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Roundtable: What's on the ballot in South Bay?

 May 27, 2022 at 12:00 PM PDT

S1: Our look at the 2022 California primary election is continuing. And this week our focus is south of the eight from the Chula Vista mayor's race to a confusing state assembly matchup. What's on the ballot and will it motivate people to vote ? I'm Matt Hoffman and this is KPBS roundtable. Let's get right to it. Last week it was a discussion about North County and now we're focusing on the South Bay. We have three local journalists who are joining us. Gustavo Solis covers the border and its impact for KPBS. Andrea Lopez , Villafana is managing editor for Voice of San Diego. And we also have Matt Hall back with us again. He's the editorial and opinion director for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Welcome to you all. So let's start off with maybe the most high profile race in this election. We're talking about the contest for Chula Vista mayor. And Gustavo Solis , you've covered it for KPBS News. You had an in-depth feature on some of the candidates.
S2: So it's a city I'm pretty comfortable and familiar with , and truthfully , the issues haven't really changed all that much in the last decade. I mean , they all the candidates want to bring more businesses to the South Bay. They want to bring the four year university and built out the bay front. I think I think this race is more about who the public trust to lead Chula Vista into that future that's been promised for years and years and years and hasn't really materialized. Really exciting though is is longtime mayor Mary Casillas is termed out. She's not running. There are six candidates in the race and half of them are current or former council members. The other half are first time candidates. So it's sort of like establish versus newcomer. Right. You have council members , Jill Galvis and John McCann , former councilmember Rudy Ramirez and the three challengers are Spencer Cash , Amara Kemp and Aja and Senator Encarnacion. To me , what I'm looking for is just the long term future of Chula Vista , right ? With Mary Salazar gone , Jill Galvis and John McCann both running for office , and Steve Padilla also potentially leaving to join the state Senate. There could be a brand new mayor and three new council members in Chula Vista , which would be a total change in the city's political leadership. I mean , to me , that's kind of a conversation that's worth having right now.
S1: And one of the candidates that you mentioned is a mark camp. And as your listeners might remember him from his attempts at an East County congressional seat. This is a different part of the county , though , Gustavo , with different voters.
S2: Right. But but it's tricky. It's tricky to ignore that the last two campaigns , the last eight years , really , he's been running very publicly in East County. Right. La Prensa has been going after him pretty hard , actually. And Kevin Aja is a bit of a chameleon , right. He told the the leader of defend his county that he would not have voted to impeach Trump , that he would have supported both of his Supreme Court nominations. He's gone on Facebook to say that he does not support legal or illegal abortions. Those positions might play well in these county , but not so much in Chula Vista. On the other side , there's a lot going for him. Everyone knows who he is name. He has a lot of money backing him and there are a lot of lawn signs of his around Chula Vista.
S3: I think Amar is a very smart candidate. He's very shrewd , but he's got a little bit of an uphill battle to convince people that he really cares about the South Bay. There's no question he's from the South Bay. He's got a you know , you can look at his CV , his resume , where he's lived , you know , the schools he went to the screen South Bay , but he was nothing about the South Bay for as Gustavo said , that was the last decade he was running in these county. He was going to be the East County person. And the difficulty for him is trying to pivot and make people believe that he's not , to use Gustavo's word , a chameleon. I think we call him a shapeshifter in our endorsement this morning , which dropped and we did not endorse him. We endorsed Jill Galvez , the member , a first term council member. And Senator Encarnacion , who both of whom have been in the district for a long time , have long track records , are also very , very bright and I think can say a little more readily than Amar that , you know , we care about the future of the city because we have lived the president of the city.
S1: And let's actually bring in Andre Lopez via Fournier from Voice of San Diego here. Andre , you took a different approach to this race by talking with residents at a public forum. It was held earlier this month. And one of the themes that popped up is this idea of unrealised potential for the city of Chula Vista.
