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San Diego County Primary Election Analysis


We'll discuss the role of labor, power of name recognition and impact these results will have on the region.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): I’m Gloria Penner. I’m joined by the editors at the roundtable These Days in San Diego. Today, we’ll see what the editors have to say about the results of Tuesday’s primary election. Although the turnout was not impressive, the results will have some major implications for November and beyond. We’ll be talking about the county, City of San Diego, South Bay and the San Diego Unifed School District. The editors with me today are Barbara Bry, co-publisher and opinion editor for Barbara, glad you could make it today.

BARBARA BRY (Co-Publisher/Opinion Editor, Thank you for inviting me, Gloria.

PENNER: Sure. And Scott Lewis, CEO of Good to have you back, Scott.

SCOTT LEWIS (CEO, Always a pleasure. Thanks, Gloria.

PENNER: And David Ogul, education editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Haven’t seen you in a while, David, and it’s lovely to have you here.

DAVID OGUL (Education Editor, The San Diego Union-Tribune): Thank you very much for inviting me back.

PENNER: Of course. And our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 895-KPBS. We’ve got a lot to talk about and we welcome our listeners to become our callers as we go through these elections. Tuesday’s primary election in San Diego was anything but ho-hum but you’d never know it from the voter turnout, which was a few percentage points higher than one-third of the registered voters, perhaps the sign of an apathetic local electorate despite some vigorously fought races, game changing ballot measures and considerable money spent on political advertising. So, Barbara, let’s start with why more than 60% of San Diegan -- San Diego County residents didn’t vote.

BRY: Because it’s a midterm election, I think most of the focus was on a lot of the statewide races and I think it just wasn’t that exciting to most of the voters. I expect voter turnout to be much higher in November when Californians are going to be choosing a new governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. – you know, voting for U.S. Senator, whether they choose a new one or not remains to be seen.

PENNER: So, David, just building on what Barbara has to say, some analysts are saying the Democrats stayed home. The Democrats stayed home because both Jerry Brown for governor and Barbara Boxer for U.S. Senator were assured for the November election. How much of a factor is that in San Diego?

OGUL: I think it plays some factor. I mean, Barack Obama wasn’t running and so a lot of people stayed home. But I agree with Barbara, it’s a midterm election and it’s a primary and, actually, it was about 37%, the turnout, I think, when you include the absentee ballots, and that’s not really that bad for – historically for San Diego County.

PENNER: Yeah, I think it’s the same as it was two years ago and that was a primary – well, a presidential primary except by that time Obama had already been selected, I believe. I’m going to turn to you now, Scott. Let’s talk about supervisors. Those who did vote decided that supervisors should be limited to two four-year terms instead of serving as long as they can get reelected. How significant a change is that and what will it mean to the way the board operates and represents the county?

LEWIS: Well, it won’t mean anything for several years. It doesn’t go into effect – or, it doesn’t affect the current supervisors at all until they get each, if they win reelection, two more terms. So for the ones that are up for reelection right now, if they were to win, they get two more terms, a possibility, assuming they win. And then the people who are already on the board and who are waiting for reelection in a couple of years, then they get two more after that. And so this has no effect on them and it won’t – people won’t see the difference from this for many years to come. But it does send a signal. I think if you put term limits on any ballot anywhere, it’ll pass. It’s just that, I think, people like punishing politicians or at least sending a message that they’re in charge, and that’ll work at any point, that the real accomplishment was to have gotten it onto the ballot, which is what the unions did.

PENNER: The unions did that. That was really a move by Labor.

LEWIS: Right. SEIU, the employee group that represents most of the employees at the San Diego County, they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to gather signatures and put it on the ballot and I think there’s some indication that it affected the mood toward the supervisors, that it even added more conversation around their tenure there but I think in a disingenuous way it implied that it might punish these current supervisors, which it didn’t do because obviously they can stay in, but it did bring up the question of whether they’ve, you know, deserve to be kicked out if it were possible. So…

PENNER: So how connected, Barbara, do you think that vote is and the failure of the two incumbent supervisors to win back their seats in the primary?

