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Roundtable: Final takeaways from the 2022 Election

 December 9, 2022 at 11:40 AM PST

S1: The midterm election results are official. How will it change San Diego ? I'm Matt Hoffman and this is KPBS roundtable. On Thursday , San Diego County's Registrar of Voters Cynthia Paz certified the midterm election. It ends a long season of attack ads , big spending and choosing San Diego's next elected leaders , some of whom are already being sworn in. We're taking a deeper look into the results and what changes San Diegans can expect in the coming year. Joining me on roundtable this week are Michael Smolens. He's the political columnist from the San Diego Union-Tribune. Schraeder is back with us. She's the political reporter from NBC seven and host of Politically Speaking. And KPBS border reporter Gustavo , so Lisa's here as well. He's been covering the South Bay. I want to welcome all of you here. And , Michael , I want to start with you and start this conversation looking at the bigger picture for San Diego County politics.

S2: The Democratic growth of the electorate is not new , but it's continuing in that direction. And we're seeing that particularly in the city of San Diego. You know , the full city council will be all Democrats for the first time , if not ever , certainly in memory. So that's indicative of what's going on there. But I think another aspect of it is that the pro housing aspect of the public is really risen. We know about housing costs and how they're through the roof. And I think most people agree that we need more supply. And we saw it in Measure C , I think that was a big component. Measure C , of course , was the you know , the redevelopment of the Midway district , you know , getting rid of the height limit there so they can build high rises. So I think those are the things you're seeing. And also we saw not a tax increase , a potential C increase in the city of San Diego for certain homes to collect their trash. And raising fees and taxes has always been very difficult in this region.

S1: And Priya , Gustavo , anything else that you guys have observed in this space that you like to add on ? Yeah , I think a little bit. Just sort of piggybacking on what Michael just said with with the shift to the Democrats , it doesn't always translate to victories at the local election level. I mean , look at Chula Vista , a Republican won in National City , an independent one. And you would have thought if you just look at their registration numbers , their Democratic opponents would walk away with it. But that wasn't the case. So for some reason in these smaller city elections , local elections that are technically nonpartisan , the party registry doesn't always , you know , dictate the outcome.

S2: I think in the more smaller local elections , the candidates matter. I know that sounds sort of gratuitous because they always matter , but the party influence isn't as great. You know , you mentioned Chula Vista. John McCann has been involved in that city for for a very long time. So he was a known entity. These are technically nonpartisan races. And , you know , we don't party politics makes a difference. But in certain of small cities , I think Escondido and Carlsbad , you saw some Republicans taking what were formerly Democratic seats.

S1: Yeah , I think , like you said , the name matters a lot. Like John McCain is a recognizable name in National City. Like Ron Morrison is an institution. Everybody knows who that guy is. So that goes a long , long way.

S3: I definitely think that candidates matter , especially at the local level , and especially if people feel like they have a personal connection , whether it was Cantley winning District six , which is , you know , an AAPI district. And , you know , of course , he's like Chris Kate , he is of Asian origin. So I think that definitely helps him there. I think there were some races that were a lot closer than what people were expecting , namely the ballot measures , both the repeal of the people's ordinance , which is now going to impose a trash fee beyond just property taxes for some single family home owners. Also , Measure C , the height limit in the Midway district. That one was extremely close. A lot of people thought that there would be bigger margins there because it was , in fact on the ballot just two years ago. And then there were other races that weren't as close as what we initially thought they might be , including that District six city council seat , which was extremely close back in the primaries when there was , you know , it was almost virtually tied. And then also the battleground 49th district that we've talked so much about that President Biden chose to come and visit and campaign on behalf of Mike Love. And that one wasn't as close as probably some people may have thought. I mean , it was still extremely close , but , you know , 11 was able to , of course , regain his seat. So that that made it really interesting. And I would say I know we're going to probably talk about turnout later , but that does have something to do with turnout.

S1: And Michael , you mentioned the success of Measure B in the city of San Diego , which , as Pria said , it means single family home owners will likely be paying for trash. But is it clear that voters understood exactly what they were voting on here ? I mean , it said they were repealing the people's ordinance and that they may do some sort of a fee structure , I'm sure. Where you are or Prius thoughts are here.

