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East County: Political Musical Chairs

East County: Musical Political Chairs
As if two open legislative seats (77th assembly, 36th senate) were not enough to keep the East County occupied, there is also the flap over the naming of a new high school in Alpine. The proposed name, Ronald Reagan High School, has deeply offended members of the Viejas band, while the near-secret process has angered others.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. In next month's primary, east county voters will be choosing their candidates for State Assembly and State Senate. On this east county update, we'll survey the field of contenders and some of the issues, plus find out about a controversy involving a new a high school in Alpine and a departed U.S. president. I’d like to welcome my guest. Miriam Raftery is editor of East County Magazine. Miriam, welcome to These Days.

MIRIAM RAFTERY (Editor, Good morning. It’s great to be here.

CAVANAUGH: So let’s start with politics. There are two open seats for the state legislature, the 77th Assembly, and the 36th State Senate, both of which are linked by one candidate. Republican Joel Anderson, formerly represented the 77th Assembly District. He’s termed out. He now wants to represent the 36th State Senate but a possible problem for Joel Anderson is a recent campaign finance ethics issue with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission. So, Miriam, what is that about?


RAFTERY: Well, he was actually fined $20,000 by the Fair Political Practices Commission for essentially funneling money through some Republican Central committees to bypass – that bypassed laws restricting donations from large donors like SDG&E and some Indian tribes and the Hammond family construction company out in El Cajon. And he actually had to give back $150,000 in campaign donations that were illegal.

CAVANAUGH: Now what does Joel Anderson say about this?

RAFTERY: Well, he claims that it was really all just a mistake, it was accidental and that he didn’t know better. And, astoundingly, this was during his Assembly campaign, you know, I mean, campaign, but he’s just put up brand new signs that say ‘clean up Sacramento, elect Joel Anderson.’

CAVANAUGH: Now the Fair Political Practices Commission called this either negligent or deliberate. So how is the electorate responding, do you think, to his statements about not really knowing what happened?

RAFTERY: Well, I don’t know how the electorate will respond in June but his opponents are certainly having a field day with it. I understand there’s a new mailer going out to Republicans that says ‘Republicans for anyone but Anderson’ or something like that, and it’s a very, very long list of prominent Republicans who’ve come out and endorsed either one or more of his other opponents or simply saying ‘anybody but Anderson.’


CAVANAUGH: Indeed, there are six Republicans going for this seat. Tell us about his main opponents.

RAFTERY: Well, probably the strongest contender out there, most believe, is Jeff Stone, who is a Riverside County Supervisor. This district spans both portions of east county and San Diego as well as south Riverside County. He has also been a Temecula city councilman for a number of years. Articulate, well-funded, he’s actually passed quite a bit of legislation of different types in his many years that he’s been on these councils. Whereas Joel Anderson, I believe, only has actually passed one bill into law in his time in the Assembly and that was the pension divesture from Iran measure, divesting state pensions from Iran, which actually hasn’t even been enforced. The bill didn’t have teeth. So that’s another point that his opponents are making. Then there’s a pastor from La Mesa, Greg Stephens, who’s also in the race. And he’s a veteran, he was actually a medic during the first Gulf war and a first responder during the Oklahoma City bombing, so he’s quite an interesting person as well. And then there’s Ken Dickson, who’s an attorney and former prosecutor, and then a couple of others that are sort of, you know, perennial candidates or lesser known candidates. But we actually did interviews with, you know, the major candidates as well as the Democrat in the race. We should mention him as well, Paul Clay, who is a teacher and he’s running on a platform of, you know, strong public education.

CAVANAUGH: And is it fair to say that the Republican contenders for the 36th State Senate are all fairly conservative Republicans? I mean, these are really – this is a conservative district.

RAFTERY: It is a conservative district. They all call themselves conservatives. Although that said, there are differences. I think all of them are against any kind of revenue increase, you know, for the budget. They range from cut more tax – cut taxes even more in these difficult fiscal times to at least, you know, hold the line and no new taxes. There are some differences, though. Some of them actually are opposed to the Sunrise Powerlink, whereas Joel Anderson took a lot of money from SDG&E and could never form an opinion about Powerlink, so that’s interesting. Fire protection, there’s some differences. Even women’s issues, choice on abortion, some of them would make exceptions for the life of the mother, rape and abortion, and some of them would not. So I urge voters, you can check our site. We have a story where we did very in-depth interviews with all of these candidates as well as the Libertarian, Michael Metti, in the race also, by the way.