BRY: Actually, I don’t think they’re that tied together. Ron Roberts, who will be facing Steve Whitburn in a November runoff now represents a district that is more Democratic than Republican so I think no matter what happens, he, you know, it was going to be difficult for him to win in June. And, I mean, Bill Horn, you know, you know, has been around awhile. If he’s reelected, this’ll be his fifth term on the board of supervisors and he’s had some challengers before. I think he’s still the heavy favorite going into November but to win outright in June is difficult when there are a lot of people running against you.

LEWIS: Well, the Democrats did something really interesting this time and whether it was on purpose or whether it just happened, they loaded the field up with a very diverse group of people to go after Ron Roberts and, you know, and some of them were identified with ethnic groups that they thought it would rally those groups up, and if they did that on purpose, as some implied that they did, then that was actually quite intelligent and it got the job done as it kept Ron Roberts from reaching 50% and now they can coalesce around Steve Whitburn for the general election.

PENNER: But, Scott, it’s really interesting, you’re talking about the opponents to Ron Roberts in the primary. There was a Latino, a black, a female, a gay person, and then Roberts called them the rainbow coalition.

LEWIS: Yeah.

PENNER: I mean, how risky was that for him to identify them that way?

BRY: Stupid.

LEWIS: Well, I…

BRY: Sorry.

PENNER: That’s Barbara Bry speaking.

BRY: Right.


PENNER: Go ahead, Barbara, say it the way it is.

BRY: It was stupid, and I think it’s going to come back to haunt him.

LEWIS: Roberts has a reputation for being easily frustrated and of holding grudges and I think that the last thing he needs to do is try to act even more haughty or arrogant about his position. He needs to be humbled by the situation and really try to rally his troops. It’ll be very interesting to go through – I think he’s still obviously the favorite. He’s going to have a lot of name recognition. It depends on the kind of movement that Whitburn’s able to build to throw him out.

PENNER: Let me remind our listeners, we’re doing a look at the election, Tuesday’s election in terms of what the repercussions will be for the November election and beyond that as well. You are welcome to join us at any point with actually any of the races that interest you. We are able to handle them all. Just call us at 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. All right, so going back, I think we really need to take a look at, and we’ve mentioned that he’s going to have a lot of support, the question is—and I turn to you on this, David—who stands to benefit or lose out if these supervisors are replaced?

OGUL: It depends on who replaces them. But I want to get back to Ron Roberts and Bill Horn. Yes, they’re both in a runoff but, you know, I’ve been around a long time in this county and I just don’t see Stephen – I mean, Stephen Whitburn, you know, more power to him but he couldn’t beat Todd Gloria when he ran against him for city council. I don’t see him beating Ron Roberts. And I don’t see if he – the person that Gron – Mr. Gronke, who was described as a lackey of the unions by Mr. Horn, I don’t – honestly, I just don’t see him beating Bill Horn either. You know, these are two very powerfully entrenched politicians and, you know, maybe I’m wrong. I’ve miscalculated on elections before, it wouldn’t be the first time, but I honestly just don’t see it happening, and I don’t see the fact that they’re going into a runoff as a sign of weakness.

PENNER: That’s David Ogul. He’s education editor for the Union-Tribune. But, David, let me just ask you this. If Labor puts its full complement behind Steve Whitburn opposing Ron Roberts and Steven Gronke opposing Bill Horn, would that – could that make the difference? I mean, they did get Proposition B passed rather handily.

OGUL: I don’t know. My personal opinion, which doesn’t matter in the business that I’m in, I don’t think so.



PENNER: …Barbara.

BRY: Gloria, I have a different opinion. First of all, I think those are two very different districts. I think Bill Horn, given the demographics of his district is the clear favorite.

PENNER: Because he’s a Republican and…

BRY: Right, in a Republican district. Ron Roberts, given the demographics of his district, is going to have a tougher time if Steve Whitburn is able to have the financial resources to win. Remember when Gloria beat Whitburn, those were two Democrats running against each other, and it was a very close race.

