Steve Gronke (photo by David Rolland)
Some 15 years ago, a surgeon cut Steve Gronke open, extracted a bum liver and installed a new organ that functioned properly. It was the sort of major event that sometimes prompts one to take stock of things. For Gronke, then in his early 40s, it was what got him back into activist politics.
Gronke had dabbled in activism before, having helped preserve a vernal pool in Torrance, Calif., when he was a much younger man and, later, worked on a losing slow-growth campaign in North County. But after his liver replacement, he charged back in full-force and, in 2000, was elected to the Vista City Council.
Heading into the 2010 election cycle, Gronke considered a run for Vista mayor but decided to clear the way for fellow council member Judy Ritter. He opted instead to attempt to shove Bill Horn out of the District 5 seat on the county Board of Supervisors that he's occupied for the last 16 years. Gronke received CityBeat's endorsement last week.
Horn has been reelected three times, his biggest challenge coming in 2006, when former Assemblymember Bruce Thompson drew 45,368 votes to Horn's 50,709. Horn was last forced into a November runoff in 1998, when he faced two challengers. This time, he's facing four.
Asked how he's doing in the fund-raising department, Gronke laughed—loudly. “I'm doing real well,” he said sarcastically. “It's not pretty. I've been calling for money for quite a while. The economy's down; people are hurtin'. And I'm not a hard-nosed guy. You ask anyone who knows me—I'm not going to browbeat someone to get a nickel out of them.”
And so it goes for those who dare to challenge a four-term incumbent whose campaign coffers are bursting with money.
Gronke's currently a math and science teacher in the Vista School District's North Star Academy, a home-school program. Having been a teacher for 30 years, Gronke knows the benefits of union membership and has been endorsed by the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, a stamp of approval that cost him the Union-Tribune's endorsement.
A self-described “union guy,” he still believes in defined-benefit pension plans, but he says he articulated a more nuanced vis-à-vis the county employees unions than the daily paper gave him credit for. He said he's told labor leaders that, as supervisor, he'd make things as painless as possible for the workers but that there won't be any money for raises anytime soon.
Gronke may be a “union guy,” but he was also a Republican until switching to “decline to state” before embarking on the present campaign. “This particular race needs someone that can reach out to everybody, and I thought that Bill was so far over on the right that the rest of the people weren't being serviced. I'm much more moderate than he is, so it just made sense to me to do this,” Gronke said. “If he's not reaching the common man, then someone has to.”
That doesn't mean Gronke's going to immediately push for a raid of the District Attorney and Sheriff budgets in order to fully fund social services. Until the state reverses course and sends more money for aide for the poor, those programs will be left wanting. However, he says he'd like to make existing programs, such as they are, friendlier to those in need.
What seems to motivate Gronke in particular is fighting urban sprawl. He defines himself as an environmentalist and represents inland North County on the Regional Planning Committee of the San Diego Association of Government, which oversees the region's transportation policies. He wants to be part of a continuing effort to limit new development to transit corridors in urban areas.
He related a conversation recently with a North County group that formed to fight leapfrog housing development.
“I tell them, ‘Don't feel guilty, and don't let people call you a NIMBY. You've worked really hard to get where you're at in life, OK? And if you fight to maintain the lifestyle that you want, there's nothing wrong with that. There's really nothing wrong with that. So, don't let them come down on you and make you feel guilty and give you a lot of pressure because you've worked hard.”
“Just like I've worked hard to get where I am in life, and I'm pretty pleased with where I'm at right now.”