CAVANAUGH: And that would be

RAFTERY: Dot-org.

CAVANAUGH: Dot-org, sorry.


CAVANAUGH: Now, let’s move on to the 77th Assembly District.

RAFTERY: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: The Republican candidates – Joel Anderson is vacating that district so tell us about the Republican candidates that want to take his place.

RAFTERY: Absolutely. There are three Republicans in that race. And we have Bill Wells who is the Vice Mayor of El Cajon, we have Brian Jones, who’s the Vice Mayor of Santee and also a pastor, and we have Christina (sic) Rubin. Christine is a longtime political consultant. She’s worked on McCain-Feingold – or, McCain – I’m sorry. The McCain-Palin.

CAVANAUGH: Yes. Oh, the last presidential election.

RAFTERY: Correct, yeah, in Southern California. She’s worked for Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, and she had a statewide position that she was also appointed to by Governor Schwarzenegger with one of the state agencies up there.

CAVANAUGH: What are the issues that separate these Republicans as they all vie for this 77th Assembly District seat?

RAFTERY: Umm-hmm. Well, they have differences on energy policy, again, differences on the, you know, the wildfire issues. Christine Rubin was actually – she nearly lost her house in the fire, one of the fires, so she’s very concerned about that. Powerlink, a lot of different things. I think their – Basically, though, the main thing is that they’re running on the differences, I think, in their experience. Each one is claiming that they have the best experience. I know in the case of Wells, he had run for El Cajon council originally, just two years ago. He’s a first – a one-termer. And he ran on a platform of bringing more business to El Cajon, improving the economy, and his opponents are saying, well, look at all the boarded up businesses downtown, that didn’t work out so well. So that’s kind of interesting. Wells and Jones are both saying that they’ve discovered that a lot of the budget problems that their cities are having now in these hard times trace back to Sacramento and the raiding of local funds that has been done at the state level. So they now say they want to go to Sacramento to try to address the budget issues, you know, at the root. And then we have a Democrat in that race?

CAVANAUGH: Yes, uh-huh. Full disclosure, contributor to East County Magazine, Mark Hanson.

RAFTERY: Right, yeah, he’s actually the head of the Heartland Foundation, which is the fiscal sponsor of East County Magazine. So, absolutely, we want folks to know that, and we’re non – we are nonpartisan and nonprofit, so we do not endorse in any races. But Mark is a longtime educator. He was a two-time Teacher of the Year, a former administrator in the Grossmont District. More recently, he’s known as the head of Leadership Management International in San Diego and Heartland Foundation and the United Green Enterprises, which is very interesting. That is an organization that’s working to actually bring green jobs to San Diego and they’ve been working with the city and county on some other things. So I think in the general election is where you’re going to see some real differences in this race because on the one side you have a lot of conservative Republicans that are sort of the drill, baby, drill philosophy, for the most part. They want to repeal AB-32. And then you have, you know, Hanson who says, no, wait a minute, AB-32 is what’s attracting all the new green jobs to the state. We don’t want to repeal that. We need to, you know, have a different approach.

CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering, from my reading, though, it’s – the Sunrise Powerlink is sort of crossing party lines. There are people who support it and who are opposed to it, Republican and Democrats.

RAFTERY: Absolutely. I think actually the majority of the candidates that we interviewed said at the very least that they had some severe reservations about the Powerlink, they weren’t entirely convinced it was necessary, or if it’s necessary if we need the power, maybe looking at different routes. There’s a southern route along the border that some people are talking about that maybe should be considered as a third alternative, you know, that really hasn’t been looked at seriously.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s move on to a very interesting naming flap that’s going on in the City of Alpine. There is a new high school in Alpine and people want to give it some sort of name. Fill us in on that story, Miriam.