LEWIS: Well…

PENNER: And it’s a two to one margin…

BRY: Yeah.

PENNER: …in Roberts’ district…

BRY: Yes.

PENNER: …Democrats to Republicans, which is pretty heavy.

LEWIS: I actually disagree with that a little bit, Barbara. I think that the – I think actually Horn’s more vulnerable this time than Roberts. Horn comes with a package of history that has finally caught up to him. I think people are finally adding up the timeline of what – everything that he’s done and everything that he carries with him and I think that some people are turning to Gronke, he’s – as a smart, sincere person. We’ll see if it works. But I don’t know that if Labor lines up behind him, that that might be a big deal. I think that actually Roberts has a little bit stronger of a position given that I think there’s a lot of people that feel indebted to him in the city for whether it’s on the left or on the right. And I don’t think that it’s going to be as easy for people to challenge him. We’ll see.

PENNER: Our number is 1-888-895-5727. So there you have it. We have David Ogul who says that both supervisors are going to cruise in. Barbara thinks that Roberts will have more of a problem than Bill Horn, while Scott Lewis thinks that Horn will have more of a problem than Roberts. So I’m making notes on this and we’ll have you back and see who’s right.

LEWIS: One quick note…


LEWIS: …it is the first time since 1998 that any of the supervisors have been forced into a runoff so, you know, as David said, he’s been around a long time but on the other hand this is a really, you know, big deal that they got forced into this. It’s not just a anomaly, especially in a time when this was an overwhelmingly Republican dominated primary with people concerned about the Whitman-Poizner and Senate races.

PENNER: Okay, so we really have to move along. We have a lot of races to talk about. Sheriff Bill Gore won outright with three times the vote of Jim Duffy. Duffy had full Labor support. What was his undoing, Barbara?

BRY: I think partly his past. And I think you have…

PENNER: Jim Duffy’s past?

BRY: Jim – Yeah, partly his past. And I think you also have to give Bill Gore a lot of credit for doing a good job and under his watch, John Gardner was arrested. And, you know, Gore, you know, can take some of the credit for that.

PENNER: Okay, so you think that that was it? Any disagreement on the panel about why Gore got the vote…

OGUL: I think…

PENNER: What do you think, David?

OGUL: I totally agree with Barbara. Bill Gore was – What role he played in the arrest of John Gardner, I don’t know. I doubt that he really played much of a role but he was out there. He was the face of the sheriff’s department. He looked like a man in control, and that was a high profile case and people are not going to replace…


OGUL: …a sheriff after seeing his face every day.

PENNER: Scott Lewis.

LEWIS: Well, think about how difficult a job Jim Duffy had to try to – or Jay La Suer, to try to get Gore out of office. He had to simultaneously court the support of people who work at the sheriff’s office but then he also, to get rid of what was essentially an incumbent, you’d have to make the case that the office was dysfunctional. Literally, you’d have to argue that this person running it wasn’t doing a good job at the same time that you’re trying to court the people who work in the office. So you’re sitting there with a contradiction already. I, you know, I love you guys, you’re doing a great job, support me, but the office is actually dysfunctional and you better replace the boss. It doesn’t – it didn’t work. He had to have created some kind of surge of discontent with the way the sheriff’s office was running, and he never did.

PENNER: Okay, well, we do have some callers on the line but we’re going to take our break first. When we come back, we’ll continue talking. We’ll dip into the City of San Diego and a couple of other races, and then move over to the South Bay. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.

PENNER: This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner. I’m here today with David Ogul from San Diego Union-Tribune and Barbara Bry from San Diego News – and from we have Scott Lewis. We’re talking about the elections. We have a lot of elections to analyze, see what they mean for the future. But let’s hear from Chris now in Chula Vista. Hey, Chris, you’re on with the editors. Welcome.

CHRIS (Caller, Chula Vista): Hey, thanks for having me on this morning.