S4: You know him as a reporter covering the city for the Union-Tribune and Voice of San Diego for as long as he has. I mean , a lot of the same topics that candidates are focusing on are the same topics that candidates before them and candidates before them have focused on. So I think you see that reflected in what residents think about their city and how they feel. A lot of residents I spoke with just told me that they just want someone who's going to get all these promises done. And I think that's the same thing that any constituent would probably want from their elected official. But I think the city has kind of reached a boiling point in that people just want something different. They're tired of promises. They've lived through these promises for decades , and they just want something done. And it's kind of at a really interesting point. As Gustavo mentioned , you know , you're going to have a new mayor , you're going to have new council members. You also have a new city attorney coming in. So it'll be really interesting to see what happens going forward. But for the most part , residents just want someone who's going to do something.
S1: And looking a little bit beyond Chula Vista. Matt , we know that you've looked at just about every single race in our area , part of the UT's coverage. San Diego City Council District eight , that's Vivian Moreno's seat and she's up for re-election. She was part of a wave of Democrats in 2018 who , you know , really reshaped some of the political direction in San Diego.
S3: There's only two people in that race. So it's going be the same two people. And in the fall runoff , which is a peculiarity of California elections , that I'm not sure sits well with a lot of people beyond that , these two candidates faced off last time around. Vivi Moreno beat Antonio Martinez , who's a staffer for Juan Vargas , by just 549 votes in the runoff last time. So I think Antonio saw an opportunity here. But speaking of tough hills to climb , going up against Fabian Moreno is a very tough hill to climb. She has been nothing but an advocate for her community , you know , advocating for everything from paved streets in parts of town that historically haven't had paid streets to being the first person on the city council to say that it was a deliberate fraud , that what happened at one on Ash Street. So Vivian , you know , walks the walk and talks the talk and well , we'll see. I know I can make as much about our endorsements , but we endorsed Vivian , and it was one of the easiest calls that we had. She you know , in an election , you always got to look for a reason to oust the incumbent. I know there was a single one in her case.
S2: They're having a primary , but it doesn't really mean anything because they'll both be in the general white just as soon as they come.
S1: And it's just.
S3: So interesting because in some of the county races , they actually are it's the same situation and they're not putting them on the ballot. Right. So you have. Jim Desmond is a perfect example. Jim Desmond has an opponent , one opponent in his kind of super Rosario race. But because there's just two of them at the county level , they say we're not going to do this kind of foolish exercise where we repeat ourselves in November. So Jim and his opponent are not on the ballot. Is it the city's position ? I'm not sure. That's a very good question.
S2: I'm not sure. It just seems like a waste of money to have an election.
S3: Yeah , no , i , i , i see it that way myself.
S4: Waste of money and time and resources.
S1: Well , there's also the 80th Assembly District race now that has four candidates and South Bay voters. They're actually going to see that contest listed twice on their ballots. Without getting too complicated here.
S3: I mean , for not just the South Bay , for San Diego County , you have to really well-known , really well-respected politicians at the front of that. Do Democrats in the race , David Alvarez , who's a former city council member , and Georgette Gomez , who is a former city council president who was actually on a pretty short and meteoric rise as council president until she decided to leave to run for Congress. She lost to the Sara Jacobs instead of Jacobs race. But that's an interesting race. We said that both would be solid candidates who both on a district like the back of their hands. We ultimately endorsed Alvarez , thought that he had a better handle on some of the issues and approached them with a little more nuance. But the reality is they're both really good politicians. They both know the district and the voters. And I'm kind of curious to see how that shakes out.
S1: Especially a little bit confusing because there could be two winners coming out of that. But Gustavo , we know that there's so much more on this ballot. You know , there's a state Senate race. There's also one Vargas who's trying to advance to what would be a sixth term in Congress.
S2: And like Andrea and I alluded to before , right. If he wins , there would be an empty spot on the council. I think what would happen is Chula Vista , the council would just appoint somebody the city likely wouldn't want to or doesn't have the money to spend on a special election. His opponent , Alejandro Galicia , seemed seems like a decent person , good business background but doesn't I don't think have the experience or backing to match Padilla on the Juan Vargas race. I know. I haven't been following it too closely. Andrea. Matt , jump in. But I think I mean , I think he's pretty safe , right ? He is the incumbent. He's been allowed to advocate for the borderlands. Doesn't really have too much controversy surrounding him. I do think one of his opponents , Joaquin Vasquez , is worth keeping an eye on just because he's a young guy from City Heights. Little bit left of Vargas. I mean , they both support comprehensive immigration reform. But I think Joaquin has been a little bit more vocal on gun control , expanding access to affordable education and keeping money out of politics.
