As the mayor’s race continues to unfold, the election season rite of local Republicans trying to morph themselves into “moderates” palatable to the ever-malleable Democratic electorate in San Diego continues. The most recent example of this is Nathan Fletcher’s announcement that he is coming back from Sacramento to save San Diego. As reported in the Union Tribune and KPBS Fletcher has a vision:
“When I look at the city I see an amazing potential for the future of San Diego over the next decade and I believe I represent a new generation of leadership that can get us there . . . In a lot of ways, I think it’s going to take a new energy, a new vision, a new generation of leadership that’s not tied to some of the polarizations and problems of the past to get things done . . . It’s time to turn the page, time for a new vision, a new energy, time for a new generation of leaders not tied to the gridlock or problems of the past to step forward and lead.”
This all sounds fantastic and, with his handsome looks and slick packaging, Fletcher is bound to be more appealing to some voters than the snarling pit-bull of the hard right, Carl DeMaio, and/or the stunningly uncharismatic establishment favorite Bonnie Dumanis (who has the endorsement of the mayor and Councilman Kevin Faulconer). Even some in progressive circles have been seduced by Fletcher’s “new generation” pitch.
The problem with this is that it completely ignores Fletcher’s record on the central state issue that he has had to deal with during his time in the Assembly —the state budget. As I noted in a previous column, nearly every single Republican in the legislature has signed Grover Norquist’s “no new taxes” pledge. Fletcher is one of them. Thus, on the most important issue at the state level, Fletcher stands with Norquist and the “starve the beast crowd.”
Rather than compromise on Governor Brown’s budget proposal and allow the voters to decide whether or not to extend current taxes to avoid catastrophic cuts on top of the nearly $12 billion in cuts that have already been made, Fletcher lined up behind Norquist and the hard-line anti-tax crew.
Hence far from being a “new generation” leader who stands above “gridlock” and “polarization,” Fletcher is part of the gridlock and polarization that plagues our politics. By aligning himself with Norquist and the anti-tax zealots in Sacramento, Fletcher has harmed education, social services, public safety, and fire protection in San Diego. Anyone who follows politics knows that when the budget gets cut in Sacramento, it gets passed on to the cities. So if Fletcher is coming back to save us, he’s saving us from a problem he helped perpetuate by starving the cities of funding.
Fletcher likes to talk about education, but the Republican budget plan he supported proposed to spare education by gutting state spending on services for the mentally ill, the poor, and children (not to mention firing more state workers, of course). Nobody seriously expected it to pass, but it was a clever Machiavellian ploy that played on fears about children’s educations while pitting their education funding against services for the weak with no constituency or lobby.
At base, it was a cruel budget proposal just as the Republican strategy at the statewide level has been merciless for some time now. So Nathan may be pretty, but his policy is neither nice, nor progressive by any reasonable standard. The minute Fletcher votes for any revenue increase, he’ll deserve some consideration for the moderate label. Until then, it’s a sham.
You can’t starve the beast and then claim you’re here to save it. Fletcher just can’t have it both ways—unless enough San Diego voters are dumb enough to let him get away with it.
But cheer up, San Diego! Bob Filner is in the race for mayor. With Filner, San Diegans will have a chance to elect a genuine progressive with a long, strong record—from his Mississippi Freedom Rider days to his vote against the Iraq War. He has been a friend of labor, veterans, the environment, and has always been a dependable progressive vote in the house. He also has experience in city government so he knows how the game works. I know it’s not sexy; it’s just a historical fact. If elected, Filner would be the most progressive mayor in the history of the city—not that there is a long line of them, but he’d be the best this generation has seen.
Democrats need to Dump Dumanis and Dunk DeMaio
As of this writing the most recent polling (Survey USA) puts DeMaio on top of the pack with 22% of the vote. He is followed by Dumanis with 15% of the vote. Filner is currently at 14% of the vote and Fletcher gets 7%. The same poll also puts unannounced candidates Christine Kehoe (12%) and Steve Francis (4%) in the mix. “Other” gets 6% and 14% are undecided.
Anyone who still thinks that Carl DeMaio is a populist “reformer” rather than a hard-right ideologue needs to dial down their medical marijuana consumption (and read my Wisconsin of the West columns). Fear him. He will keep his base of mean-spirited right-wingers.
Dumanis, on the other hand, is probably drawing away some Democratic women and moderate decline to state voters, just as Fletcher will draw away Democrats with his “moderate” packaging (it was precisely this phenomenon of straying Democrats that helped Sanders beat Frye).
If Filner can pick up enough of those straying Democrats, he’ll make the run-off and has a solid shot to beat DeMaio who will most likely rub people the wrong way the longer he is in the spotlight (or beat Dumanis if DeMaio crashes and burns as many predict will happen).
The great question is whether San Diego’s long history of hermaphroditic Democratic behavior will continue, and we will end up with a race between Republican and Republican-lite where progressives have very little at stake, or whether the Democratic base unites around one candidate and progressives have a real choice.
This will never happen though because San Diego is such a conservative city, right? Think again. If you look at the registration numbers countywide, the Republicans and Democrats are tied at 36% of the registered voters with the Republicans leading with 523,060 registered voters to the Democrats’ 518,080. But when you look at the city of San Diego, Democrats account for 41% of the registered voters to the Republicans’ 29%. Decline to state voters account for 25% of the city’s electorate.
Thus, the problem is not that Democrats are heavily outnumbered by Republicans: it is that Democrats either don’t vote, or are seduced into voting for Republican-lite candidates in “nonpartisan” races. A solid base turnout for Filner combined with less than half of the decline to state voters, on the other hand, would boot the Republicans out of the mayor’s office for the first time in a long while.
The wild card in all of this is whether or not Christine Kehoe jumps into the race. If she does, will she take some of the vote away from Dumanis and thus help Filner? Will she split the Democratic vote and knock both herself and Filner out of the run-off? Or will she pick up some of Filner’s vote and make the run-off herself? It remains to be seen. Stay tuned.