Steve Gronke wants your vote, North County. The 10 year veteran of the Vista City Council has changed course and mounted a thus far successful challenge to 16 year incumbent, Bill Horn, for the 5th District seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. The once dark horse candidate surprised the experts in last June’s primary and forced a runoff for November 2.
But the race isn’t over yet. And Gronke hopes to finish the job and bring some new blood and ideas to the County government.
Gronke is the rarest of political figures in today’s hyper-partisan environment. A long time Republican, he switched his party affiliation to “decline to state” for this election, which is fitting because he doesn’t really identify with the current conventional definition of a Republican. He is that uncommon moderate who has a very real chance at winning this election season.
The decision to “change” his party affiliation came about for two main reasons: The first, because the election for Board of Supervisors is a non-partisan election, although he still considers himself a conservative and a Republican. The second reason is to create even more of a distinction between himself and Bill horn, who Gronke describes as a “staunch Republican.”
“Bill Horn can’t be trusted,” insists Gronke. From the latest flap involving Horn and the lack of permits for a barn built on his property in Valley Center, to using the county slush fund to gain votes for himself, “he is not dealing in good faith with the people of San Diego County. He only deals with people who give him money, including from outside his district.”
That point was further highlighted when Gronke pointed out that the North County Times had retracted their earlier endorsement of Horn with a scathing criticism, saying “Enough is enough,” and citing specifically the un-permitted barn flap on his property, referring to it as “the arrogance of the powerful, who do not believe the rules should apply to them simply because they don’t like them.”
But perhaps the switch makes even more sense considering that his view on the role of government does not fit with today’s Republican hard core anti-government slant. “You must have government involvement to an extent,” Gronke says.
“The county has been negligent in its refusal to go after available tax funds from the state and federal government. It’s our money that we paid out in taxes, and it should be put to work here in our community.”
The county, he says, has also chosen to ignore available food stamp programs, and he accuses the county government of working to dissuade those county residents who could most benefit from the program from participating.
“They haven’t done enough to help employers retain employees, or to help people stay in their homes. California gets only about 80% of federal taxes paid back from the federal government. There’s more tax money out there that could be put back into social services, or infrastructure.”
When asked about the current anti-government Republican theme, Gronke bristled.
“There are certain things that you have to have a government to do. You need government to provide infrastructure, sewers, walkways. Government has to provide a military. You have to have a school system.”
There are certain things, Gronke says, that private industry simply cannot do.
Gronke differs from today’s Republicans in another way: He believes that government can and should help spur private business, and that government has a role to play in helping to create jobs in private industry. For example, the fees levied by the Vista City Council on roughly 253 businesses in the city’s Central Business Improvement District, which Gronke supported as a member of the City Council.
According to one North County Times story,
“the fees range from $33 to $750 each year for each business, based on the size of the business, the number of employees and other factors. The city distributes the money to the Vista Village Business Association, a nonprofit group that works to promote the downtown area and draw in more visitors.”
However, according to the Times, Kevin Ham, the Vista economic development director, says that those fees generated over $57,000 in business in 2008-09, with the City pitching in $40,000 more to the Vista Village Business Association for improvements.
Gronke also supports the idea of contributing public funds to the arts. Vista has for several years subsidized the Moonlight Theater, an open air amphitheater in the city, to the tune of 33% of the Moonlight’s operating budget. To city officials, including Gronke, the investment in the theater is worth it. “People come to Vista and they shop in Vista because of our live theaters,” Gronke was quoted as saying. “We need to continue that.”
“We invest in parks, sports parks. Those things are important. I want my kids to have a park to play in.”
There will come a time, however, when the theater will have to be able to stand on its own and not need to depend on city subsidies to survive, Gronke says.
Regarding the highly controversial “slush fund” available to the County Supervisors, Gronke would like to see them get rid of it, although he’s not opposed to it in principle.
“There are a lot of non-profits here that really need the money. But it’s shameful the way (the Supervisors) use that money right now, which is specifically to stay in office. They use it like it’s their own campaign fund.”