CHRIS: I have such an incredible case of election fatigue after this election. First off, I live in South Bay and I swear every day I and my neighbors received dozens and dozens of paper ads for the candidates. So God knows how many trees died related to this election and for Californians, that’s kind of painful. But the other thing is, is that those ads and all the things that we saw were so incredibly negative and this election seemed to go so negative so fast. So my election fatigue is completely just too overwhelming so I’ll take my answers off the air. Thanks.

PENNER: So – wait, wait. Chris, are you there?

CHRIS: Yeah.

PENNER: Did you vote?

CHRIS: Yes, I voted, absolutely.

PENNER: You did? So you had election fatigue but it – you weren’t exhausted enough not to be able to go to the polls.

CHRIS: Not enough to go to the polls but definitely frustrated with the entire process because it seemed to go completely negative from the get-go.

PENNER: All right. He brings up such an interesting issue and that is all the money that was raised for these campaigns. Who stands to benefit or lose from – I mean, who stands to benefit from all the money that’s raised in this campaigns (sic)?

BRY: Who benefits from the money?

PENNER: Yeah, yeah.

BRY: Well, the media benefits if advertisements get placed on TV, newspapers and websites, right.


BRY: But I think the South Bay probably had the most intense elections…

LEWIS: Right.

BRY: …with Juan Vargas, Mary Salas fighting it out for state Senate…


BRY: …and a ton of money being spent by the insurance industry to back Juan, a very contentious race for the mayor of Chula Vista, contentious race for Chula Vista City Council and…

PENNER: And we’re going to…

BRY: …city attorney. I mean, just tons. I mean, that was…

LEWIS: South Bay was incredible.

BRY: Yeah.

PENNER: All right, we are going to talk about that, and I’m saving it because I want to just finish up the city. We haven’t even talked about the city races. Okay, we know that strong mayor won, so I’m going to let that go. Right now, the attention is on District 6 and 8, District 6 to replace Donna Frye, District 8 to replace Ben Hueso. The five candidates came out to replace Donna Frye, including her chief of staff. Now, Scott, that’s usually a big plus when the councilmember is popular in a district but Steve Hadley, her chief of staff, didn’t make it into the runoff.

LEWIS: Well, a couple thoughts on that. Mr. Hadley’s a really nice guy but he’s very soft spoken. I don’t think he had a, you know, he’s not the guy that really, you know, stand up on a desk and start, you know, rallying people, and that’s what you’d have to do because he was kind of a populist. He, you know – I always says that city politics don’t break down Democrat-Republican in the traditional ways, they, a lot of times, break down in sort of reform-populist versus establishment security type things. And in this case, the, you know, Donna Frye was from this populist tradition, you know, hostile, in many cases to Democratic issues and Labor issues, hostile in other cases to traditional Republican and establishment issues. It was a very – she was a very well known populist and Howard Wayne and Lorie Zapf, Howard Wayne is a Repub – or a Democrat and Lorie Zapf is a Republican. They’re – they come from that sort of traditional business versus Labor, you know, sector situation. And so they – you know, he, in order to compete with them, Steven Hadley needed to do something pretty bold and pretty – and really create a groundswell and he wasn’t able to.

PENNER: Just touching on District 8, I mean, that’s not a traditional business versus Labor race now. I mean, right now you have David Alvarez who is a staffer with Denise Ducheny, being termed out, and then you have Ben Hueso’s older brother, Felipe, so I think the interesting part is that the uncle of former councilman Ralph Inzunza and part of the family with a long political history in National City and South San Diego came in fourth. Is that the end of the Inzunza dynasty?

BRY: Oh, I would never say it’s the end of any dynasty based on one race and one person. But, clearly, District 8 is a Democratic district and both Alvarez and Hueso are Democrats and one of them is, you know, obviously going to win. Though back to replacing Donna Frye, I mean, Howard Wayne, remember he’s a former member of the California Assembly. He’s lived in that district for over 30 years. He’s a very, you know, really has enormous roots, very well known, very well liked. I think he will be very hard to beat in November.

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