S2: Well , I think that that's a legitimate question. It was worded in such a way. You talk about recovering costs , but I mean , this was all about allowing the city council in the future to charge a fee of single family homes for trash collection that they don't pay now and can't charge for them now. So it was a little obscure , I think , for some people. But as one political consultant who worked for Measure B pointed out to me , you know , he pointed out where the votes largely came from. And he made the case that people knew what they were voting on because areas that are more high density that are , you know , have apartments and condos which have to pay for their trash hauling. They voted for it. Whereas the more suburban single family home areas that are going to get dinged as opposed it. So I think by and large , people knew what they were voting on. But yeah , you know , it's always been a controversy here and in California that the ballot measures are worded sometimes hide the ball a little bit.

S3: I think it speaks to the changing demographics of San Diego. Right. Because keep in mind , back in the eighties , I believe it was 1986 , we amended part of the People's Ordinance so that condominiums and newer apartment buildings would pay for the trash themselves. So , you know , you look at it from that point of view. Back then , there were enough people who wanted to impose a fee on people living in condos and apartments. And now people living in apartments and condos might outnumber the people living in single family homes. There was a long time where construction wasn't happening at the pace that it is now , and most of the new construction that's happening around the city are , in fact buildings that are full of apartments and condos. So I agree with Michael. I think people did know what they were voting for. And I think Council President Eli Rivera and council member Joe LaCava , who were really championing the repeal of the people's ordinance , the fact that they used the word equitable over and over again to say , you know , this is an inequitable system. That was a great way to campaign for this , because I think the city of San Diego , whenever they believe that there is some sort of injustice or there's some sort of inequity , they kind of want to correct that. But we should also keep in mind that it was incredibly close. So it's not like this won by large numbers.

S2: Well , I think also one of the things that it's easy to lose sight of is that there were promises made or , you know , suggestions that this would improve services , that it's not just the equity thing was huge. And then , as you said , that was at the heart of the issue , I think , for a lot of people. But also , as we know , the city is stretched and , you know , compared to other cities , they don't provide the services that residents in other regions get. So I think that also played a part. How big of a part ? I don't know. Like I said , I think or like Greta said , rather , I think the equitable aspect was what was key to this.

S1: And we know some changes will be coming there. Let's talk turnout pre alluded to this a little bit earlier. We know in 2018 the gubernatorial election saw 66% of San Diego County voters actually turning out. This election wasn't as high , 54% turnout. It's even lower than the gubernatorial recall last year. There was a lot on this ballot. Everyone , you know , codifying abortion rights , sports , gambling. I'm curious what you all make of the of the lower turnout here. And Priya , we could start with you. Yeah.

S3: Yeah. So I think when it comes to the special election , if you're comparing this to that , that one was kind of easy because it was just one issue that everyone was voting on. Do we want to get Gavin Newsom out of office or do we want to keep them there ? So that's a pretty easy thing to wrap your brain around , especially when people who wanted him to stay in office were really focusing on who was the opposition candidate there and how that wouldn't be a good choice for California. This election , obviously , first of all , it's a midterm election year is not a presidential election year. So we know that turnout is going to be lower. Why was it lower than 2018 and 2020 ? I think , honestly , you know , unlike some other parts of the country like Georgia , where people knew that things were going to be extremely close , that wasn't necessarily the case in California. And I know a lot of the voters that I have spoken to , you know , there's that voter fatigue that just naturally happens when there's so many elections. And there wasn't anything that was really , really huge. I would say like locally , maybe the sheriff's race would have been one of them. But that one turned out to also not be as close as maybe some people had initially thought. So , you know , unlike other parts of the country where people really felt like they had to show up to make sure that , you know , abortion rights were still provided either at the state level or the federal level. This is California. And people take a lot for granted. And they just assume that , you know , the people who show up will vote the way that I feel , because California , the majority of Californians are Democrats and they all vote the same way. So I would say that that played a huge role in the turnout.

