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Political Analysis: The San Diego Ballot


Now that the candidate filing deadline has come and gone, we take a look at how this year's San Diego political races are shaping up. KPBS Political Correspondent Gloria Penner talks about a few of the most interesting match-ups.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. The candidate filing deadline just passed last Friday, so now we know exactly who is running for what office in San Diego County. And, as it turns out, there are a few more candidates on the ballot than were expected. And some statewide races are also heating up. Here to give us an overview of the 2010 election slate is my guest, KPBS political correspondent Gloria Penner. Good morning, Gloria.

GLORIA PENNER (KPBS Political Correspondent): Good morning, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: So I guess one of the big local stories concerns the seat held by Ron Roberts on the San Diego County Board of Superivsors. It seems Mr. Roberts has challengers.

PENNER: He certainly has, and it’s kind of a surprise. I think it even surprised him and his supporters because right up until the last minute he had no challengers. Donna Frye had pulled out. Assemblywoman Lori Saldana had pulled out. And then the call went out, let’s hear from you Democrats. And now there’s a crowded field of Democratic challengers in the June 8th election. I must point out that this is a nonpartisan race. You don’t run according to party but still there’s a tradition right now. All on the board of supervisors are Republicans. People are saying let’s have some diversity and, boy, they’re getting diversity in the four Democrats who have decided to run against Ron Roberts. There is Stephen Whitburn. He is a former city council candidate, he’s Communications Manager for the American Red Cross, and he is very active in the gay community. And then there’s Shelia Jackson. She’s former chair of the San Diego City School Board, she’s a black school board member. Juan Del Rio, a Latino, housing counselor, and Margaret Moody, a retired female teacher. All Democrats, all running in this race. Of course, Ron Roberts has the advantage of many, many years of incumbency, something like 15, 16, and a lot of money in the bank, over $100,000 in campaign funds. So the big challenge for these candidates is going to be fundraising.

CAVANAUGH: Well, staying with the county supervisors for a moment, what other seats are up for election this year?

PENNER: Only one other of the five and that’s San Diego County Superivisor Bill Horn, who was reelected in 2006 by fewer than six percentage points, so that’s encouraged a large group of challengers. We have Vista City Councilman Steve Gronke, and the point against Horn is that he’s been in for a very long time and maybe it’s time for a change, according to the challengers. And he’s had some contentious relationships over the years so that could make him beatable. The other three challengers are Encinitas engineer Fabio Marchi, Valley Center farmer Tom Bumgardner, and San Marcos engineer John Van Doorn who ran against Supervisor Pam Slater-Price two years ago and obviously didn’t win. But the wild card in this year’s election is a union-backed term limits measure for supervisors, and a large turnout of voters supporting this two term limit could benefit the challengers who are generally – there’s a general anti-incumbent mood and that could benefit them as well. And then, of course, there is always labor. Gronke is working to get labor in his corner. The Service Employees International Union Local 221 represents most county workers and they’re the ones who drew up that term limits initiative. And so we’re going to see what happens there.

CAVANAUGH: Well, moving on to the San Diego City Council. There are four city council seats in play. Two are being defended by incumbents and two are open seats. Tell us a little bit about these races.

PENNER: Well, just briefly, the two that are defended by incumbents are District 2, that represents downtown San Diego, Mission Beach, Old Town, Ocean Beach. The incumbent is Kevin Faulconer and he has two challengers, engineer Patrick Finucane and property manager Jim Morrison. District 4, Tony Young, and that area represents the city’s southeastern neighborhoods. He only has one challenger and that’s significant because in that race, the primary will decide the race. And so that’s…

CAVANAUGH: A standout…

PENNER: …an important one. But in San Diego District 5 where we have five candidates wanting to replace outgoing Councilwoman Donna Frye: Steve Hadley, Frye’s chief of staff, salesman Ryan Huckabone, paralegal Kim Tran—she’s a Republican—and the one that seems to be getting a lot of attention is former State Assemblyman and longtime California Deputy Attorney General Howard Wayne, and businesswoman Lorie Zapf. So the district represents Clairemont, Kearny Mesa, Linda Vista, Mission Valley, Serra Mesa. Three Democrats, two Republicans. And this seat is open for the first time since 2001.


PENNER: And many of these candidates have a great deal of community experience.

CAVANAUGH: And the – Ben Hueso’s seat is also open.

PENNER: That’s an interesting one. There are seven people who have come out for that one. We’ll talk about Hueso a little bit later. Two of them are relatives of council – either current council members or former council members. Felipe Hueso is an attorney and he is the brother of Councilman Ben Hueso. And then we have Nick Inzunza, Sr., he’s the uncle of former councilman Ralph Inzunza, who resigned from the council after being convicted on federal corruption charges. In addition to that, we have David Alvarez, a district representative for State Senator Denise Ducheny, so he’s got his connections. Attorney B.D. Howard, community volunteer Lincoln Pickard, who has run before, and insurance manager Adrian Vazquez, also educator James Wright.

CAVANAUGH: Wow. That’s a big field.

PENNER: Big field. I don’t think that one – I doubt it will be decided in the primary.

CAVANAUGH: Well, taking you up on that. I want to explore that a little bit more. The city and county seats are, as you say, they’re nonpartisan offices so the outcome can actually be determined in the June primary.

PENNER: That’s right. If a candidate gets 50% plus one vote, that candidate will win in the primary and, therefore, not have to go to the general election. But if a candidate doesn’t get that 50% plus one, then the two top vote-getters will run in November. And, again, District 4, there are only two candidates and in that case the race will be decided on June 8th.

