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Roundtable: What's on the ballot in North County?

 May 20, 2022 at 12:00 PM PDT

S1: It's election time in San Diego and across California. And this week , we're focusing on the communities in North County and the choices that voters are already making there from the candidates and the races to what's motivating people to cast their ballots. We're talking about the primary. I'm Matt Hoffman and this is KPBS roundtable. Let's dive right into it as we check in with some local journalists who are covering the upcoming California primary. Election Day is officially June 7th , but voting has already begun. Ballots were mailed out last week. And coming up in the show , we'll have some tips on how you can get organized. But right now , let's introduce our guests on roundtable. Tanya Thorne covers North County for KPBS News. Steve Wire is a reporter for the Coast News focusing on North County communities. And Matt Hall is the editorial director for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Thank you all so much for being here. For the first part of the show , we want to focus on San Diego's North County and we're starting with Tanya Thorne here. Tanya , at the top of the ticket in a midterm is the balance of power in Congress , the coastal 49th District. It turned blue a couple of cycles ago with Mike Levin now holding that seat.
S2: Levin , who's running for a third Democratic term , is being challenged by five Republican opponents hoping to get power back. And one Democrat , Brian Maria , is one of the Republican candidates and lost to Levin in the last election. He's back for a third run. Another familiar North County name challenging Levin is Oceanside City Councilmember Chris Rodriguez. There's also an Orange County supervisor , Lisa Bartlett. And because of the redrawn district maps that are intended to balance voter registrations , this is a race that will be interesting to watch.
S1: Steve , this is the first election since redistricting.
S3: Not a lot. It's gotten a little more competitive. So basically it stretches now from about San Juan Capistrano and the north down to Del Mar. It goes about as far and Linda's Fallbrook. The real major change is that the city of Laguna Niguel got added to the district. So now you're looking at a slightly more conservative region being included , which makes the district more competitive , according to FiveThirtyEight. Now consider this it went from being a safely Democratic district to a more competitive district , and it's pretty much dead even. When you look at the demographics , it's about 35% dead even for Republicans and Democrats in terms of registered voters.
S1: Another congressional district that stretches into North County is the one currently held by Republican Darrell Issa. His district is now the 48th. Steve , how has redistricting changed boundary lines there ? Sure.
S3: So in the 40 , the 48th changed a little bit more. Again , it was formerly the 50th and it gets confusing there. But the 48th District covers basically all of East County now from Riverside County to the border. So that includes Ranchera , Julianne , Ramona , Malibu and Warner Springs. And it goes a little further north than it did previously. Now extends all the way up north to Temecula on Marietta. Analysts , including UCSD Professor Thad Casler , who I speak with regularly , said that this is a much more competitive district than it was before , but still , again , somewhat favorable for the incumbent.
S1: We know that ICE has congressional district. It has been more competitive , especially in more recent cycles.
S2: No Republicans threw their name in the hat for this race. So it will be interesting to see if Republican support keeps ice in its position or if this could be a district that also sees a flip. Steven Houlihan and Matthew Rasgon are the two Democratic candidates , and Lucinda Jahn represents the Independent Party.
S1: And Matt , for the Union-Tribune , I'm curious , could you see either of these districts flipping one way or another ? I mean , anything's possible. This is politics , right ? So we'll know on June 8th which to these candidates in each race precedes to the November 8th runoff. I kind of see it the same way that Tonya did. Like , you know , Levin's got a bit of a fight on his hands. It's I see I see it as his race to lose. You know , he's he's got some chops. We actually just dropped our endorsement for the five congressional races , the five House races and the Senate seat this morning. So those are all online for people to see. And just , you know , I need to go over chapter verse. But we looked at Issa and Houlihan in that race. Steven Houlihan is a santee city council member and endorsed Stephen every couple of years. We also elect a new state legislature. And Steve , one of the races that you recently covered is the 38th state Senate seat. What communities does that cover and why is that of particular interest to you ? Sure.
