Originally published November 2, 2010 at 9:16 p.m., updated November 3, 2010 at midnight
SAN DIEGO Both incumbents vying to hold onto their seats on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors appear to have secured reelection tonight.
With 41 percent of the precincts counted, Supervisor Ron Roberts had 58.3 percent of the vote to American Red Cross spokesman Stephen Whitburn's 41.7 percent in the county's District 4.
With 47 percent of the precincts tallied in the county's District 5, Supervisor Bill Horn had 54.3 percent of the vote, compared to opponent Steve Gronke's 45.7 percent of the vote. Gronke is a member of the Vista City Council.
November 2010 Election Results
For well over a decade, San Diego County Supervisors have routinely won reelection outright in the June primary. But this year two incumbent seats were challenged.
“After 16 years of the exact same five supervisors, they’ve gotten too comfortable,” said Stephen Whitburn, who is vying to unseat Ron Roberts in the central San Diego district. “They are abusing their positions, enough is enough, it’s time for a change.”
County supervisor is a non-partisan office. But Whitburn pointed out that all five incumbents are Republicans and as a Democrat, he said he would inject a little variety on the board.
Roberts argued voters have left the Board of Supervisors unchanged for so long with good reason.
“The County has maintained a strong fiscal discipline and is running things without the upheavals that we’re seeing in other agencies,” he said. “We’re not asking anybody for a tax increase.”
In fact, Roberts did try to get a tax increase passed in 2008 -- a parcel tax that would have raised $50 million a year to improve fire protection. It failed.
The County backed out of coordinating the various municipal fire services decades ago and is only now slowly building the system back up. Whitburn attacks the board for not doing more to protect public safety.
Roberts countered that at least he tried to do something by putting the parcel tax on the ballot.
“I wished the outcome would have been different,” he said, “but I worked to get that passed. But (Whitburn) didn’t raise a finger when it was on the ballot and (he was) running at that very same time.”
Roberts “had 16 years to provide adequate fire protection in San Diego County, and (he) failed,” Whitburn said.
Whitburn suggests taking $10 million from the County’s reserve fund to put professional firefighters at 18 stations currently staffed by volunteers.
The County’s reserve fund is extraordinarily healthy: $700 million.
So it’s not surprising the other candidate vying for a seat on the County Board also wants to use some of that money. Steve Gronke is running against incumbent Bill Horn in District 5, which covers the northern end of the County. He wants to use reserves to help mend holes in the social safety net. That includes food aid, health care, job training and other services for people struggling economically.
“We’re not talking about welfare recipients,” Gronke said, “we’re talking about people like you and me that have lost their jobs, that have lost their homes through foreclosure. It’s us, not them. The County is not doing their job.
But Horn is adamantly opposed to using any reserves. That’s because the County’s excellent credit rating depends on healthy reserves, so borrowing money is cheaper, he said.
“We pay far less for money because of that credit rating,” he said. “The moment you start using that reserve to backfill programs that the State has abandoned, you start using up your General Fund, and once you do that you are on a death spiral.”
Voters often don’t really know what services the County is responsible for providing.
But many local organizations that receive individual grants from supervisors know well what the County does for them.
Both Whitburn and Gronke railed against what they call “slush funds” -- a million dollars a year that each supervisor gets to allocate to organizations in their district.
Gronke says people who support him privately told him they couldn’t risk doing it publicly because they’re afraid they’d lose the grant.
“It was sad,” Gronke said. “The intimidation that’s going on with that slush fund is unbelievable.”
Both Gronke and Whitburn have managed to raise only a fraction of the financial support that the incumbents have collected. Horn attributes his solid base of support to the County’s strong financial position.
“I think one of the reasons for the fiscal health of the County is that you’ve had consistent conservative leadership that has brought about the triple a bond rating,” Horn said. “I realize my opponent doesn’t think this is a big issue but it’s an extremely big issue when it comes to money, and the county government is about money.”
Voters may have concerns about the services the county government provides, but during these tough economic times, they are likely to favor candidates who don’t ask them for more money to pay for them.