Thursday, May 24, 2012
Historically, the public’s attention has focused on city of San Diego politics, while the county supervisors carry on their business in relative obscurity. But now there is a battle going on for the first open seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors in nearly 20 years.
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors control a budget of almost $5 billion, and once a politician wins a seat on the five-member board, they tend to stay there for awhile. Decades, in fact.
That’s why Steve Danon started campaigning for a seat three years before the election. He began drumming up support to take over the North County's Third District even before the incumbent, Pam Slater-Price, announced her decision to step down.
At a recent interview, Danon listed some of those who have signed up to support him.
“I’m proud of the endorsement from Mayor Jerry Sanders, the mayors of Escondido, Encinitas, Solana Beach," he said, "Father Jo Carroll and most of all, law enforcement.”
The list easily fills a page on his website. Danon, who was chief of staff to Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray, collected more than $200,000 and tied up many of the major endorsements before anyone else even considered running.
Democratic political consultant Chris Crotty said that may well have discouraged others from getting into the race.
“I believe,” Crotty said, “that he was pretty confident, given the fact that he had all the endorsements and that he had a substantial amount of money in the bank, that he wouldn’t see any challengers."
But then, less than three months before the election, Slater-Price threw in a wild card.
“I’m sure it’s escaped nobody’s attention here that I am a Republican endorsing a Democrat,” she said at in mid-March press conference where she endorsed Democrat Dave Roberts, the deputy mayor of Solana Beach. They were surrounded by a lineup of eminent women Democrats, including Donna Frye, Dede Alpert and Olga Diaz.
The county board has been made up of five white Republicans ever since the last Democrat, Leone Williams, left back in the 1980s. Roberts now carries the flag for those who want more diversity on the board.
“I am a registered Democrat,” Robert said in an interview on KPBS, ”but I have phenomenal support across the political spectrum.”
Roberts would have been hard-pressed to raise enough money in time to stop Danon from winning outright in June if it hadn’t been for Carl Hilliard, the Republican mayor of Del Mar, who also jumped into the race.
Hilliard has made the state transfer of prisoners to the county one of his main issues.
“I’m afraid of realignment and what that may do to us financially,” he said. ”It’s a huge issue.”
Hilliard’s candidacy makes it unlikely anyone will win more than 50 percent of the vote in June, pushing the outcome of the race to November. Crotty said he‘d be surprised if Hilliard makes it into the top two.
“If I was Roberts,” Crotty said, “I would be sending a 'Thank you' note to Mr Hilliard.”
The supervisors run the Sheriff’s Department, the jails, foodstamps and health care for the poor. They manage land use in the backcountry and home health care for the elderly and sick all over the region. Social programs are already suffering deep cuts, with more to come, but the issue that has captured the public’s imagination is the million dollars that each supervisor has to hand out each year.
Danon has taken a strong stand on this one.
“This is a very clear different between me and the other candidates,” he said, “When I talk about abolishing this $5 million slush fund.”
However, since the four incumbent supervisors have made it clear they do not intend to give up the hand out, Danon’s stand may be mostly symbolic.
Crotty said, in general, the campaign rhetoric so far has not drawn sharp lines between the candidates. But he said, if Danon’s boss Bilbray is any indication, voters can expect to see Danon move solidly to the right if elected. Meanwhile, Roberts may turn out to be more of a wild card than he is showing now.
“I think the fact that he’s a gay man is also quite significant,” Crotty said.
Roberts is choosing to emphasize the family values he and his partner share.
“My family has chosen to adopt five children from San Diego County,” he said, “and like any parents, we’ve learned the value of the parks, the beach and the library.”
Roberts would have an uphill battle to win the third district, which - under the last redistricting - lost the Democrats of La Jolla and gained more conservative voters near Escondido.
But voters will have options in June, and whoever wins in November, they will have a new face on the county board next year, for the first time in almost two decades.