S3: So the 38th has gone from being what was more of an Orange County focused district going up into the communities of Laguna Niguel , Aliso Viejo , etc.. It's now expanding further south , more towards San Diego. So it's adopted a much more San Diego centric look. So it includes communities such as La Hoya , Pacific Beach. And you have a situation now where this district looks more coastal and so it's more favorable for Democrats. And so what's going on in this race is you have Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blake Spear , who is kind of the prospective favorite in the race. She's running. You have a new newcomer , Matt Gunderson , who's running. He's a Republican. Then you have Joe Kerr , who's the other Democrat in the race who's a retired fire captain from Orange County. Gunderson and Kerr , both from Orange County. So Blake has the advantage in that she's the only candidate from the San Diego region , which is about 80% of the district is San Diego focus. Now , polls actually are surprisingly going somewhat favorably for Gunderson. He's in a situation where he leads the race about by about 36%. And then Blake Straw comes in at 21% , Joe Kurz at about 11% right now. So it's looking pretty favorable for Gunderson. Surprisingly early on. I interviewed him last week. He admitted he was pretty surprised himself by the early success of his campaign. Again , he's an outsider. No political experience , first time out , first time seeking office. He was a car dealership owner before. So Blake Spear is still leading in fundraising and then kind of segueing into talking when we talk about Blake Spear , I mean , I think that talking to local politicians , it's pretty clear that she still has a good chance at winning this race. Just she's very politically savvy. She knows how to run a campaign. She's been here , done that before.
S1: Steve , you also wrote about Blake Spears use of Facebook as a candidate and how a judge had to get involved there.
S3: Now , interestingly enough , court rulings have decided that under the Constitution , under First Amendment protections , if it's a public Facebook page being utilized by a public official , they're not allowed to block or remove comments simply for disagreeing with with your opinion. So on. If it's your private page , you have obviously any rights you want to remove people , but on a public Facebook page , it's considered a public forum for free speech. And so the situation here was that Blake Spear was removing and blocking people from her page. And the people who are being removed ended up deciding to go ahead and move forward with the lawsuit against Blake Spear. Another and it did end up settling outside of court. So they didn't actually end up taking it to court. They ended up with a settlement. But as part of the settlement , Blake was actually going to be issuing a public apology. She's going to be paying an undisclosed amount of money to cover their attorney fees. So it was kind of a bit of a as I said , a sort of political black eye for Blake story , because it was a situation where she was essentially , you know , accused of violating the First Amendment , violating her oath of office , violating free speech protections and that sort of thing. So it definitely wasn't a good look. And it's something that I feel like her political opponents are probably going to utilize and and going forward moving into the election. So kind of an interesting dicey situation there for Blake Spear. But yeah.
S1: We're going to open this question up for everyone. But I'm curious , what are your thoughts on how social media and , you know , the online experience is shaping modern campaigning , especially in this pandemic era. And Matt , we'll start with you here. That's a great question. I mean , I think underlying that question is who , in fact , knows that an election is happening right now ? And I would venture to guess that that's a pretty small proportion of San Diego. Unfortunately , this is a regularly scheduled election , right ? This is a June primary , but it's not a presidential year. There's really not big names driving the discussion. Right ? I mean , Gavin Newsom is the biggest name. You'd think maybe a race for governor would bring a lot of people to the polls. But can we just elect that dude like last year ? Oh , yeah , we did. There was a recall election and he won handily , and all his opponents in that race aren't even in it. So he's running against , I think , two dozen hopefuls who aren't even going to get close. And as a result , no one knows that there's an election going on. So if you use social media , you know , if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it , did it really fall ? I guess it fell , but no one knew. So I do think candidates use it more. That's a trend you're seeing on all industries , from politics to sports , where people are trying to circumvent the , quote unquote media and get their message out on social. And so some of these discussions are happening on social. But the bottom line is the Twitter is not your electorate , right ? They're two totally different circles. And if you drew a diagram , the overlap would probably be surprising to a lot of people.
S2: Yeah , you know , I more people are getting their news from online sources in today's day. So in my opinion , it can be a double edged sword. I mean , when it comes to elections , candidates can use these tools to be completely transparent and share where they stand on things , or they could share very little and run their campaign very controlled , only releasing what they strategically think is best. So the public really has to use their best judgment on where they are getting their information from and if they trust that source.
