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North County: Election results, Facebook Firings

Audio

Aired 6/14/10

In North County election results, County Supervisor Bill Horn was forced into a runoff, Betty Rexford was booted off the Poway City Council, and Oceanside is now a charter city. Elsewhere, five Tri-City Hospital nurses were fired for discussing patient cases on Facebook.

TOM FUDGE (Host): Last week voters in San Diego's north county recalled Poway councilwoman Betty Rexford. They also joined voters around the county in overwhelmingly approving term limits for county supervisors. But does that mean they may actually send packing long-time supervisor Bill Horn? That's one of the questions we'll put to Kent Davies (sic) and Logan Jenkins as we examine North County politics. Kent and Logan are two newspapermen who cover local politics. Logan Jenkins is a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune. And, Logan, thank you.

LOGAN JENKINS (Columnist, San Diego Union-Tribune): Hey, Tom, welcome to North County.

FUDGE: It’s good to be here. Kent Davy is editor of the North County Times. Kent, hello.

KENT DAVY (Editor, North County Times): Good morning. How are you?

FUDGE: I’m fine. And, listeners, if you want to join the conversation, as always you can do it by calling 1-888-895-5727, that’s 888-895-KPBS, as we talk about North County politics and last week’s election. Logan, going to start with you. And we’re going to start with what may be the most newsworthy election result in the North County. What happened to county supervisor Bill Horn?

JENKINS: Well, this has to be one of those weird elections where a challenger can get 21% of the vote and feel like a winner, and that’s Steve Gronke, the Vista City Coucilman, who came in second to Horn. Horn got 47% percent, failed to get the magic 50% plus 1 and so now Gronke feels like a million bucks and Horn may have to spend a million bucks in order to retain his office.

FUDGE: And unlike Meg Whitman, I don’t know if he has a million bucks. But it’s funny that you say that this challenger feels like a winner when he got 21%. Is it realistic to think that he can turn 21% into 50% plus 1 when he and the longtime incumbent go to the general election?

JENKINS: Well, let’s assume that everybody in the 5th District knew who Supervisor Horn, you know, he’s a very well known politician there, and I believe that the negatives on Horn are so high that all of the votes for the, you know, the challengers could conceivably have gone to Gronke. Imagine an instant runoff system where, you know, you’ve got your first and second votes and those – You know the system.

FUDGE: Yeah.

JENKINS: So that’s why I think that Gronke – I’m going against the opinions of some analysts but I think Gronke is conceivably the frontrunner at this point.

FUDGE: Really?

JENKINS: I would…

FUDGE: The frontrunner. And, Kent Davy, do you agree with that?

DAVY: No, I would – I’d pick the complete opposite to act on this. The reason I’d do this is that I think it is unlikely that Gronke can pick up all of the non-Horn votes. You’ve got Fabio Marchi, who had 3500 votes. It seems to me unlikely that everybody goes to Gronke as this thing runs out. Also, just kind of a point of interest, Horn is anticipating that he is going to spend about $400,000 on this election so Gronke will have to make up a lot of money.

FUDGE: And, Kent, give us just a quick geography lesson. Where is District 5?

DAVY: Well, it’s basically all of North County except Escondido. If you – That’d be one way to look at it. Pam Slater-Price’s district runs as a kind of finger up including Escondido and then back down to the – to what we would more normally think of her district in the kind of southern or mid-portion of the county and towards the coast.

FUDGE: So you’ve got some of the more conservative rural districts to the east but then you also have the high income districts along the coast.

DAVY: Right, you’ve got all of Carlsbad, Oceanside, you know, and then it sweeps on around out into the back country.

FUDGE: Well, Logan Jenkins, Kent has taken you on. He’s says he disagrees.

JENKINS: I think that’s great. That’d be a great debate.

FUDGE: So, well, what makes you think that this guy who got 21% of the vote may actually win?

JENKINS: Well, you know, first of all he is an elected official. He’s a councilman. And the votes are going to be in the cities, in Oceanside, you know, Carlsbad, Vista and San Marcos. Oddly, the – not the – Horn is extremely unpopular in the areas where he’s know the best, in the unincorporated areas. And so Gronke has a – he’s got a steep hill to climb but I do believe that if the union support comes in for Gronke, he can make up some of that difference in fundraising ability. Horn is a great fundraiser, no question about it. But I do think that it is a year where incumbents have a built-in disadvantage, and we all have to remember that Prop B was extremely popular when it got 70% of the vote.

