Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

Election: County Roundup


As part of our election coverage, we'll look at some of the county-wide races on the June 8 ballot, including the supervisors, sheriff and Prop B.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): I’m Gloria Penner. I’m joined by the editors at the roundtable These Days in San Diego. I urge you to grab your sample ballot because we’re going to survey some of the hot local races in which you’ll be voting on Tuesday. Two years ago, only 34% of San Diegans voted in the primary, the smallest percentage in the last 3 years. Those few people wielded a great deal of power and made decisions that affected the lives of all San Diegans. The editors with me today are Michael Smolens, politics editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Michael, it is good to see your smiling face again.

MICHAEL SMOLENS (Politics Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune): It’s good to be here. Thank you.

PENNER: Thank you. Scott Lewis, CEO of It’s always a delight to have you in the studio, Scott.

SCOTT LEWIS (CEO, Thanks, Gloria.

PENNER: And Kent Davy, editor of the North County Times. We welcome you as well, Kent, making that big journey from the north.

KENT DAVY (Editor, North County Times): Thank you.

PENNER: Our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 895-KPBS. And I would like you to join our conversation. We’re going to be moving rather quickly through candidates and issues and propositions but you can feel free to call on any of the races that you want to talk about. I’m sure our editors will be happy to respond. So we are going to talk now about candidates and propositions and we start with the county elections. First, the two county supervisors who are up for reelection in their districts, Ron Roberts, whose 4th District seat represents most of San Diego, and Bill Horn, supervisor of District 5, which includes much of the north county. So, Michael, 16 years on the board for Roberts, 15 on the board for Horn. Now for the first time I recall, both have a crowded field of challengers. Why now?

SMOLENS: Well, they’ve been on the board for a long time but I think the general public is not happy despite the fact that the county sort of gives itself as an example of good government versus the city, which is not a difficult thing to do in a lot of respects, given the problems with the city. But, frankly, things could’ve been much more crowded, I think. A lot of us were sort of hoping that Donna Frye would get in the race against Ron Roberts. That would’ve been the real marquee race. Now the real question is while there are, you know, a handful of candidates in each race, as to whether both Roberts and Horn can win outright on Tuesday. They need 50% plus 1 vote, and they avoid a runoff. I think the general consensus is Roberts’ best position to do that. His biggest competition comes from Stephen Whitburn, who’s run before and raised a little money but he’s been out-raised about five to one by Roberts. Horn is a little bit of a different situation up in north county and, Kent, you’ve been following this a little bit more but he has – he’s built up a little bit of a cumulative gripes from residents up there and elsewhere and he’s got a, you know, a legitimate contender in Steve Gronke, this Vista City Councilman.

PENNER: Kent Davy.

DAVY: From my view, what I’d say about the race is that I think it’s unlikely that Horn can avoid going to November.

PENNER: You mean there will be a runoff?

DAVY: I think there’ll be a runoff. There is – Both Gronke and Van Doorn, John Van Doorn, are running relatively strong campaigns. I think it’ll finish at a Horn-Gronke, Van Doorn will be out.

PENNER: Who are these people? I mean, you’re talking about Gronke and Van Doorn but who are they?

DAVY: Okay. Steve Gronke is a Vista City Councilman. He is a teacher. He has a fairly good record in terms of his service on that Vista City Council, relatively well known. He’s kind of a mild-mannered, modest man. Smart guy, and is presenting himself pretty much as the guy who’s connected and doesn’t have the baggage, the patina of, I think he’s used the word, sleaze that Bill Horn sometimes is associated with. It has been a fairly sharp distinction or set of distinctions. John Van Doorn is someone who has run before and is – I think, has elevated his status as a candidate. He kind of came in as a one-issue candidate dealing with social services issues. He seems to have drawn that out. I see a lot of signs out, so he’s clearly working hard. It’s part of the reason I don’t – I think the two of them will pull enough away from Horn to force it to November.

PENNER: Kent raised the whole issue of social services issues, Scott. And certainly Voice of San Diego has been taking on the supervisors and the county for not having a great safety net for people who are in need.

LEWIS: Well…

PENNER: Is that a big issue that you see?

LEWIS: Well, I don’t know if it’s a big electoral issue whether we, you know, people would want it to be or not. I think that what’s – it’s a policy decision that the supervisors and others have made to run their county this way, and I think it’s been a decision whether the county residents want it to be continued that way. And I think that – I don’t know how big the social services angle will play in the election. Frankly, the people who benefit from those are less likely to vote. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be mobilized or whatnot but the people who would mobilize them have turned their attention to another ballot measure, not the supervisor race but the term limits measure, Prop B, which would limit supervisors in the future to two terms. What they don’t point out, although their rhetoric would indicate otherwise, is that they – this – the term limits ballot measure would have pretty much no affect on the current sitting supervisors.