S1: And Gustavo , what are your thoughts here ? I know , like we look at turnout , like it's all relative to registered voters , Right ? The other day I was just looking at in comparison to like overall population , like in Chula Vista , Right. 64,000 people voted for mayor in Chula Vista out of a city that's about 300,000. So back of the envelope math , that's about 20% of Chula Vista has voted for mayor to win mayor of Chula Vista. You need a little bit more than ten or 12% of the overall people. Now , obviously , that includes children who can't vote. Immigrants who haven't naturalized. A lot of people aren't eligible. But if you're talking about needing 10 to 12% of the overall city's vote to win a mayoral election in the second largest city in San Diego , that I don't know. That to me doesn't vote very well. I think there really needs to be investment in voter outreach efforts , particularly in communities of color , communities that haven't really gotten out to vote recently because , I mean , it's democracy , right ? We want as many people as we can to vote. And if the numbers are so low , it doesn't really tell you what the community wants and is looking for.

S2: I mean , we all get a mail ballot. But also , you know , the comparison with 2018 is a hard one because , you know , 2018 , first of all , you had an open governor's office. And so that was a contested race. Now , it was clear that Gavin Newsom was going to win pretty handily that time , but at least that was a contested election. This one just was not so at the very top of the ticket. You know , without a presidential race , there wasn't much excitement for the governor's race.

S1: You're listening to KPBS roundtable. And our guest this week , our Michael Smolens from the San Diego Union-Tribune Prius reader from NBC seven and KPBS news is Gustavo Solis. Let's talk about something that Michael mentioned a little bit earlier. New San Diego City Councilmember Kent Lee is being sworn in on Monday. And with that , the San Diego City Council becomes entirely Democratic. Here's what the sole outgoing Republican Council member , Chris Cate , had to say. He was speaking to KPBS midday edition earlier this week. I think one of the things that I have some.

S2: Trepidation and concern about is really having diverse viewpoints on the council , because there is now a monolithic block of partisanship on the council.

S1: Priya , what does the future of the Republican Party look like today in San Diego ? I'm not sure if you've spoken to local leadership about the midterm results.

S3: Yeah , you know , I did speak to the San Diego County Republican chair , Paula Wetzel , and she actually , you know , as one might do after elections , if you're a leader in a party , thought that they had some pretty big wins. We saw the Escondido mayoral. See the incumbent there was a Democrat and a Republican ended up winning. And it was by a very small margin. We also also saw the Chula Vista mayoral race , which we just spoke about , that won flipped from a Democrat to a Republican. And then in National City , you know , even though Ron Morrison is an institution , I mean , he was able to defeat the incumbent Democratic candidate there. And then the Republicans also held on to seats in Vista , Oceanside , Carlsbad. So , you know , there were a lot of big wins , I would say , for the Republicans on the local level. I do think that , you know , in general , I've also spoken to the chair of the statewide Republican Party , Jessica Patterson. And one thing we've talked a lot about is finding candidates that really fit California. So that might mean more minority candidates. They've come up with a lot of programs to recruit people to run for office. And then their goal was to have somebody running in every single race , whether or not those were the right candidates to win in the races they were in. That's a whole nother story. But they're trying to start with just having every single race contested. And I mean , another strategy that we saw across the country and here in California was trying to have Republican like candidates show up at the school board level because that was really an area where we saw a lot of people getting behind the whole we want our kids to go back in school. We don't necessarily want them to wear masks. So I think they're trying to strategize where are places where our messaging might be more receptive.

S1: And if more Democrats are going to be going head to head in some races , like for San Diego City Council , I know you mentioned Republicans trying to have somebody on the ballot.

S3: I think in the primary there , there was five Democratic candidates who all split the vote. And then we saw John McCain rise to the number one vote getter in the primary. But everyone thought , you know , hey , you know , like Gustavo said , look at the demographics of Chula Vista. Once we get to the general election , you know , the the Democratic candidate is for sure going to win. And we saw that even in city Council District two in the primary , there was a bunch of Democratic candidates who all split the vote. And then Linda Lucas , who was the only Republican candidate in any of the city council races , ended up being the number two vote getter. So it's interesting seeing how it all plays out in a race like District six , for example , two Democrats there , one was endorsed by the actual party. You know , Cantlie was also a seen campaigning with Mary Todd. Gloria and Tommy Howe tried to use that to his advantage. He said , you know , we need differing viewpoints on city council. We don't need a bunch of people are just going to say yes to Todd Gloria , all the time. So I think it really depends. Sometimes that strategy works , sometimes it doesn't. It really just depends on the candidate and the people in that district or that city and if they're buying it , essentially.