CAVANAUGH: So we said that we’d go – move back to Ben Hueso’s – and we will because his move from the city council to the race for an Assembly seat seems like an example of this kind of musical chairs politicians engage in nowadays. Gloria, is that because of term limits?

PENNER: Oh, I think it’s a number of things. I think that very often politicians, once they’ve been in office and they’ve had the respect that one gets from some people anyway when you’re in office—others don’t respect you—and also there are some perks, it’s really hard to leave politics. And if you have a chance to move up, you try to do it. So Ben Hueso is on the San Diego City Council, and he’s decided to run for Assembly District 79. And now we have some who are coming back like Toni Atkins. She was in the city council, she waited until Lori Saldana was termed out, and now she’s running for Saldana’s seat in the 76th. Mary Salas and Vargas…

CAVANAUGH: Juan Vargas?

PENNER: …Juan Vargas, are both going after the 40th State Senate seat that’s vacated by Ducheny. So you’re right, Maureen, I mean, if term limits were not here some of these people would never leave office. But now that they have to leave office, we see some old names coming back and some names that are already represented in Sacramento, like Mary Salas, choosing not to run for her Assembly district but instead looking to move up to the 40th State Senate race.

CAVANAUGH: And we’re hearing nationally about an anti-incumbent move – momentum that’s supposedly growing among people. I wonder, do we see any of that playing out in San Diego? Are any seats in play here that might normally be safe?

PENNER: There are people who will totally disagree with me on this…


PENNER: …because Susan Davis, the Democratic Representative for the 53rd Congressional District seems very safe, and there are no term limits for Congress.


PENNER: I mean, she can stay in as long as she gets reelected. But it’s interesting that this time there is a large number of Republicans who are running in the primary. So the person who wins that Republican primary election will run against Susan Davis. And I think the 53rd has a touch of vulnerability for Susan Davis because this district has changed parties over the years. We had Brian Bilbray representing the district. The district has changed its look a little bit, too, because of the 2000 census. But there was a Republican, that representative, and so the GOP now is riding on this wave of discontent with Democrats and discontent with incumbents and it could possibly affect Susan Davis. I think it’s a longshot but who knows? As I said, there are one, two, three, four, five, six Republicans running in that race – seven, I’m sorry, seven. And one of them, Mason Weaver, he’s an entrepreneur, he’s African-American, and he’s active already. He’s showing up at Tea Party events, he’s speaking out against the Obama healthcare bill, and so I have a feeling he’s going to put up a pretty good race. But, you know, once again, money talks.

CAVANAUGH: And speaking of the California primary, the California Republicans just held their state convention last weekend. Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman are fighting for the GOP nomination for governor, so how is that race shaping up?

PENNER: Well, there was a new Field Poll that was released last night and it shows that former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, a billionaire Republican, is now in a dead heat with presumed Democratic nominee Jerry Brown. We say presumed, I mean, he’s probably going to be the Democratic nominee. There are Democrats running against him but no-name Democrats. And so it’s amazing to see that we have a Republican newcomer to politics running in a dead heat at this point with Jerry Brown. It also shows that she has opened up, Meg Whitman, an even wider lead against her challenger in the GOP primary, that’s State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. Get these numbers. She leads him by 48 points. So in a hypothetical match-up with Brown, Whitman is up 46% to 43%, which is within the poll’s margin of error. Her decision to spend millions on advertising early in the campaign obviously has been paying off because a lot of voters had no idea who she was when she was first contacted by the Field Poll in January. About two-thirds have an opinion of her now, and it’s mostly favorable.

CAVANAUGH: And if you could, tell us about the GOP challengers for Barbara Boxer’s seat.

PENNER: Oh, I’ll be happy to do that. What we have here is a rather interesting group of candidates probably because Barbara Boxer is now seen as vulnerable. And we have Carly Fiorina, a Hewlett Packard former executive, and Chuck DeVore, who is a conservative Assemblyman in San Diego, and then we have Tom Campbell, considered a moderate, and he is somebody who has taught law. He has been in Congress. He is an economist. And he does call himself a moderate. He believes that the social planks that ordinarily would go a long way in winning support from the party’s conservative base aren’t really going to be the issue this year…


PENNER: …that the issue is going to be jobs and the economy. In fact, Carly Fiorina avoided the whole issue of gay marriage and she merely hinted at her anti-abortion stance in a 30-minute speech that she gave to the California Republican Party on Saturday.

CAVANAUGH: We have just about a minute left but I don’t want to leave before we talk about a very, very interesting primary, a fascinating race shaping up on the Oceanside City Council. Can you tell us about that in a very short period of time?

PENNER: It’s going to be hard. There are four people left on the Oceanside City Council—one was moved up to a Sacramento position—and they are split, we have two labor and two pro-business. And they are paralyzed. They haven’t been able to do a thing. And so right now there are a whole bunch of candidates that have come out. Some align themselves with labor, some align themselves with business. And I’m not going to go through all their names because we don’t have time. But it’s going to be very fascinating to see whether labor comes out and really pours some money into the race because they really lost their last race in Oceanside during a recall election when they tried to get a pro-business candidate or a sitting Assembly – a sitting city council member recalled and it didn’t work.

CAVANAUGH: So whoever wins there may shift the balance of power one way or the other.

PENNER: Absolutely. Well, at least the Oceanside City Council will be able to do some business no matter who wins.

CAVANAUGH: Gloria, thank you so much.

PENNER: You’re welcome, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with KPBS political correspondent Gloria Penner and she’s also the host of the Editors Roundtable and San Diego Week on KPBS Television. If you’d like to comment about what you’ve heard on These Days, go online, And stay with us for hour two of These Days coming up in just a few minutes here on KPBS.

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