RAFTERY: Well, we titled our story “Gippergate.” What happened is the new high school, there’s a lot of people out there that want to name it for Ronald Reagan. And you have the Grossmont Union High School Board, which is five Republicans, and they decided to nominate what was supposed to be an independent naming committee and they didn’t want to tell anybody who was on it, so the Union-Tribune actually did a public records search, a FOIA request, and they found out that of these 10 people on the committee, something like 8 of them were clearly Republican officeholders, you know, other Republican Party operatives. I mean, we had Ron Nehring, who’s the chairman of the state Republican Party on there. We had former Congressman Duncan Hunter, Sr., you know, and on and on. So the thing is that they may have miscalculated about is that while this is a very conservative area, number one, there are people who think the district should just follow its rules, which is to name a high school after a geographic region not a person, no matter how famous or wonderful they may be. And the other thing is that Alpine is the home of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians. And Viejas is the largest employer in the town, they’re one of the largest donors to the district. They’ve bought them high school football fields and musical instruments and computers and things, and it turns out that Reagan’s record on Native Americans was not exactly a wonderful one.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, again in the interest of full disclosure, I know that you testified before the committee against naming the school after Ronald Reagan. Why do you think it should not be named after Ronald Reagan? What were the arguments that you used in that?

RAFTERY: My argument—and, again, we operate the Viejas Wildfire Alert Service—so I – I’m very familiar with the Indians and it’s very rare for our magazine to take an editorial position on anything. Up to now it’s only been fire issues. But we felt that a name should not be offensive to a major constituency in the area. And to quote Cita Welch, who is the – Robert ‘Cita’ Welch is the Viejas vice chairman, and he said that Ronald Reagan showed, quote, outright contempt for Native Americans, unquote. A lot of people don’t realize that Reagan’s budget cuts included attempts to completely dismantle the Bureau of Indian Affairs and he did gut the healthcare programs on the reservations, some social service programs that put a lot of Indians out of work. And this – and he also said things. He referred to them as making a lot of money off of oil under Indians lands, and this is at a time when 60% of Indians on reservations were living below the federal poverty level. He said that they should – He referred to them as primitives in a speech he gave in Russia, and he said that they should all become citizens, not realizing that they already are under the Citizenship Act for the 1940s.

CAVANAUGH: So President Ronald Reagan does not really have a stellar reputation with many in the Native American community. Where does this go right now? What – How will this issue be resolved? Is there going to be some sort of vote or…?

RAFTERY: Ultimately, the school board will decide that, the Grossmont Union High School Board. And it’s very interesting. You know, as we see it, I think the key – one of the key people in this debate is going to be Robert Shields, who is the chairman of that board right now. A lot of people think that he was sort of put there as a mouthpiece for the Republican Party but there are others who are telling us that they think that he is more independent and fair-minded than that, and so it’s going to be interesting to see whether he will sort of stand up against what the party clearly wants and whether he will make a decision that’s in the broader interest of the people in Alpine out there.

CAVANAUGH: And it’s kind of between either Ronald Reagan High School or Alpine High School, is that the idea?

RAFTERY: Well, those are the two lead contenders. Now, Duncan Hunter Sr. actually suggested maybe we should put it to a vote of all the people up here and we should have the right to name our own firstborn high school up here. And he suggested adding Kumeyaay High School to the list. But actually the Indians don’t want that. They said they’d be perfectly happy with Alpine High, and they’re afraid that that would maybe split the vote, you know, among the people that don’t want Reagan. And, interestingly, that’s a theory that Duncan Hunter knows a lot about because, a little known fact, he was one of the folks down there in Florida helping count those – observe those hanging chad ballot counts where, you know, a lot of people say that Ralph Nader, as the third wheel on that race, is what sort of handed the election to…

CAVANAUGH: In that famous…

RAFTERY: …George W. Bush.

CAVANAUGH: …2000 election.

RAFTERY: Bush versus Gore, that’s right.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Miriam, so much for updating us on the east county.

RAFTERY: Well, could I add just one more detail? And that is there is a meeting about this on June 8th. We’ll have the details on our site, but that will be the next time when the public can weigh in.

CAVANAUGH: Miriam Raftery, editor, East County Magazine. You’ve been listening to These Days. Stay with us for hour two coming up on KPBS.