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Voters Approve Strong Mayor, Term Limits For Supervisors

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Video published June 11, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: A number of big decisions were made by local voters in Tuesday's primary election. Reporter Alison St John joins us to discuss the most significant city and county races.

GLORIA PENNER: On Tuesday, just over one-third of San Diego voters cast their ballots - many by mail. Although the turnout wasn't impressive, the results will have some major implications for November and beyond. KPBS senior metro reporter Alison St John has kept a vigilant eye on the races and the issues, and is with us tonight. Alison, let's start with the big election-related story in the City of San Diego: the passage of Proposition D which made the strong mayor form of government permanent. Why did it pass?

ALISON ST JOHN: Well Gloria, I think a lot of people are pretty glad the elections are over and maybe people were feeling like things haven't been that bad the last few years. Things look like they're looking better at the city, so let's just maintain the status quo and stick with this strong mayor thing. However, there was a lot of money, half a million dollars so a lot of vested interests interested in keeping the strong mayor thing going. So financially speaking, it's not surprising. The much stronger side won.

PENNER: The opposition was led by Donna Frye, city councilmember, and by the League of Women Voters…

ST JOHN: Norma Damashek.

PENNER: …but their objection didn't pack a punch. Why?

ST JOHN: Yes, I don't think the voters – apart from the fact that they didn't have any money, they said that even if they'd raised a few tens of thousands of dollars that would have just meant that probably the opposition would have spent a million dollars, so it wouldn't have made much difference, so they hardly raised any money – and I don’t think the voters really got a full sense of what their worries were, their concerns were. I mean issues of a million in cost here or there is perhaps the key issue. The key issue really is the mayor's veto and whether people are concerned about that it will be more difficult to overturn the mayor's veto. This does make the mayor stronger than he has been for the last five years once there's a 9th Council District.

PENNER: So are you saying that the opponents couldn't raise the money because it was just too much strength on the other side?

ST JOHN: Well, what Norma Damashek said to me was look, we could have tried to go out there and raise some money but if we had raised a few tens of thousands, the opposition which was basically the vested interests in town, business people who are really concerned about being able to lobby the city and have a strong mayor that they can lobby, would probably have just, you know, doubled their half a million to a million. So they didn't feel like money was the issue.

PENNER: We did speak to San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders about how he thinks the city will benefit from making the strong mayor form of government permanent.

JERRY SANDERS: I still think this is about the future. I think people want to see a big city, have a big city form of government. One where you actually have accountability, and I don't think people want to go back to the bad old days that we had before this where we were being investigated by the SEC, being investigated by the U.S. Attorney, and the District Attorney. We lost our credit ratings, we lost our bonding capacity. And, I don't think people want to see that again.

PENNER: Why was this such a big win for Jerry Sanders?

ST JOHN: Well, the mayor himself would say, this is not about me, you know, it won't take effect until after I'm out of office. But the fact of the matter is that I think the fact that he has been a fairly popular mayor – he's managed to maintain his popularity across the board – he hasn't succeeded as well as some people – in fact, what you could say is that people on both sides are dissatisfied, but he's been fairly moderate as a mayor. And so the fact that he hasn't alienated one side or the other too much means that everybody's willing to give it a go and keep going with this strong mayor form.

PENNER: Well voters made some big changes. They decided that county supervisors should be limited to two four-year terms instead of being elected as often as they can get elected. How significant a change is that? What will it mean to the way the board operates and represents the county?

ST JOHN: That was a significant change in the sense that it's the first time in a long time that we've seen the supervisors actually given a run for their money in the elections. The fact that both Supervisor Horn and Ron Roberts will have to face up against challengers in November even though they did get twice as many votes, the very fact that they didn't make it over 50 percent suggests that people are watching. The people are more concerned to see how the supervisors act. And I think this will have an effect on how supervisors vote in the future, being aware that the voters are perhaps keeping an eye on them.

PENNER: So you think that there is a connection between the passage of Proposition B and the fact that the supervisors didn't win their races outright?

ST JOHN: Yes, I think the fact that there's a feeling among the voters that perhaps there's been such a status quo, that the incumbency is so powerful that something needs – there needs to be some way to shake the status quo, has made a difference both to the fact that term limits passed with almost 70 percent of the vote and the fact that both supervisors are now having to run off against challengers in November.

PENNER: Well the county sheriff's race was also decided on Tuesday night. Incumbent Sheriff Bill Gore won with 57 percent of the vote. Why did Gore win the sheriff's race outright?

ST JOHN: Well again, he had such a lot of support from the powers that be, the establishment, from Dumanis from the supervisors, but if you look at the fact that perhaps there is a little bit of an anti-establishment feeling, you have to also look at why did the other two not make enough to really give him a runoff. And Jay La Suer, who came in second, was much more conservative to the right. He had very strong views on making it easier to obtain concealed weapons and also on enforcing immigration. So even though we did see a fairly strong Republican turnout in this primary, perhaps we didn't see the far right as being as successful as they would have liked.

PENNER: Well, Sheriff Gore was pleased with his support from the voters, and talked to us about what his victory on Tuesday means to local law enforcement.

BILL GORE: …which I think is healthy for the Sheriff's department, healthy for all of law enforcement really, to get us back to what we're all about which is addressing real crime problems with real solutions in a professional and focused manner. I think that's, hopefully, what the voters are looking for, and their vote for me represented tonight.

PENNER: Throughout the entire ballot, Alison, labor versus business interests surfaced. Labor went big on Proposition B, the term limits measure, but lost big on Proposition G in Chula Vista. What happened there?

ST JOHN: Well they would argue that it was just that turnout in Chula Vista was just so low, just over 23 percent I believe. It was a big loss for labor in many races in this particular primary. And G was I think a particularly important one for them because it could open the door to more measures that are now going to perhaps be on the ballot in November. The city is perhaps planning to put a similar measure on. And what it will do is make it more difficult for labor to compete in the market. So it looks as though the contractors have won that race and it will give some benefits to construction contractors as opposed to the labor unions in future contracts, but it's not over; I'm sure there'll be some legal challenges in Chula Vista.

PENNER: Ok just very briefly, who's leading this initiative in the City of Chula Vista?

ST JOHN: Councilman Carl Demaio is the spearhead…

PENNER: I mean, I'm sorry, I mean in the city of San Diego…

ST JOHN: In the City of San Diego? Yes, it's Councilman Carl Demaio and he plans to present the signatures. He hopes to get it on the ballot on Monday.

PENNER: Ok, well thank you very much, Alison St John.

ST JOHN: My pleasure.

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