Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. —
With a few exceptions, last week’s primary election was as thrilling as watching a frozen turkey thaw. Oh sure, some horse races passed the half pole with some panache and will be intriguing to watch as they head down the stretch toward November, particularly the ensuing election battles for the political tilt of the San Diego City Council and which job title will impress most to pick a new city attorney.
But once again, progressives were left to scratch their heads about the future after a mayor’s race that few figured to be competitive, given the late arrivals to the dance and the Grand Canyon-like disparity in campaign war chests. Picture Dolly Parton vs. Olive Oyl, and you get an idea of the advantage incumbent Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer held against his woefully underfunded challengers, Democrat lifeguard sergeant Ed Harris and former state Assemblymember Lori Saldaña, an independent.
The response from Team Faulconer, naturally, was par for the course, a nauseating brew of gloating, strutting and preening for who knows what lies ahead in the political future for the Blond Boaster. But dodging the Trump Factor come November—mission complete!
If you had just arrived from Mars, however, and read the post-election assessment last Thursday from ever-chipper local Democratic Party Chairwoman Francine Busby, you would not have known a mayor’s race took place, for it garnered nary a peep.
“Couldn’t even get a mention,” lamented Harris, who sits third as thousands of ballots remain untallied in a town that, at least by voter registration standards, leans left. Truly striking.
Headlined “A Night to Remember,” the 700-plus-word pep talk from Busby noted that “compared to prior primary elections, in which Democrats were fighting uphill battles on multiple fronts, the successes we experienced signaled our emergence as the dominant political party of San Diego County…And we have reason to look forward to even better results in November.”
But Busby immediately veered into national politics, noting Hillary Clinton’s “historic milestone as the first female (presumptive) presidential nominee of a major political party” and the coming battle to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer between two Democrats, “both women of color.”
“[California] Attorney General Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez represent the vanguard of progress that Democrats in California have made,” Busby beamed—without giving at least marginal credit to the feckless leaders of the California Republican Party and its dwindling stock of old, white voters.
If any local race was going to be tight, the battle to replace termed-out District 1 Councilmember Sherri Lightner was going to be it—for one thing, the local Democratic Party spent real money there in hopes of maintaining its slim 5-4 council majority. But Busby melodramatically boasted that high-tech entrepreneur Barbara Bry “defied all odds” by finishing first over the Republican’s uninspiring repeat candidate, direct-mail millionaire retiree Ray Ellis, in a five-way race that included Lightner endorsee/husband, Bruce, who remained mired in single digits.
Bry flirted with cracking the magic 50 percent-plus-one ceiling that would have meant outright victory, which would have been odds defying. But it now appears that she and Ellis will face off again in the November general election. Oh, what twisted words of mayhem await this time around!
In the city attorney’s race to replace termed-out Republican Jan Goldsmith, Busby said “we had no idea who would emerge to challenge the lone Republican candidate in November.” What she means is the party couldn’t decide on a candidate— there were four Democrats in the race— leaving it up to voters to decide.
As an early favorite for advancement, former San Diego Ethics Commission Chairman Gil Cabrera offered a forehead-slapping theory: “Underestimated how much the job title would make the difference in the race.”
On the ballot, Cabrera generically listed himself as “attorney/small business owner,” while the top two finishers, Republican Robert Hickey and Democrat Mara Elliott, went with “deputy district attorney” and “chief deputy city attorney,” respectively. Goldsmith also didn’t object when a campaign mailer suggested he had endorsed his Democratic underling. Sometimes it’s the little things.
Busby then ticked off the down-ticket successes—a pair of incumbent Democratic judges (incumbent judges winning—how not unusual!), the resounding passage of Proposition I, the minimum-wage-and-earned-sick-leave ballot measure, Chris Ward’s impressive council win in District 3 over council aide Anthony Bernal, who likely turned off voters in the LGBT-dominated district when he turned to Republicans for help.
LGBT Weekly Publisher Stampp Corbin, in a recent column, lambasted the move, most notably the mayor’s late endorsement of Bernal, who is straight. “After making strides within the LGBT community, Faulconer literally flushed his goodwill with our community down the toilet,” Corbin wrote. “District 3 is known for producing promising LGBT folk who go on to higher office.”
Speaking of, Busby made note of two of those District 3 grads who decided to travel the all-but-uncontested path to state office rather than challenge Faulconer for the mayorship, practically ensuring his reelection. Instead, state Assemblymember Toni Atkins and termed-out Councilmember Todd Gloria would have to slay kittens on live television to screw up their 40-point leads in their respective state Senate and Assembly races come November.
And yes, as Busby added, there will be interesting battles in the sweepstakes to replace District 9 Councilmember Marti Emerald, who declined to seek re-election, and whether Dave Roberts can hold on to his county supervisor seat against Republican challenger (and rare admitted Trump supporter, at least locally) Kristin Gaspar, the mayor of Encinitas.
Campaign strategist Tom Shepard, overseer of the Bry and brief Harris campaigns, said it appears the Democratic surge locally came via absentee voting, not the traditional election-day polling. Busby would have you believe that Democrats last week “began to reap more rewards from many years of hard work.”
Clearly, much more “hard work” remains.