FUDGE: And Prop B was, of course…

JENKINS: The term limits.

FUDGE: Term limits, creating term limits for county supervisors.

JENKINS: Right, so I think that if Gronke can enforce that message that you’ve voted for term limits, here’s the poster child for term limits. The board of supervisors, as you know, is, well, it’s kind of a throwback governing body. You know, five white, elderly Republicans, and I think Gronke could make the argument that it’s time for a change.

FUDGE: And if Bill Horn is unpopular with some voters in the 5th District, Logan, why is he unpopular?

JENKINS: Well, I think he has a history of being a kind of gruff, sometimes arrogant, extremely conservative politician. Of course, with some people, those, you know, those are great qualities. But he has made some enemies in North County and I think that’s evidenced by the fact that those people in Valley Center and Fallbrook are voting against him in pretty large numbers.

FUDGE: Kent, any last word on the 5th District?

DAVY: Well, only to point out that Bill Horn has escaped going into a November election only once and that’s when he beat Patsy Fritz outright. So I think he’s been here before. I just doubt that Gronke is able to mount the kind of campaign it’s going to take.

JENKINS: One thing I’d like to point out, though, hey, that runoff that Kent alluded to was in ’98 I believe, against Jerry Harmon. Jerry Harmon was a very, very liberal politician and Gronke is a Republican who recently changed to decline-to-state in order to appeal more to independents.

FUDGE: Well, anyway, Logan Jenkins is a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Kent Davy is editor of the North County Times. We’re talking a little bit about North County politics. And, Logan, Betty Rexford, a member of the Poway City Council for 15 years was recalled in last week’s election. No surprise perhaps. Logan, what were the voters’ reasons for throwing her out?

JENKINS: Well, I think the key thing was that her – all of her colleagues on the city council asked for her to resign last summer, and that was the catalyst for a brilliantly designed recall campaign led by a fellow named Steve Vaus, a country western singer, who really burst upon the scene and made that a – made that recall effort take off. I’m probably in a minority here but I feel sort of sorry for Betty Rexford. Her son died during the initial stages of the recall and in the last week or so before the election, she suffered a hip injury and was in the hospital. So she’s, on a personal level, she’s suffered the afflictions of Job during this whole ordeal. But she did bring much of it on herself. She – There’s pretty good evidence that she abused her office to get preferential treatment to oppose building projects of her neighbors.

FUDGE: Okay, and, Kent, is that sort of the short story on Betty Rexford? She was accused…

DAVY: Yes.

FUDGE: …of trying to use her power inappropriately to, I don’t know, stop her neighbors from building additions?

DAVY: Yeah, that is the case. The city spent about a half a million dollars to settle the lawsuit and, in doing so, pretty well dumped some – a heap of blame on Rexford. That is what fueled the recall effort. The thing isn’t clearly between Vaus and Mullins (sic) is far from over, though. There’s only 112 votes separating them as of 5:30 Friday. And there are still 123,000 provisional and absentee ballots that were left to be counted as of that Friday number.

FUDGE: And the winner of this election becomes city councilman in Poway and then has to decide whether he wants to run for reelection in November?

DAVY: I believe that’s right, yeah.

FUDGE: All right. All right.

JENKINS: Right, I – Yeah, I don’t know. Did we say that Steve Vaus is one of those two candidates, the fellow who ran the recall election against…

FUDGE: Yeah, we may not have said that but…

JENKINS: Yeah.

FUDGE: …he is.

JENKINS: His opponent is John Mullin, who was the candidate favored by the city mayor, Don Higginson.

FUDGE: Umm-hmm. Okay, so do you want the endorsed candidate or do you want the country western star? That’s…

JENKINS: Well, that’s up to Poway.

FUDGE: …that was the choice that was – that Poway voters faced. Let’s move on to talk a little bit about Oceanside. Kent, thanks to the election, Oceanside will become a charter city. Now what does that mean and why do we care about that?

DAVY: Charter cities are, one, they’re becoming more and more popular in the state. I think there’s about 140 charter cities in the state now, including the City of San Diego, for instance. By moving away from being a general law city, you are no longer – you are – there is a broad range of things that city voters can then set up and decide themselves. For instance, the way elections are conducted can be governed inside the city document then. The big reason that the charter was of interest to its proponents was it was a way to avoid having to pay prevailing wages on city construction projects. Prevailing wages being a wage set by, I think, a state agency according to a union wage standard. Jerry Kern, who was one of the proponents of the charter, a city councilman, had suggested during the campaign that he believed it would save about $2 million a year to a city that’s pretty well cash strapped right now.