S4: Yeah , I'm paying attention to the national city mayoral election where you kind of wrote about it this past weekend , and that won't take place till November. But , you know , Labor basically not really hinted but basically expressed that they are not supporting the re-election of Mayor Alejandro Sotelo Solis and are considering endorsing Jose Rodriguez for mayor. So just be paying attention to that one.
S2: What Ron Morrison is running , right ? Yeah. Who's like ? He has been there forever and he's super popular. I think that's a really interesting race to just because I know Ron Morrison and Alejandro Sotelo Solis have kind of personal beef going back a couple of years and then you throw in the third one in the mix. It's just pretty interesting.
S1: And Matt , South Bay residents , just like everyone else in the county , they're going to be voting for a new sheriff. And we know it's been a relatively quiet campaign , but one of the candidates just made news this week and it forced a big change in one of your endorsements. Can you tell us what happened there ? Yeah.
S3: So we at last weekend made an endorsement in that race , John. Hammering the Republican candidate is running against. He works at the city attorney's office as the chief criminal prosecutor. He's running against Dee Myers , who's a former sheriff's commander who ran against Bill Gore four years ago and against Kelly Martinez , the undersheriff , and Gore's chosen successor. And so we looked at the candidates and endorsed John , but then later found out that John. April 30th , at a forum in Ramona , had made some anti-transgender remarks that to us were , you know , hard to listen to. And we gave him a chance to explain. And I talked to him for 30 minutes. And is his his attempt at an apology , is what I'll call it , was inadequate and he wasn't contrite enough. I mean , there's a way to handle a problem in a campaign , and it's to admit that there's a problem and offered a solution. And he did not really do that. And so the board discussed it. And just today we published a retraction , which is super rare. You know , people are voting in 13 days. The election's over. And so for us to reconsider , pretty unusual. We've only done it once before in the five or six years I've been in the position. And , you know , I think it's two things. I guess it's a testament to , you know , the fact that we all need to do more reporting when we do these things. We should have discovered that beforehand. But also humanity , I think , is what matters. And that , I hope , is what the take away that people have today outside of the race. Right. Transgender people are people.
S1: And before we dive into what's motivating voters and non-voters in the South Bay , let's check in on what would usually be the headliner here , the race for governor. It sort of almost feels uncontested and starting with Andre.
S4: It definitely feels uncontested. I mean , I know so much of what happened during the pandemic with the closures , businesses , schools , people , you know , definitely felt a certain way about Newsom. But , you know , I can't identify anyone else in that race who might actually be a real contender for his seat.
S3: Matthew Stafford , anyone ? Yeah. No , there's no one in that race. There's two dozen people on the ballot , I think , and they're all jokers. Let's be real. I mean , the chance to to take to take a shot at Newsom was in the recall , which , you know , we and others argued was a waste of time and a waste of money was stupid. But that was really the Republican opportunity to unseat Gavin Newsom. He survived that easily , despite some missteps , and the pandemic largely handled it pretty well. And , you know , it's a bunch of has beens and never was is running against him. And it's it's kind of a joke. It's kind of sad. I mean , the thing with Meg Newsom's fine , he's done a good job. People some people really like him. He's he's he's a he's a he's an advocate for a lot of things that people are very passionate about. But in an election , you want a clash of ideas. You know , kind of like what we were saying earlier. Like you want to have people with multiple viewpoints who can offer voters a choice. So it's a little bit sad that in the largest state in the country , 40 million people , we're not going to have a governor's race.
S3: It's partly you know , I mean , Democrats enjoy a super majority of in in both houses of the legislature. Right. So they have essentially three quarters of all of the lawmakers are Democrats. Republicans don't have a strong leg to stand on a be the party's moving in the wrong direction on some major issues , climate change and immigration , they're just woefully wrong. I think at this moment that happens.
S2: Even even within the Democratic Party , though you wouldn't you think there would be some progressive or left of Newsom out there ? I mean , there's plenty of them locally.