S1: We want to hear from everyone here as well. You know , there's not enough time for us to go down the entire ballot. So what's something perhaps maybe under the radar or down ballot that you guys are finding interesting in North County ? And we'll start with KPBS reporter Tanya Thorne here.
S2: You know , I'm interested in seeing if the city of Escondido decides to place a sales tax measure in November's ballot. It would be a 1% citywide sales tax increase that would help with the deficit that Escondido is facing , as well as infrastructure improvements. So if it is put on the ballot , I'd be curious about the response from Escondido residents given inflation and gas taxes that are already hurting so many people.
S3: One issue that's kind of flying under the radar for me that I don't know if it's falling out of the radar , but I think it's worth talking about is this whole issue with Will Rodriguez Kennedy , who is the chairman of the Democratic Party. Recently , some allegations came out against him concerning sexual misconduct and he's temporarily stepped aside as chair of the Democratic Party. And so I think it's interesting to see just what ramifications this is going to have or the party for local races , whether this will be an issue that's brought up in primaries. Just from talking to some party insiders , I've been told that there's definitely going to be a change in leadership that's almost for certain in terms of not just temporarily him stepping aside , but in terms of a more permanent change in leadership. I've also been told that this is just an entirely unprecedented situation that the San Diego Democratic Party is having to grapple with. The one Democratic insider told me that this is kind of just compounding issues , that the. Ardi is already facing at at the regional level. The party is very cash strapped. It's looking for money after COVID and so the party is already sort of in disarray , he told me. So it's kind of a situation now where he said that the Democratic Party for San Diego , he said , is basically headless right now , given the current state of affairs and just the level of disarray that this has thrown regional party officials into.
S1: Let's hold some of those thoughts for a moment. We want to know what you all think about what's motivating voters. But first , let's take a moment to remind them of a tool that can help them get organized. For that , we're talking briefly with another guest here with us this week , KPBS is digital editor Elmer Gonzalez , Lima Brandao. We want to plug the KPBS voter hub , which you can find online at Welcome to Roundtable , Alma.
S4: Hi , Matt. Thank you for having me.
S1: Great to have you here. So this is a bit of a revamp compared to our past elections voter guides.
S4: And this year is no different. We have all of that. But this year the goal is really to simplify navigating all these things so that users can visit and bookmark one page. The voter hub has a virtual personalized sample ballot in partnership with voters edge polling and ballot drop off locator maps reporting on candidates and issues. From the KPBS newsroom and of course , the live results on election night. The biggest difference this year is that we have all of those things in Spanish as well. We have a we're calling the KPBS gear electoral for the first time.
S1: And this year there's a new way for voters to weigh in on some of the issues and see how candidates compare. Can you tell us how that all works ? Right.
S4: We reached out to all the local candidates that will appear on the ballot with a questionnaire on the big issues like COVID , housing , law enforcement funding. And we ask them to respond with a yes or no other or choose not to respond as well as a short explanation for each answer. On our site , we have an interactive quiz where the public can answer some of the same questions we ask the candidates. Once they've completed the quiz , they can explore which candidates answered in the same way that they did. It's kind of like helping voters figure out which candidates align with them on the most important issues. Okay.
S1: Okay. And if you can , can you tell us where we can find the voter guide ? Exactly.
S4: So make sure to sign up for that. And you can find the voter hub at KPBS Mortgage Voter Hub or in Spanish at Gap.
S1: And Alma , thanks so much for being here.
S4: Thank you.