PENNER: Because it doesn’t go into effect until 2012. I mean, that would be the first year…

LEWIS: Right, well…

PENNER: …that the election would bring in a, if it passes, a supervisor who would then be under the term limits.

LEWIS: Well, yeah, exactly, so you would have a situation where anybody who got elected now would have – You know, if Ron Roberts gets reelected, he still can serve two more terms. If Bill Horn gets elected, he can still serve two more terms. Dianne Jacob and Greg Cox and these others, they could stay on the – they could be on the board until 2020 before this term limits would affect them. And that’s why it’s so frustrating that the proponents of this particular cause keep saying that we have to do term limits because we have to get rid of these supervisors when, in fact, it would have no effect on them at all.

PENNER: Who supports this measure, Michael?

SMOLENS: Well, just one quick comment…


SMOLENS: …regarding what Scott said, that, you know, Bill Horn has said, look, none of us are going to be here when term limits kick in. I mean, they’re all in their sixties or better and, you know, he just doesn’t think that’s an issue. They oppose it, of course. SEIU, the Labor organization’s, largely against it, and here’s sort of the kind of peculiar thing about this election…

LEWIS: You mean for term limits. They’re for term limits.

SMOLENS: I’m sorry, for term limits, thank you. Labor has historically opposed term limits. They were adamantly opposed at the legislative level and elsewhere, I think at the city level but they, because the board of supervisors has been dominated by Republicans, they’ve been unhappy with certain labor things and certain other aspects, that’s what their attack is here. Yeah, they’re sort of suggesting that this will get rid of these guys. The real irony could be that term limits could pass yet voters could vote in two very longstanding members of the board of supervisors. You know, ultimately, it would, you know, open up seats every eight years but that’s many, many, many years down the line so there, you know, I don’t think people are getting too worked up about it. But it’ll be interesting because there – you’ve got, like I said, different kinds of forces aligned in different ways whereas Republicans and business usually oppose term limits, now they are – I’m sorry, usually oppose term limits – I’m getting confused here, I’m sorry. The business organizations are against it where they had been for it up in the legislature, and Labor is now pushing it, and that’s just a real…

PENNER: Do you…

SMOLENS: …peculiar dynamic and I don’t know how that’s going to play out in this election.

PENNER: Well, do you think that if Labor hadn’t pushed this onto the ballot, I mean, they’re the ones who got the petition gatherers to go to the mall shopping centers, the labor unions getting the votes. If Labor hadn’t been the force behind getting this on the ballot, do you think that business would have opposed it?

SMOLENS: Oh, well, I don’t think it would’ve gotten on the ballot. I mean, you know, that’s the only reason why it got on the ballot…

PENNER: Umm-hmm. Okay.

SMOLENS: …was so that, you know, business wouldn’t have been involved.

PENNER: Let me just remind our listeners this is a whole hour devoted to the ballot that you will see Tuesday when you go to the polls. I would like to know if you are planning to vote on Tuesday and, if so, what is motivating you to go to the polls? Any particular issue, any particular race, or just a sense that you are a citizen of this democracy? And I shouldn’t say ‘just.’ Our number, 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. Kent Davy.

DAVY: There is a, I think you can make at least some speculation about the term limits and how it fits into the supervisors race to the extent that it is an instrument by which Labor can try and turn out its – and activate its voters to get out. In an otherwise, as you point out, a really low turnout of election then it may be effective to try and attack Horn and Roberts in their roles as – as kind of wind behind their opponents’ back.

PENNER: Before we turn to another hot race that everybody in the county can vote for and that is the sheriff’s race, I just want to throw out one more question. I’ll throw it to you, Scott. This is a nonpartisan race, I mean, the county supervisors.

LEWIS: Right.

PENNER: Right. But all current supervisors are Republicans. How important is party affiliation in this race? Will the Democrats out there among the voters not vote for the supervisors because they’re Republicans? Will all Republicans vote for the supervisors? Where will the independents go?

LEWIS: I don’t – I don’t – You know, obviously party affiliation has a lot to do with how the culture of the candidates, you know, staffing and resources make, you know, become compromised. But I think that the fact is, is Ron Roberts, in particular, has really tried to be considered or seen as some kind of progressive, the progressive on the board, if you will, and I don’t – In fact, he’s got a lot of support among some labor unions. I mean, he is – he’s not the typical sort of boogey man that they could go after, and I think that, you know, I think that obviously there were a lot of people who look at especially the district that he represents, which is the city of San Diego largely, and say, well, this is a largely Democratic area, why don’t we have a Democratic county supervisor? And I think that he – a lot of that is due to the fact that he’s been able to triangulate really well with those competing constituencies. But on the other hand, he’s a sitting institution there and to get him out of there, the Democrats decided that it was just a little bit too difficult right now, that they would rather focus on – I mean, not the Democrats, Labor would rather focus on term limits, which is their right but it’s very interesting that they haven’t tried to really weigh in on any of the candidates.

SMOLENS: Yeah, just…

PENNER: Michael.

