Chula Vista Election Recap
GLORIA PENNER (Host): Okay, well, Barbara kind of introduced the next phase of this discussion and that’s moving south now to examine what happened in Chula Vista with the mayor’s race, a hotly contested ballot measure, the first elected city attorney race, a fiery race for the 40th State Senate now occupied by Senator Denise Ducheny, about to be termed out. So let’s start, Scott, with the definitive election of Cheryl Cox with about 57% of the vote. Why is she so strong in Chula Vista considering the city’s major economic problems and the poor record of getting major developments going such as Chargers stadium, Gaylord Entertainment at the bayfront, and a university?
SCOTT LEWIS (CEO, voiceofsandiego.org): I think that you could look at South Bay and it was the area that was affected the most by the dynamic of not having a competitive gubernatorial race in Sac – in the statewide. You have a situation where had there been a competitive race, say had Antonio Villaraigosa or somebody else really gone after Jerry Brown and they could fight it out the way that Poizner and Whitman did, it would’ve driven up participation among Latinos in South Bay, among Democrats in South Bay, who would’ve been interested in seeing something like that happen. The fact is, is that in South Bay, Republicans came out and carried the table. All through this, there was the sort of – a little bit of an older vote from what people studying it – what happened down there came out, and it was a traditional, very conservative vote. And you saw that reflected in almost all of the races and it was a very interesting – Looking down at what happened, it’s a very interesting situation. And I think that Cox benefited – I talked to her yesterday. She’s very excited about going forward but she’s – but Chula Vista’s in a very serious situation and so we’ll see who comes along on the city council and it looks like they’ve got a new elected city attorney at the same time, and it – and it’s – and then a law that says that they can’t go into pacts with Labor. And there’s a reason that that guy got a lot of mail. It’s because ground zero for contentious issues was in Chula Vista this time around.
PENNER: But that’s really interesting, David. Scott’s characterization of the vote in Chula Vista as older and more conservative. And yet Chula Vista’s sort of like the second largest city in the County of San Diego and is a diverse city. There are many people there who wouldn’t be considered older or more conservative. And I’m wondering whether you agree with Scott that that’s the reason that we saw Cheryl Cox win and not only Cheryl Cox but Proposition G, which would allow the city to hire nonunion labor for public works contracts.
DAVID OGUL (Education Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune):
I think it’s dangerous to stereotype in any situation but Chula Vista, in my experiences down there, is a relatively conservative place. And when you’re talking about the large Latino population, you know, people, I think, incorrectly assume that Latinos are automatically going to be liberal. Let’s face it, Latinos tend to be predominantly Roman Catholic and Roman Catholics, you know, the religious Roman Catholics tend not to be all that liberal. The other thing about Mayor Cox though, in her winning in this election outright is she was, you know, the big challenger that I guess a lot of people assumed was going to beat Council member Castaneda, and he had a lot of problems of his own. And, you know, I mean, people down in Chula Vista, a lot of people are, you know, nothing stuck on him, he was never, you know, convicted of anything but there, you know, a lot of people, where there’s smoke there’s fire. And I think that hurt him a lot.
PENNER: Our number…
LEWIS: I think…
PENNER: Excuse me, let me just remind our callers, our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. We’ve switched our focus now to the southern part of the County of San Diego. We’re talking about Chula Vista and we’re also going to be talking about the 40th State Senate race. So if you’d like to chime in on why you think that Chula Vista went, quote, conservative in this race, I’d like to hear from you. Our number, again, 1-888-895-5727. Scott Lewis.
LEWIS: Well, a couple of things to think about. I talked to somebody else from Labor yesterday who made the point that, look, every single precinct in Chula Vista supported Prop 8, the anti-gay marriage initiative in 2008 and yet they all also supported Bob Filner. It’s a very interesting place. And, you know, we always have to keep that in mind. There’s another angle, too. There are a lot of people there who are worried and want to take – want to have Chula Vista remain more of a quaint place and I think they’re represented a lot by, in particular, a guy named Earl Jentz, who has made his power and influence in Chula Vista very apparent by – at one – he sponsored the initiative that got the idea of an elected city attorney to become law, and then he sponsored his favorite candidate for it, spending far more than I think even the candidate did on behalf of that person, and he wasn’t even – the candidate wasn’t even from Chula Vista, or he lived in Lakeside.
PENNER: And he didn’t win.
LEWIS: Barely didn’t win. He also supported a candidate in the city council race, and he’s – and he just made his wishes known pretty clearly with hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I think that you have this interesting struggle going on. I don’t think Labor or the sort of business efforts in Chula Vista like what Mr. Jentz’s doing, he’s a interesting sort of renegade and it’s – right down there, there’s so much happening and so little understanding of what’s going on that I – I would give anything for a reporter down there, to be honest.
PENNER: Well, why don’t you have a reporter on it?
LEWIS: Well, send us some donations, we’ll pull it out.
PENNER: Oh, thanks. This is not the time to fundraise, Scott.
LEWIS: Hey, you’re the one that asked.