S1: We're back with our guests , Tanya Thorne , Steve Wire and Matt Hall. We've talked about some of what's on the ballot in North County. Now let's shift to talking a bit about the voters themselves. What's motivating them to turn out or in some cases , stay home ? We'll start with the Utah's Matt Hall on this one. Matt , as the editorial director , you get a lot of reader feedback. What do you think is top of mind for people as they're casting their ballots ? Yeah , midterm elections are notoriously low turnout. So we'll see how those numbers fare. But the turnout was pretty high two years ago. So people , I think , are they know how to vote from home. It's super easy. We all got our mail ballots last week. We can return them now if we choose. If we want to wait and get more information and do more research , we can do that. So I think turnout will be okay. I think what's top of mind for people and you know this from looking at polls up and down the state , crime and homelessness , right ? I mean , anyone who goes anywhere really in San Diego County sees how the homeless situation has just exploded. We got the new point in time count numbers today that showed a 10% increase and crime is going up everywhere no matter where you live. You know , car thefts are happening , break ins , violent crime is up. And so I think incumbents need to really be held accountable. And people need to ask these incumbents , what are you doing to solve these problems ? How are you approaching them ? Why are the problems persist ? I keep telling people generally these are job interviews , right ? These politicians , they work for us. They work for the public. And so we really need to take this time and take this moment and ask questions like this. And that's where Steve Tan and I come in. We do that on behalf of the public. And Matt , do you see issues like reproductive rights , you know , bringing people to the polls and maybe increasing turnout here ? Yeah , I mean , I do think that that issue obviously is front of mind for a lot of people. Just this weekend , there were demonstrations around the country. It's still unclear to me who will be more motivated to turn out because it kind of motivates people on both sides of that discussion. So I think we'll see. I do think that that is a is a is a wildcard and that it could impact the election. But I think there are other kind of issues closer to home , to use that expression , that might be more front of mind for more people. But that's just what I think. I don't know. Time to see.
S3: I talked to one Democratic Party insider earlier today , and one thing he was saying is that he's talked to some voters in his district who have told him that they're these are moderate voters , or in one case , there was even a Republican voter said , I will never vote Republican again after this because there are so fired up about the Roe versus Wade issue. They are so fired up about the prospect of reproductive rights being taken away. So I think that you have a situation now where a lot of voters are fired up , not only Democrat voters , but also moderate voters as well , who are really galvanized by this issue , people who maybe normally don't even weigh into politics , that are actually actually really concerned about this , that are actually looking at this and saying , hey , this is an issue that I care about. Maybe this is an issue that's affected me personally. And then just kind of to branch off of that , if I may. I think another issue that's top of mind for a lot of voters and the area there is I cover , which is like Coastal District 38 , 49 , 50. I think that the issue of climate change , environmental issues are really top of mind right now. There's been some bluff collapses in the Encinitas del Mar area. There's been the wildfires up by Laguna Niguel. So I think people are thinking about climate change. They are thinking about the environment. And I think that candidates can kind of tap into that and offer meaningful solutions are going to have an advantage. Catherine Blake Spears really touting the 100% renewable energy move that Encinitas made recently by making commercial and residential energy the default option for renewable energy sources. So that's something that's she's really touting Joker , as I said earlier , as a retired fire captain. So the fire the fire issue is something that he's really strong on and it's something that he's talking about a lot. So I really do think voters are going to be moved to the polls by environmental issues , by things like nuclear power , by things like , you know , preserving the open spaces and a lot of these quaint coastal communities. I think that's something people are definitely concerned about and think about going into the June primary.
S2: People are just getting back to their normal life. Some people aren't there yet and they're just starting to get back to work having an income. And so it comes at a time where they're seeing the headlines. Right ? We're seeing climate change and Roe versus Wade and all these things happening around them. But there's not a lot of attention on there's an election going on. Are you going to go out and vote ? Right now , a lot of people are concentrated on just getting their kids back to school , mental health , getting a job in their house after many people lost their jobs. So it's tough , but I do think more people are paying attention to what's going on. So this could bring change. I mean , I think especially in minority groups , I have noticed more people getting involved in city council meetings , school board meetings and doing more community outreach. I've seen a lot of younger voices helping elevate older voices that were never really heard before. So I think I think people are paying attention and hopefully they'll be using their votes to elect candidates that they feel represent them and their interests best.
