Fletcher v. Dumanis: A Prelude To The Partisan Battle For San Diego County
The race to represent District 4 on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors is one of the most closely watched this election season. Nathan Fletcher, a Marine veteran and former state assemblyman, is facing off against Bonnie Dumanis, a former judge and the county's retired district attorney.
Fletcher was previously a Republican, then briefly an independent. But he has been a registered Democrat for more than five years now and has been fully embraced by his party, boasting high-profile endorsements from Gov. Jerry Brown and former Vice President Joe Biden. Dumanis is a Republican and has endorsements from San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the District 4 incumbent, Ron Roberts.
Despite San Diego County having a plurality of registered Democrats, all five county supervisors are Republicans — thanks largely to the decades-long incumbencies of Supervisors Roberts, Greg Cox, Dianne Jacob and Bill Horn. Term limits are taking their toll on those incumbencies, however, with Roberts and Horn termed out this year. Cox and Jacob will term out in 2020.
Horn's District 5, which covers most of North County, remains favorable to Republicans. But District 4, which covers San Diego's urban core, has shifted heavily in favor of Democrats since Roberts was first elected in 1994. And Democrats have spent more than $1 million to help elect Fletcher — a sum that may seem exorbitant considering there is no way his election would win the Democrats a majority on the board.
But a victory for Fletcher would lay the foundation for an even bigger partisan fight in 2020 when Democrats hope to finally achieve the majority on the Board of Supervisors that has eluded them for so long.
District 1, which covers the South Bay, has also shifted heavily in favor of Democrats since Cox was first elected in 1995. The district's 2020 race has at least one name-brand Democratic candidate in David Alvarez, who is leaving the San Diego City Council this year. Republicans have a plurality in Jacob's District 2, which covers East County, meaning a Democrat would have a tougher time getting elected there in 2020.
But perhaps the biggest fight at the county in 2020 will be for the central-northern District 3. Its current supervisor, Kristin Gaspar, won by a razor-thin margin in 2016. And a handful of political realities and "what ifs" suggest she may be vulnerable two years from now.
First, District 3 has a modest plurality of registered Democrats. Second, Measure D on this November's ballot, if passed by voters, would prevent Gaspar from winning re-election outright in the 2020 primaries. Lower voter turnout in primary elections has historically favored Republican candidates.
Third, Gaspar's willingness to align herself with the Trump administration during her failed bid for Congress this year could prove to be a liability. She voted to support the administration's lawsuit challenging California's so-called "sanctuary state" laws, which limit cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. And a month later, Gaspar attended a roundtable discussion of those "sanctuary" policies at the White House. She sat across from President Trump as he said, during a discussion on undocumented immigrants and gang members: "These aren't people. These are animals."
And fourth, Trump's own name will be on the ballot in 2020. That could energize Democrats to mobilize against both him and Gaspar.
Fletcher and Dumanis agree on some issues: They both say the county should spend some of its reserve dollars to stimulate the construction of more subsidized affordable housing.
But they also have clear distinctions. When asked during a KPBS forum about a recently approved plan to build more than 2,000 homes on undeveloped land in North County, Fletcher made clear he thought the supervisors had made the wrong decision.
"I think the way we need to address our housing shortage is to take bold and decisive action to increase housing in the more urban areas, to do more infill, more transit-oriented development," he said.
Dumanis agreed that urban areas are a good place for new housing. But she said because the county's housing shortage is so severe, and because the county's land use authority is limited to mostly rural and suburban areas, the supervisors should take new housing where they can get it.
"If we get 2,000 homes, I think that would be wonderful," she said.
Fletcher won the most votes in the June primary, and he has significantly outraised Dumanis in campaign contributions. The county's Democratic Party has also spent on his behalf more than five times what the county GOP has spent to elect Dumanis. Those facts, plus the Democratic tilt of District 4, suggest Fletcher is the one to beat in November.