PENNER: Okay. Will the ability, Barbara, to ban project labor agreements work for or against Chula Vista when it comes to jobs and the economy of the city especially since they’re really pushing to develop the bayfront?
BARBARA BRY (Associate Publisher/Executive Editor, San Diego News Network
): It’s very unclear because there is – there are pots of federal money that are tied to having project labor agreements so that could hurt Chula Vista in terms of trying to get certain pots of money. There also could be a court battle over this initiative as to whether it’s legal. I’m not sure if there will be but there could be. So I think the jury’s out on what the longterm impact is going to be. I think it’s a sign of frustration on the part of voters who – in Chula Vista, who see that their community has a lot of economic issues.
PENNER: Okay, but Labor did put some – a major effort there…
BRY: Yes, Labor pushed, you know, to not get this thing passed and they – and Labor lost. This was a loss for the Labor community in San Diego.
LEWIS: The big question is, is how does Chula Vista interpret this law? Do they – There was a big worry that if they interpret it as saying that you can’t do anything that contributes to a union who uses that money to contribute to a trust fund, say an employee’s pension plan, then if you interpret the law that way then you, in many ways, might bar unions from participating in a contract and that would cause the unions to sue and there’d be a huge fight about that. If they don’t interpret that way and they continue to just let – and do what they say and let unions compete with nonunion shops for jobs, I think it’ll just go the way of, okay, we fought about that and now that’s done. There are two major things to think about, there’s a major power plant that’ll be built in Chula Vista and there’s a major bayfront effort underway to develop the bayfront. And how those projects are handled with this restriction and whether litigation arises is going to be the very big question to watch for.
PENNER: Okay, now we’re not going to leave the South Bay without talking about the 40th State Senate and that covers all of Imperial County, a good part of Riverside County, and San Diego’s South Bay and along the coast in the south. It’s currently represented by Denise Ducheny, soon to be termed out. She’s spent 8 years there. It’s a Democratic district and two Democrats have almost split the vote. So let me – let me turn to you on this. All right, I’ll turn to you, Scott. At this point, Assembly member Mary Salas is ahead of former Assembly member Juan Vargas by, I think today it’s just under 800 votes.
PENNER: If that holds, is Vargas’s political career over?
LEWIS: Well, I think some people thought it was a few years ago. I think he really wants to get back to Sacramento, there’s no question. So, I don’t think so. I mean, he – this is a – if it holds, it’s a big – I guarantee you that Bob Filner and others are breathing a sigh of relief. They’ve watched Vargas challenge the status quo of Democratic politics in South Bay for many years and he’s been thwarted barely each time. But Salas, that was – I – That was ugly. I felt dirty watching the commercials that they would put out. I mean, it was one of the most negative campaigns I’ve seen, and it was two Democrats. I think that it was unfortunate that had to be like that, and I think that part of it is the feeling that, you know, there wasn’t any kind of place for them to really have an intellectual struggle and it just got fought out in the mailers and the direct communication.
PENNER: I have a call from John Moot, who is a former city councilman from Chula Vista. He wants to talk with us. John, welcome to the Editors Roundtable.
JOHN MOOT (Former Chula Vista City Councilman): Thank you very much, Gloria.
MOOT: I want to thank you for your attention to the South Bay. You’re one of the few news organizations that has been covering the South Bay and, indeed, as you pointed out it is a very interesting and dynamic place when it comes to politics.
PENNER: It is.
MOOT: The one comment I would have is that one of the things people don’t understand about Chula Vista who don’t live there, it’s actually a very moderate community.
PENNER: Okay, moderate. Are you still there? Hello, John. Oh, looks like we lost John. Okay, obviously John does not agree with you, Scott, that it is, well, a conservative, older…
LEWIS: Oh, I didn’t say it was a conservative, older place, I said that that’s the voters that came out. They were motivated to participate in the Republican gubernatorial…
PENNER: I see.
LEWIS: …race and without a similar sort of brutal battle of heavyweights for the – on the Democratic side, which I think, by the way, is going to just really, really hurt Jerry Brown and I think the Democrats underestimated just how much consequence that will have not only for the down ticket but for his exposure as well. I mean – But back to this point, those are the people that, I believe, from what the people I talked to, that came out to vote. I mean, Umberto Peraza, who was running for city council, came in last place and this is a guy who, you know, really tried to rally and – as a progressive but also somebody that could bridge these communities and – and he came in last place and I think that was a shock to…
PENNER: He also was supported by Labor.
BRY: Yes, he was also Bob Filner’s chief of staff in San Diego.
LEWIS: And he – he’s also supported by the Chula Vista Chamber of Commerce, not a liberal group. I mean, they – he tried to – he’s the definition of moderate and he somehow wasn’t able to pull it out.
PENNER: Okay, we just have a few seconds and I do want to turn over to the school board. But very quickly, Barbara, what difference will it make whether Vargas or Salas actually becomes the State Senator from the 40th?
BRY: Well, they’re likely to both vote there in a very similar way, whichever one is elected.
PENNER: Okay, well, with that we are going to move on but first we have to take a short break. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.