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Third District County Supervisor Race Could Create Historic Change

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Incumbent Republican Kristin Gaspar faces two Democratic challengers in a rapidly shifting third district, Escondido City Council member Olga Diaz and Terra Lawson-Remer, a UC San Diego professor and organizer.

Speaker 1: 00:00 This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanagh and I'm Jade Hindman. One race may force a historic shift in the San Diego County board of supervisors. KPBS reporter Steve Walsh says incumbent Republican Kristin gas bar faces two democratic challengers in a rapidly shifting district.

Speaker 2: 00:18 The third district runs up the coast from Solana beach to Encinitas and up to 15 all the way from the eight to the ones reliably Republican Escondido. That's a wonderful place to grow up to live. Robin Fox runs the Escondido history center. That's really changed over the years. But um, for many years it was really a small town. The one small farm town is now an expanding bedroom community. As of December, Escondido had a a thousand more registered Democrats than Republicans making is still the most competitive community in the third district. The district itself has seen as the best chance for Republicans to continue their generation. Long control of the County board of supervisors. A run made more difficult by the changing demographics of San Diego County. Kristen gas bar is the Republican incumbent. She declined to participate in KPBS piece on the third district race. Gas bar is a business woman. Four years ago she defeated the democratic incumbent then she ran for the congressional seat held by Daryl Leisa. She lost during the last four years. Gas bar has taken stances that may seem out of step with her district. She appeared at a white house event last year with president Trump supporting expanding the border wall and voting to support the president's lawsuit against California's law limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities. There are two Democrats, challenging gas bar, Olga Diaz and Terra Lawson. Reamer Diaz was the first Latina elected to the Escondido city council. She laid out her top three priorities.

Speaker 1: 01:53 The three things that have resonated in this campaign have been uh, solving homelessness, chronic homelessness. I want to work on that climate change. We really need to overhaul our climate action plan to meet greenhouse gas emission standards and, uh, housing in general. Um, we talked about affordable housing. We never really talked about high end housing. That end of the market takes care of itself, but creating opportunity for entry level or workforce housing.

Speaker 2: 02:17 DIA says, solving homelessness isn't necessarily about finding more money,

Speaker 1: 02:21 maybe more money. We have a large surplus, but also a reevaluation of how we're spending the money. Now to focus on the core values and solutions. I really believe we need more social workers with a reasonable caseload. Uh, imagine if you had to help two or three or 400 people.

Speaker 2: 02:38 Diaz also wants to modernize County services in part to encourage developers to build in more dense urban areas. Lawson reamer is an economist and former member of the Obama administration. She founded the flip, the 49th campaign that ended with Democrat, Mike Levin being elected to Congress. This is her first time running for office herself.

Speaker 1: 02:57 I believe that we should be at the forefront with a bold

Speaker 3: 03:00 climate action plan that is the best in the country, maybe the best in the world, that we should be leading the charge on that and not chasing our tails and certainly not paying out a taxpayer money to do nothing. I think we need to take bold action to protect our beaches and our coastlines, which is part of what makes San Diego such a special place to live and raise a family. Um, we have to take bold action on affordable housing. We need to tackle our traffic and congestion crisis and the urban sprawl that has led to people spending so many of their own hours idling in traffic.

Speaker 2: 03:33 The county's climate action plan has been challenged repeatedly in court. Lawson reamers more aggressive approach includes requiring developers to have any carbon offset be inside San Diego County rather than buying credits from anywhere in the world and on homelessness lost in reamer wants to target services where people live.

Speaker 3: 03:53 I definitely think we need a housing first approach with wraparound services. So that does mean more beds and it does mean more shelter beds, but more than anything it means making sure that when we have shelters, including those that already exist, we're providing really accessible services for homeless, our homeless population to get the support that they need to get back on their feet.

Speaker 2: 04:12 The top two vote getters in the March primary move on to the general election. Steve Walsh, KPBS news

Speaker 1: 04:19 KPBS reporter Steve Walsh joins me now. Steve, welcome. Hi Jade. So the incumbent Kristin gas bar declined your request for an interview. Did her campaign give you an explanation for that?