The County Board of Supervisors recently reduced that “slush fund” from $2 million to $1 million (for each Supervisor).
“Isn’t it funny how that works? The slush fund comes under a lot of scrutiny, and they cut it in half.”
“In an ideal situation, we would take the supervisor’s name off of it. When they arrange for money to be given to a project, they behave like it came directly from them. Like it was their money! It’s not. It’s our money; the taxpayers’ money.”
He would like to see the fund suspended until they can show that they can be responsible with it. “And they have to use it within their own communities (districts),” and not spread it around the entire county.
As a member of the SANDAG Board of Directors representing Vista, Gronke vehemently opposed the Horn backed Merriam Mountain project. “It wasn’t a planned community. It was just more urban sprawl.” There was no sewer system for the project, he said, and very little infrastructure planned.
“We need to do projects that make people better off, and the Merriam Mountain project didn’t.”
Gronke is a long time teacher, having taught math and science at both the high school and middle school levels. As of last Friday, he is taking a leave of absence from his teaching job at the Vista Unified School District’s home school program to focus his attention on the campaign.
A believer in alternative education, Gronke was a founder of Trade Tech High School, a charter school that focuses on vocational education, preparing students for the workforce. He was also involved in the Southern California Regional Occupational Center in Torrance. “Not every student is destined to go to college,” he said. There is a 20-30% dropout rate in the county, he says, and it’s important to provide these students with some sort of training to be able to enter the workforce with some type of marketable skill.
As a teacher, Gronke is also a member of the teacher’s union (his wife, until recently, was the president of the local teacher’s union, but stepped down in light of her husband’s race for the County Board of Supervisors). It was his union affiliation, and his “willingness to turn a blind eye toward the excesses of public employee unions” that caused the San Diego Union-Tribune to decline to endorse Gronke, despite their stated disgust for his opponent.
Gronke calls that excuse nonsense. He says he has not received any funding from any unions; he has not solicited the unions for support, and feels that while they certainly serve a purpose in standing up for the rights of workers, unions are not always in the right.
Speaking of support, Gronke’s “decline to state” affiliation has come back to bite him in a somewhat small way. While the Republican Party has stuck with their man (Horn), Gronke is not eligible to receive direct support of any kind from the Democratic Party.
Jess Durfee, the Chair of the San Diego Democratic Party says that because Gronke is not a registered Democrat, they are not able to officially endorse him or provide any campaign assistance.
“Because of our bylaws and the State (Democratic Party) Charter, we are prevented from endorsing him. But what we have been telling people,” Durfee said, “the word that we are working hard to spread through our supporters, is that they should NOT vote for Bill Horn. Vote for anybody but Bill Horn.”
A scientist by nature (he holds a degree in Biology), Gronke believes that Global Warming is real, that climate change is a threat. As a part of that thinking, Gronke would like to see the county do more to promote San Diego as a clean tech/green tech/bio tech development hub. “Southern California is ripe for this stuff,” he says. He also opposes State Prop 23.
The government can invest in clean energy production, specifically solar panels, he says. “The sun is always shining here. There’s no reason we can’t invest in solar energy and take homes off the grid.” There are research companies sprouting up all around our universities, including UCSD and SDSU, and we should be doing everything we can to support them, particularly through investment in our universities.
“We can compete with other areas if our local leaders go to the state and federal level and talk up San Diego in bio and clean energy.”
Gronke says he would support an effort to “brand” San Diego as a bio tech/clean tech Mecca, creating an identity for the region much like Silicon Valley is to the Bay Area.
Steve Gronke is that rarest of bird. He’s that true moderate who possesses the ability to see both sides of an argument to form an opinion; who can reach across the aisle and work with reasonable people to form a consensus; who can rise above the hyper-partisan politics of today and work to do what’s in the very best interests of the people he was elected to serve, whether it fits today’s conventional political rhetoric or not.
Steve Gronke wants your vote, North County. But more importantly, Steve Gronke deserves your vote.