FUDGE: And so a lot of people were looking at Proposition K that created the charter city to be an anti-union proposition. Was it?

DAVY: I think that’s a fair characterization. It had two clear pushes against the union. One was the prevailing wage issue, the other is a project labor agreement, which I think was more of a shadow issue and not really there. I also think it was a way to, given the city council race, it was a way to energize and help keep the more conservative base interested in this election.

FUDGE: And speaking of that, Rocky Chavez, who is a member of the city council in Oceanside, decided to quit midterm and there was an election to replace him. Now, Rocky – what was that about, Kent?

DAVY: Okay…

FUDGE: I mean, what kind of a politician was Chavez and…

DAVY: Sure.

FUDGE: …who were they trying to get to replace him?

DAVY: Okay, Chavez was sort of a three-two pro-business, if you will, split on the council. He took a job as the, I believe, Undersecretary of Veteran Affairs for the state. His last act was to vote to put the charter on the ballot. The runoff election – the two-two split on the city council could not decide on an interim until November replacement for Chavez. That brought a slate of candidates out. The two leading candidates were Lloyd Prosser and Chuck Lowery. That race is also too close to call. There’s a 43 vote split between those two and I…

FUDGE: Ah, primary elections.

DAVY: Yeah, I’m going to guess there’s probably – of those 123,000 ballots that haven’t been counted, there’s probably 6,000 or so that are Oceanside ballots.

FUDGE: And so the question is whether the Oceanside council is going to trend Republican conservative or trend Democrat liberal?

DAVY: I – Yeah, Esther Sanchez, a councilwoman is clearly a Democratic liberal. Jim Wood, who is the mayor, says that he is a Republican. He tends to side with Esther on that side. Lowery tends – I think was supported by Sanchez and Wood, and Prosser was the candidate of the business community.

FUDGE: Okay, so we still have to wait and see what happens there. My guests are Logan Jenkins and Kent Davy. We’re spending just a little bit of time talking about North County politics. Before we run out of time, Logan, Tri-City Hospital up in North County has fired 5 nurses and disciplined another for using social media, Facebook, I think that is, to discuss patient cases. What’s the story here?

JENKINS: Well, we really don’t know what was posted on Facebook. We do know that these nurses have been told that they’ll be terminated. They do have an appeal process that they’re legally entitled to. But it does raise this question of what hospital employees, what doctors, can say about patients in a public way. It’s – To my – It’s been said that there’s a bright line between what’s allowable and what’s not but I just wonder that if it can be blurred. If, like let’s say that two nurses are e-mailing each other about patients and how to handle them, and they start sharing information that might lead one to deduce who the patient is, is that illegal?

FUDGE: And I guess it’s worth pointing out here, Logan, that even though these nurses were talking about patients on Facebook, there were no names used, there were no photographs used to identify these patients, so that’s one thing we need to keep in mind.

JENKINS: Correct. Correct. It’s not as though they were broadcasting who had, you know, for example, who might have HIV or some other condition that might – that somebody might object to. That appears not to be the case. I just think that it’s such an interesting question, privacy in the context of a hospital. When you go into a hospital, your privacy is pretty well compromised, beginning with the surgical gowns or whatever you have to wear. You know, it’s a very public environment. You have to share information with your insurance companies and so forth. How do you bottle up that information and protect the privacy of patients?

FUDGE: Kent, anything before we’re out of time?

DAVY: Yeah.

FUDGE: Anything you want to say about this?

DAVY: Yeah, I think the difference is that inside the four walls of a hospital the information is there and only the – I guess it may be the public walks through the hallways. Facebook is a different animal altogether. Once planted in Facebook, the information, to some extent, is out there forever.

FUDGE: Well, thanks to Logan Jenkins. He’s a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Thanks, Logan.

JENKINS: Thank you.

FUDGE: And thanks to Kent Davy, editor of the North County Times. Thank you, Kent.

DAVY: Thanks, Tom.

FUDGE: I’m Tom Fudge. You’re listening to These Days. Coming up next, we’re going to talk about sun exposure and what it does to your health and the health of our skin, so stay tuned.

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