S3: They see the writing on the wall. They see some has millions of dollars. And to mount a successful campaign that is a serious campaign and isn't just a waste of the candidate's time. You know , you got to be pretty serious about it.
S1: We'll pick the conversation back up in just a moment. But now the ballots are being sent out and early voting is underway. This is a good time to remind you of the KPBS voter hub. It's much of what you've come to expect from KPBS News election coverage. We'll have all of our content on the different races candidate Q and A's and even details on your nearest voting center. It's all customizable to your exact zip codes , and there's also a Spanish language version to find the KPBS Voter Hub. Just go to and look for the link at the top of the homepage. We're back with our KPBS roundtable guests. Gustavo Solis from KPBS News is here. Andre Lopez , via you're from Voice of San Diego and Matt Hall from the San Diego Union-Tribune. Let's talk about South Bay voters now. And Andre , the last couple of years , we've seen how communities of color were disproportionately affected by the pandemic. We have much more of those communities that are south of the eight.
S4: Yes , in the sense , like we're still seeing a lot of conversations. I think when we were in the pandemic , we saw a lot of conversations on how to protect people. Right , how to protect them from not being kicked out of their homes. And we saw a lot of relief for renters and that still seems to be kind of an ongoing conversation. Even though we're not at the center of the pandemic the way it did feel in 2020 , maybe even 2021. You know , Chula Vista , I was just talking about some sort of ban on no fault evictions. The city of San Diego also passed one. So I think in that sense , it's still there.
S1: We've seen these sort of cultural touchstones emerge. This week it was another horrific school shooting , and in the coming weeks , we might see Roe versus Wade overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
S3: And I think people will be studying this election to see the impact of those two issues , in particular , huge emotional , pressing issues. You know , Roe and shootings , which this country just has a major problem with in the last month , has been unreal. I mean , this week. Anyone with kids or family members who are young. I mean , it's hard. Crushing doesn't explain it. But I think with local elections , I think people I think Andre is right. People are focused on pocketbook issues , like in Chula Vista , it's the trash strike. People have their trash pile up like it was , I don't know , like it was New York City. It was ridiculous. For a month with rat infestations and the stench. Oh , man. I mean , one of our board members lives in Chula Vista and it was just unbelievable to hear her on a daily basis talk about the problem. So I think things like that , the future of Chula Vista , which has , as we alluded to earlier , had and it has had such promise for so long , I mean , at some point , promise turns into something else , you know. But I think Chula Vista is poised to be an amazing thing. It's the second largest city in the county , almost 300,000 residents. So , I mean , there's a chance here for them to pick someone who really is going to be at the forefront of something special. But I think we'll see. Time will tell with the impact of the of the national stuff like that. But , you know , it's so front of mind right now for so many people. It's hard not to see past it.
S1: And Andre , speaking of Chula Vista , let's go back to that recent form that you had covered. You really got a chance there to hear what was on people's minds. Did you pick up on anything that , you know , maybe especially got your attention ? Yeah.
S4: I mean , as a reporter and obviously you're covering all kinds of things and eventually you have to cover elections , which was never really my favorite thing to cover. But doing that reporting , you get to know the candidates , get to know voters , and you identify maybe two people who are going to be the lead candidates , the one who kind of have the advantage over other people. And I thought it was interesting in Chula Vista , as you know , I did go to that forum , but I ended up spending time just with everyday residents after that and the candidates themselves. And I found myself really struggling because so many residents had different reasons for why they were supporting a certain candidate. And it was kind of hard for me to identify who would be the lead vote getters because everybody had different reasons for why they were supporting them. So I think it'll be super interesting to watch this race and we'll see who moves forward. I mean , we can identify who is raising more money in that sense. But I think , as I mentioned before , Chula Vista voters really want something different. And who's going to be the person who brings this change to their city ? I don't know.
S1: And Gustavo , as part of your broader coverage , you come across people who want to become citizens and take part in this democratic process.