S2: Well , I think also that that you're going to see some more modest philosophic differences , not , you know , in the sort of wide gulf between Republicans and Democrats. But , you know , you mentioned the District six race development becomes an issue. Cantley was more of a pro housing person. And Tommy Hope was , you know , talking about , you know , neighborhood quality and character. So you're going to see those splits a little bit more. And I think also , you know , to fill that void without Republicans , I mean , there's a lot of moderate voters out there. And while they sort of go to strategy for a lot of Democrats is appealing to , you know , the more progressives , you're going to see people doing more law and order stuff. It'll be very interesting to see where San Diego and other jurisdictions go on homelessness. And , you know , the public is really getting frustrated with that. And I think you're going to see some candidates in coming elections really talking about a tougher crackdown , which is being coming more in demand whether. That's the right way to go or not.

S1: And I think you all have alluded to this race one way or another. A race where Republican did find some success was the contest for Chula Vista mayor. And although we should note that these races are technically nonpartisan. Gustavo , it sounds like you recently spoke with the winner and the loser in that race. What's the latest there ? Well , I spoke with John McCann. He's obviously very happy that he won our camp in the AJA , wasn't available to talk , but he sent me a couple text conceding the election. And I think something interesting out of Chula Vista is what's going to be the role of the Chula Vista SANDAG representative. Traditionally , the mayor is always appointed , but the city council has to appoint the mayor. And in Chula Vista , same thing in National City , actually , both Ron Morrison and John McCann told me the same thing , that they are one party and the city council is a different party. So it's not guarantee that the city council is going to appoint the mayors to SANDAG. So I think we'll see in January whether that's a fight and if so , how tense it gets in those divided city councils. And in Chula Vista , the majority of voters there are Democrats. So the fact that voters chose a Republican is sort of surprising. How was McCann able to get all these votes from Democrats , even as as you pointed out in previous shows , the more campaign Aja had the endorsements from his challengers in the primary ? Yeah , I mean , for first , I have to eat a little bit of crow for this because in previous roundtables , I thought campaign Aja was going to walk away with it right here at the endorsements. He had the money , he had the registration all in his favor. So all signs were pointing to a pretty easy victory. But as as we've all said before in this show , name and candidate matters more so in local elections. And John McCain has been in the city council on and off for six years. He shows up , he's been to the community meetings. He walks his dog at the local park. He's just somebody that people know. And I think that gets a lot of attention. I mean , he did get the support of pretty influential police unions and things like that. But I think outside of just partisanship , it's who you are and how long you've been there.

S3: Well , I was just going to jump in and I was going to say , Gustavo , you seem to be alluding to this , but I do think the residency thing did play a role in this. I mean , that was something that John McCain really latched on to. And as we all know , I mean , Amar Camp and Aja is a known name , but not necessarily in Chula Vista politics. He's known for running for office in the 50th District. He did that twice. And so I think even though there are some people who have been successful in sort of jumping around from one race to another , it really depends on the candidate and the race. Right. And so I think John McCann really latched on to that residency issue. It was unclear at the time whether or not that was going to play a big role. But just from talking to voters , I do think that there was a sense there that perhaps a more camp manager wasn't as invested in the city as John McCann was. I do think that definitely did play a role as well.

S1: And Michael , you have something that here.

S2: Really hit on the point exactly that the residency thing did dominate for a good while. But I also sort of wonder , a lot was made , of course , you know , his relationship with the congresswoman , Sara Jacobs , They've been dating for some time. And Jacobs family put a lot of money into an independent campaign on companies behalf. And I just have to wonder , it's nice to have a lot of money , but whether that didn't backlash a little bit.

S1: And all these local mayor and city council races , they have broader impacts. Members of the San Diego Association of Governments board that SANDAG they'll help decide the future of transportation in the San Diego region. We're talking billions of dollars. And for instance , we had Gustavo allude to the new mayor and National City , the current outgoing mayor , Sotelo Solis. She was the second vice chair. And you reported on some of this , you know , with Democrats and some new Republicans likely on their way to this board , the board's priorities could shift.