SMOLENS: …on that note, the Labor Council, the AFL-CIO organization has endorsed Gronke against Horn but they’re neutral in the Roberts race, which is very interesting because you’ve got a couple of high profile Democrats there. I think that speaks to what Scott was talking about, that they think there’s better opportunities and that he’s not that bad perhaps.

PENNER: Do you agree, Kent?

DAVY: Yes, that’s true. Gronke is a union member. He’s a teacher. His wife, I believe, is an official with the Teachers Union in Vista. So he’s got ties back into Labor. That’s part of the reason why I think that if he survives the runoff – or survives into the runoff, this becomes a very interesting election between he and Horn.

PENNER: All right, let’s move on. Staying with the county, voters will also decide on a county sheriff. The candidates are appointed Sheriff Bill Gore, Jim Duffy, running as a sheriff lieutenant, and retired undersheriff Jay La Suer. He’s done a lot of other things in the meantime. All with lots of law enforcement experience. What’s the difference among them, Michael?

SMOLENS: Well, this is a really interesting race. I mean, one difference is that you’ve got an incumbent sheriff, appointed or not, and I think that makes a difference, perhaps not so much like Duffy’s father, John Duffy, who was such a long term incumbent and reelected several times. The difference among them, you know, there’s actually a bit of a political difference. The candidates have been focusing on their experience, first and foremost, and both La Suer and Duffy are claiming the incumbent sheriff doesn’t have the experience because basically he didn’t come up through the organization. It’s an interesting argument. I mean, he did have years as a FBI agent, as he said, on the street. He stormed, you know, a plane with – that had been hijacked. He’d been in bank robbery shootouts and so forth. So he’s suggesting that this notion that he doesn’t have the street cred is nonsense. They try to, you know, depict him as just a button-down bureaucrat, which, of course, he had been an administrator, head of the office here and so forth. He’s got support, I think, from the kind of the establishment that wants to see him reelected and I think that he’s also done well image-wise on the whole, you know, unfortunate situation with Chelsea King. He was front center and I think a lot of people felt that the sheriff’s department did reasonably well in that. La Suer’s an interesting candidate because he’s from east county, has a big strong geographic base there. He’s tied in with the pro-gun group and has been pushing those, that kind of perspective. Duffy has a lot of labor organizations, cop labor and sheriff labor and, of course, his name recognition from his father helps. So that’s kind of the dynamic going into this.

PENNER: His father was a…

SMOLENS: Was John…

PENNER: …county sheriff. We are going to come back and talk more about the sheriff’s race. We are going through the ballot today for your benefit. Hopefully you’re going to find that you want to go to the polls on Tuesday or send in your mail ballot. We hope so. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS.

PENNER: This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner. And that was a nice little concert as we get our heads together over the sheriff’s race. We are talking about the sheriff’s race now. We’re going through the ballot and we hope that you’ll go through it with us and ask your questions or make your comments. The editors with me today are, let me see, we’ll start – we’ll start with the North County Times, and I’m very happy to greet Kent Davy. We’re also having Michael Smolens from the Union-Tribune, and we have Scott Lewis from the Voice of San Diego and, of course, you. So let’s continue. We’re talking about the sheriff’s race. Scott, you wanted to make a comment.

LEWIS: Well, think about this really quickly. There – In the County of San Diego, there are only a few elected officials who are elected officials for the entire county. We’re talking about the district attorney, the treasurer and tax collector, the assessor, but then the sheriff. The sheriff has the possibility of being one of the most powerful people in the county, and if you think about power, not just in the jurisdiction and the constituencies that they control, the sheriffs and the deputies, but also in the fact that what they can do with their political power, what other things they can influence. And if you think about it, Sheriff Bill Kolender, in the past, and Bonnie Dumanis, the District Attorney, had formed a very powerful political alliance that affected things like the mayor’s race and, in particular, judges’ races. And so you should really look at this race and decide who you want to be this next sort of big deal in local politics because that’s what this is about. This sheriff will probably be in office for the next decade, maybe two decades, and they could really affect the future of this county. So look at the three candidates. You have Bill Gore, who will largely be a lot like what we’ve had and that’s why that he was supported by the former Sheriff, Bill Kolender. You have Jim Duffy, who is trying to shake things up a little bit but, you know, he does have a lot of Labor support, he does have a lot of deputy support, and then you have Jay La Suer, who wants to really model this after what happened in Arizona with Sheriff Joe Arpaio there, who’s done some controversial but also some things that have fired up people there about immigration and about gun rights, and so this is – this is the person who could create a legacy here. You should decide which one you want to do that.

PENNER: Okay. I thank you. Unfortunately, we want to move on. I had wanted to talk about the challenges to the four Superior Court judges but we have run out of time. However, if you have any comment on the fact that four sitting judges are being challenged this time around by four conservative attorneys, I would like to hear about that. You can always go to and you will be able to comment on our stories. Let’s move on now.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.