Speaker 2: 04:30 A very short one. There was a, there was a small exchange with her official campaign email. At first she said she wasn't available. Then when I asked if we could find another time, uh, the uh, response was a polite, uh, she does not want to do it. Sorry. Okay. So she didn't want to sit down for an interview, but what can you tell me about her? So gas bar has taken some positions that can be seen as out of step with her district, which is becoming more blue. She was at a meeting at the white house with the eye on the Trump immigration policy. She was a yes vote on the county's decision to intervene on a lawsuit by the Trump administration against California's law. That limited cooperation with immigration authorities. She's also on the SANDAG board of directors and she's been against new regional transportation that includes a new tax and more emphasis on mass transit over a some older road projects.

Speaker 1: 05:22 There's this shift happening in the third County supervisors district. It used to be reliably Republican in places like Escondido. That's not the case anymore. Talk to me about the makeup of voters in that area and why there's this shift.

Speaker 2: 05:37 So wanted to go to like the most reliably Republican part of the third district. What I found is looking at the voter data that uh, every community in the third district has more Democrats than Republicans, but Escondido is still the closest with about a thousand voter advantage for Democrats in that race. So the reason is it's just like the rest of San Diego County. It's become, it was once a small farming town. It became a bedroom community. People moved out of San Diego for cheaper housing. Now it's kind of a sprawling suburb here on the North side.

Speaker 1: 06:12 So now a district three, is this a swing district?

Speaker 2: 06:15 Well they're looking at as a swing district because there are three of the five districts are up for election. The second is still majority GOP that has parts of East County in it. And um, there's a wide disparity between Republicans and Democrats. And then there's the first district, which the disparity between Democrats and Republicans is now why? With the it being heavily favored for the Democrat in that. So the third district becomes really the only swing. And then gas bar is the only, uh, incumbent running among the three. She's the Republican, but still that third district has 130,000 votes, registered Democrats and 105 registered Republicans. So it's purple, but it's turning pretty blue.

Speaker 1: 06:59 The San Diego County democratic party has said the district three race is the most important race in 2020 because they want democratic control on the board of supervisors. The party, however, did not make an endorsement in this race for the primary. How are the two Democrats in the race differentiating themselves?

Speaker 2: 07:16 So neither candidate could meet the minimum requirements. So there was no endorsement in this particular race. Um, and I, I will say also that the three candidates have never held an event together. So it's really the two Democrats that have been out attending several events around the district and then Kristen gas bar, uh, attending events on her own. So this is a board that's only had two Democrats in the last 30 years, both really in the last decade. So really is a question of degrees. Both of both of the Democrats, uh, think they would do a much better job with the county's climate change plan, which, uh, has faced several court challenges. Lawson reamers spent a great deal of time. She talked about the, the need for acting locally on big issues like climate change. Diaz wanted to modernize the County services to make it easier to build in the, in the third district, which is the more densely populated part of San Diego County. Of course, communities have control over their own zoning and building permits. So what they could do within the third district at least is, is fairly limited and both are more open to increasing, uh, mass transit. Though I didn't necessarily hear that they would, uh, take any money away from road projects.

Speaker 1: 08:28 Are there factions of the democratic party that are split between Diaz and Lawson Riemer?

Speaker 2: 08:33 So Lawson reamer has a lot more support among organized labor. Uh, she was endorsed by the service employees international union, which is the county's largest employee union. She has received support from a representative Juan Vargas and a state Senate, uh, leader pro tem Tony Atkins. Uh, and both, uh, Democrats representing San Atkins campaign. Actually. Uh, he also contributed $10,000 to Los and reamers candidacy. Now, Diaz has the support of the, uh, supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who was the only Democrat right now on the County board of supervisors. Also his wife, uh, assembly member Lorena Gonzalez and a city council president, uh, Georgia ed Gomez. She also has her own labor support, including the Teamsters

Speaker 1: 09:19 candidates doing in the money race. Is there any fundraising data?

Speaker 2: 09:23 Yes, there is. So in January the, in the latest reports, gas bar has over $300,000 lost in reamer, has about $156,000 in DIA is about $98,000 though that's a little deceptive because Lawson Riemer also has friends of Terra Lawson Riemer, which is organized by the laborers and they, they've added another 130, $36,000. So what else

Speaker 1: 09:46 be looking out for in this race as the campaign continues?

Speaker 2: 09:49 So the top two vote getters move on to the fall. It's still felt there were enough Republican votes for gas bar to move on to be at least one of the two that do move on. So it's a matter of, uh, between a D as in Lawson reamer to see which of the two Democrats might face her in the fall.

Speaker 1: 10:04 I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Steve Walsh. Steve, thank you so much. Thanks.

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.