S2: And obviously they can't vote and won't be able to , if ever or a long time from now. Their main issues are federal immigration issues. Some of the Trump policies like Title 42 and remain in Mexico. But I do want to address the notion of people immigrating and then voting. Right. Unfortunately , there's been a lot of talk about the great replacement theory. It's kind of becoming more mainstream. The idea that one party wants to import immigrants to expand their voting base at the expense of native born citizens. As me personally , I'm somebody who was born in Mexico and spent the greater part of 15 years trying to naturalize. I can tell you that theory is bonkers. It is very difficult , expensive and time consuming to become a U.S. citizen. And the idea that individuals who cross the border today will be able to vote in elections anytime soon is ridiculous , let alone that hundreds of thousands of them will be able to vote in numbers that will shift entire elections. That's just not going to happen.
S1: And we also know that there's going to be some people who don't participate at all here. That's usually a majority of eligible voters , especially during a non-presidential primary. Looking at this through a South Bay lens , why do you think people may be choosing not to bother ? And Matt , we'll start with you here. I know you had mentioned last week that some San Diegans may not even know that there's an election coming up. Yeah.
S3: Yeah. I mean , this one snuck up on a lot of people. People are focused on the pandemic , which is not over. I mean , I have COVID now. I'm literal proof that it's not over. You know , but it's interesting. We all answer it this way. This week we had very long conversations for there on elections with Shirley Weber , secretary of state , former assembly member from San Diego , who's amazing. And Alex Padilla , a senator , U.S. senator who's a former California secretary of state , had the job before Shirley Weber. And we were deep with him on election , on the big lie , on election integrity , on on , you know , some of these misconceptions that some people on the right have about elections and their effectiveness. First of all , I just want to reiterate for any of your listeners who don't believe this , but Joe Biden won the election in 2020. It's a fact. I think people are kind of at 50. I think people are fatigued. You know , I just this last 48 hours alone , people are tired. This the shooting really sapped the will and the life force out of a lot of people. And that's just the latest example. The pandemic's been really hard for a lot of reasons for a lot of people. And , you know , maybe that has an effect , as Andre was saying , that South Bay disproportionately affected and people now are trying to recover from that and move , move , move beyond that to deal with this new reality we're in. But I think voting is important. You know , I mean , voting is where you can make a difference. And my hope is that people just do the research. I always say with our endorsements , it doesn't matter that you agree with us. Look at it as research , read it as research. Listen , you know , read the reporting that Andrea and Gustavo and other journalists in this town have done in-depth , brilliant reporting for for years and recent months about candidates make a choice.
S4: He reached out to voters in the 80th Assembly District and a lot of them kind of expressed what Matt just mentioned. You know , they feel tired. There's so much going on in this world. And also , they they've lost a lot of trust for their elected officials and don't really feel like their voice matters because they feel like they've always voted for people who don't really represent them. So I think it's sad. A lot of people feel that way. And , you know , hopefully , hopefully they do turn to our journalism here in San Diego to educate themselves and vote.
S2: Right. I mean , in especially in cities in the South Bay. I mean , there's a cultural element , too , in a lot of immigrant communities. They might come from countries where voting isn't seen the same way as it is here in the U.S.. I know it isn't in Mexico , or at least in my family it wasn't. But also just I think cities need to do more to engage the local citizens. Right. I mean , I think sometimes they benefit from not having a lot of people go to the city council meetings and have conversation about what's going on. So I think it's on local city's best interests to make it as easy for them to be engaging in there and say , like , Hey , this is your city.
S1: I want to thank all of you so much for being here. KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis , voice of San Diego's managing editor Andrea Lopez , via Fauna and Union-Tribune editorial and opinion director Matt Hall. You can stream the KPBS roundtable show as a podcast or at I met Hoffman. Thank you so much for being here with us on Roundtable. Have a great weekend and we'll catch it next week.

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City of Chula Vista Civic Center is shown in this photo taken Oct. 21, 2021. Chula Vista, Calif.
Matthew Bowler
City of Chula Vista Civic Center is shown in this photo taken Oct. 21, 2021. Chula Vista, Calif.
We look ahead to the June 7 California primary election with a focus on some of the high profile races in the South Bay.

KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman hosts a discussion with local journalists on the upcoming 2022 California primary election with a focus on races in South Bay communities. Guests include KPBS reporter Gustavo Solis, Voice of San Diego managing editor Andrea Lopez-Villafaña and San Diego Union-Tribune editorial director Matthew Hall.