S1: Matt , we know that the Union-Tribune , you all are in the thick of your political coverage right now for the primary. That includes public forums , candidate interviews and endorsements , as you talked about earlier. You know , we touched on social media in the context of how people are staying informed. But I'm curious , how important are endorsements in this current environment ? I think this you know , local endorsements are the ones that matter. We clearly saw in the in recent presidential cycles that those endorsements , while reflective of a local community , may not mean anything. Right. Only a few newspapers in the country endorsed Donald Trump and he won. So I think there's a difference to draw between national endorsements and local endorsements. And so I think people are looking to see , you know , for example , how we endorse in the sheriff's race , which is a hugely important issue , people are dying at one or two a month clip in our jails , which is unacceptable and astounding. And so that's an important election , you know , and city council races , school board races , these are races that don't get a lot of coverage. So I think there's a value to a team like ours , not only doing the endorsements , but , you know , they can go to the standard interview , , 2022 slash 2020 primary guide and see all the interviews that we did. And thank you for mentioning that. We interviewed most of the candidates in most of the races. It was a huge undertaking , but they're all online for people to read and assess. We had in-person forums in the four Santee City Council districts and in the Chula Vista mayor's race. You know , we just this week interviewed the three sheriff's candidates and we're dropping those via Zoom. We're dropping those online later. And , you know , I would tell people that endorsements , it doesn't matter. We're not saying this is how you should vote. We're saying here's our recommendation. What do you think ? Do your research. Join this conversation. It's important to Tanya's point. People need to elect people that hold their values , that represent them. I mean , again and again to mine that this is a job interview. And so we need to figure out who can do the job , who will do the job , who should do the job. And that's kind of the point of local endorsements , and I think there is a value to them. And finally , as we wrap up , you know , turnout is always something to consider , especially when it's not a general election. Do you guys have thoughts on the reasons why most people choose not to participate and maybe stay home ? And Tanya , we'll start with you here.
S2: You know , I think at the end of the day , voter turnout really depends on outreach and education with Latinos who hold voting power but don't usually come out to vote. A lot of the time. It's because they don't know how this impacts them. Why should they care ? What have their representatives done for them ? What's their track record ? So when there's more outreach coming from people like them , their neighbors , their mothers , their families telling them to go out and vote , I think that kind of outreach is very effective. And we saw that with vaccine outreach , right. The trusted messenger approach. So , you know , it's it's a little late , right. Or a month away from the June election. So we'll see if we see a little bit more talk as that date approaches.
S3: And I think that a lot of young people don't necessarily know how the system works. They're not necessarily sure what their vote means. They're not necessarily up to date on the issues and that sort of thing. And I think that that's one reason why a lot of them choose to stay out. And I think that there also are some logistical barriers to voting , you know , in some states , not California so much , but there tend to be voter ID law issues. There tend to be issues of , you know , people having registration difficulties or maybe some criminal backgrounds that prevent them from voting. So I think that's a factor , too. I think that honestly , also , a lot of people feel as though the system is in some ways corrupt , so to speak , or they think that there's too much money in politics or that the vote doesn't really matter anyways. So I think some people choose to stay out of the voting process for that reason. And also just a general sense of apathy , especially during a midterm year , I think is just something that you have to consider. You know , there's no there's no Donald Trump on the ballot to kind of galvanize people. Either way , there's no presidential race to kind of really get people's attention. So I think just much. Apathy is always a thing , too.
S1: We're going to have to end it there and wrap up our conversation. I want to thank all of you so much for being here. Matt Hall from the San Diego Union-Tribune , Steve Wire from the Coast News , along with Tanya Thorne and Alma Gonzales , Lima Brandao from KPBS News. You can stream the show anytime as a podcast and online at KPBS dot org. I met Hoffman will be back next week on roundtable.

Mike Levin
Bennett Lacy
North County democratic Rep. Mike Levin speaks at a rally in support of abortion rights in Downtown San Diego, Calif. May 3, 2022.
We look ahead to the June 7 California primary election with a focus on some of the high profile races in North County.

KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman hosts a discussion with local journalists on the upcoming 2022 California primary election with a focus on races in North County. Guests include KPBS reporter Tania Thorne, The Coast News reporter Stephen Wyer and The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial director Matthew Hall.