, Boston.

SAUER: Millions of folks across the country.

LAWRENCE: Exactly. Big, major cities were losing. So CBS took the offensive and took out billboards and ads and all kinds of things saying that Time Warner was taking your favorite programs off the air. And you can blame Time Warner, leaving out the fact that the reason Time Warner did that was because CBS wanted more money. And David Letterman was on the offensive on his late-night shows on CBS, and he was referring to Time Warner executives as thugs and goons.

[ LAUGHTER ]

SAUER: Don't sugar-coat it!

LAWRENCE: But it all got settled just in time for the NFL season and the fall TV season. It was begun in August, the deadest time of the year in terms of television viewerships because people are outside . And the only football games are the games that don't count anyway.

SAUER: Right.

LAWRENCE: And it ended up with CBS winning and Time Warner caving in, eventually.

SAUER: And what happens to the subscribers? We're going to pay more in the long run, and this is probably the last such fight?

LAWRENCE: No, these things will keep happening. And the prices for cable will keep going up. There is a solution. It costs $19.95, and you can watch TV for free forever. It's called an antenna. Miracle product.

[ LAUGHTER ]

LAWRENCE: You can watch all the CBS or ABC or whatever.

SAUER: So where are the folks looking out for us? Where are the regulators in all of this, the champion of us little guys?

LAWRENCE: You remember Ronald Regan? Deregulation. And basically what happened was in 1992, the cable act was enacted, which allowed local stations to charge for their signal to be run on cable. Before that, the cable systems picked up the signal from the local stations and put it on, and they were making money from the product that the local station was putting out, that is the content. After 1992, the local stations were able to charge money for the cable to be able to do that. From their point of view, you can understand that. Why should we be letting them carry our product that we pay money to produce and they pick it up for free? The the opposite argument is it's already free! It's over the air.

SAUER: The publicly owned airwaves.

LAWRENCE: Right. So the way it turns out is that they have to pay for it if they want it, and if they don't want to pay for it, they don't get it. And from the standpoint of the public, if push really comes to shove over this battle, what could have happened is that people in those cities would go out and buy the $19.95 antenna and watch CBS for free. Cable would not like that. Then people would realize, hey! We don't have to pay for cable!

[ LAUGHTER ]

LAWRENCE: If we're willing to live without CNN, and AMC, and Turner Classic movies, we're going to watch football for free on our antenna.

SAUER: That brings up an issue of bundling here, where you get all of these various things with some sort of fee, then you get more if you pay more. Of why can't I simply go on and say I'm willing to pay for these six programs? I think I saw a survey researching this story that the average person never looks at more than 17 channels.

LAWRENCE: I'd be surprised if it's that many.

SAUER: Why can't we just pick them a la carte?

LAWRENCE: Because the cable companies won't do it. Simple as that.

CALBREATH: It's kind of like a fight among dinosaurs. Cable networks are going to be overtaken by the internet. Where you can pick up the 17 channels

LAWRENCE: The thing is, they own that too.

DIRKS: And that's what I was going to ask. It's so interesting talking about the regulation between content, who's providing it and who's paying for it, it seems very, very relevant in an internet age talking about content and media. But what about who watch football on the internet? I watch most of my TV on my computer.

SAUER: More and more people are doing that.

LAWRENCE: But they still own the content. So one way or another, somebody is paying for it. What this battle showed in the end, content won. It showed the cable company needed the content more than CBS needed the cable company.

DIRKS: Got it.

SAUER: Right.

LAWRENCE: And the other thing is that the content providers, the networks and the producers, they own all kinds of things that you wouldn't expect. For example, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, in San Diego, they're running on an NBC station. They're owned by CBS.

CALBREATH: Wow.

LAWRENCE: So these kinds of interlocking things go on all the time. And it gets very complicated, but in the end, content wins.

SAUER: Let me ask if this has anything to do with the longrunning program for Padres fans here in Time Warner.

LAWRENCE: It's the same battle in a microcosm. It's a small version of the same battle. Time Warner will not pay for the baseball games what Cox is paying for them, and what the other satellite services are paying. Time Warner doesn't want to pay that. And so Time Warner subscribers don't get the Padres games, for which I can only say count your blessings.

[ LAUGHTER ]

LAWRENCE: So they don't get the games, and this hurts both sides. It's really an issue of spite.

SAUER: All right. We're going to have to wrap it there. Thanks very much.