S3: And Paula Wetzel , when I did interview her , she pointed that out quite frequently , that she thinks that some of the big wins for Republicans were because people were really not excited about the idea of a potential mileage tax. And for those of you who don't know , SANDAG has been talking for a while about trying to impose some sort of mileage tax or they call it a road usage fee , which would be basically $0.04 per mile starting in the year 2030. And that would help fund their big $165 billion regional plan. One thing that's important to note is that back in September , SANDAG actually all the board members voted against pursuing the mileage tax. So that was kind of off the table. So it was really interesting to me that that was still coming up as a campaign issue in November. Currently , where it stands is that the California Air Resources Board has. You approve SANDAG taking that out of their plan. But that begs the question of how then , are they going to fund this $165 billion plan ? So , you know , their ideas were to have a sales tax measure on the ballot in 2022 , in 2024 , and in 2026. And they kind of needed all three of those measures to go through as a funding source essentially for this really ambitious plan. But the people who are trying to collect the signatures to get that sales tax measure on the ballot in 2022 failed. So , I mean , that really calls into question what's the future of this regional transportation plan ? And it's definitely not going to help that there are some mayoral seats who have now flipped from blue to red because the Republicans have historically always been outspoken against the road use usage fees.

S1: And finally , as we wrap up this show , we certainly did not hit on every race or every measure. Some brief final thoughts from everyone as we close the book on the midterm elections. And Gustavo , we can start with you here. One race I do want to mention is the Chula Vista City attorney's race , which normally we don't mention it at all because no one cares about a city attorney in Chula Vista. But this one is super interesting because the person that won Simon Silver died tragically of cancer before the election. Nonetheless , the Democratic Party was endorsing him and asking people to vote for him. Lo and behold , he won , which means obviously he can't serve. And now Chula Vista , taxpayers are going to have to spend potentially up to $2 million on a special election to fill that seat , 2023.

S2: It turned out to be a pretty much a split. Christine Takeda , one of our our education reporter , rather. Did , you know , post-election story and both the unions and these more conservative groups got a lot of people on there. But I think the real question is what does that mean for the future , obviously , for school board policy. But , you know , these lower offices often are stepping stones to bigger things. Now , the trend is not going to reverse. San Diego is going to be increasingly democratic in terms of its voter registration. But it will be interesting to see that Republicans have not been able to make headway or they've been losing ground , should I say , with the bigger races at San Diego City Hall and the county administration building. But they clearly made some ground on these school board and smaller city races. So is that just a quirk of an off year midterm election or when we see a little bit more of a trend on that ? My suspicion is that , you know , the Democratic trend is going to be still pretty strong , but there's always going to be some Republicans in the outlying cities.

S1: And Priya , your final thoughts ? Okay.

S3: I'm going to talk about my favorite thing , guys , the sports betting propositions. What happened with those ? That was really shocking to so many people. I mean , millions of dollars were spent on these campaigns. And I think that was not the outcome that people may have thought. But , you know , you talk about how confusing it is for voters to understand the wording sometimes of ballot measures and propositions. I think those two were very confusing. There was a lot of advertising that we saw on television , but people would still come up to me all the time saying they couldn't even figure out what any of it was really about. And I think there was also a lot of confusion about what happens if both of these propositions pass. What does that mean ? Then I would be extremely interested if anyone conducted any exit polls as to why it was that voters voted that way. I think it may have honestly just been confusion.

S1: And we could spend a whole show talking about that. Hundreds of millions of dollars spent. But at least for now , no sportsbook coming to Del Mar or any local tribal casinos. We're going to have to end it there for this week's edition of KPBS roundtable. I want to thank our guest so much , Michael Smolens , Prius reader , and Gustavo Solis. Be sure to stream our show any time as a podcast. Roundtable is produced by Andrew Bracken , and our technical director is Rebecca Chacon. I'm your host , Matt Hoffman. Thanks so much for being here with us and have a great weekend.

Voters braved a rare San Diego rain storm to vote in the border community of San Ysidro, Nov. 8, 2022.
Matthew Bowler
Voters braved a rare San Diego County rain storm to vote in the border community of San Ysidro, Calif. Nov. 8, 2022.

Matt Hoffman hosts a discussion about what the final voting results from the 2022 Election mean for San Diego County. Guests include San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Michael Smolens, NBC 7 politics reporter Priya Sridhar, and KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis.