By Andy Cohen
It’s official. Carl DeMaio has announced his bid to challenge freshman incumbent Scott Peters for the 52nd Congressional District seat in central San Diego. The right wing/Tea Party conservative who lost his mayoral bid to one of the most liberal candidates ever to seek the top job at City Hall now has set his sights on the left-of-center consensus builder who took down long time Republican incumbent Brian Bilbray, who was only slightly less conservative than DeMaio.
Congress is broken, he tells us, and he’s just the guy to go and fix it.
“If we want better results from Washington, we have to change the people we send there and impose new rules to govern the way we operate,” said DeMaio in a press release announcing his candidacy.
Okay, so Congress is broken, and the reason it’s broken is the Tea Party insurgents have taken the rest of Congress hostage, so the solution, according to DeMaio, is to send more Tea Party types to Washington.
“As a budget expert, DeMaio will outline cost savings to help balance the federal budget….” reads the release. His plan would presumably entail the same cuts, the same approach taken by Paul Ryan, the current Republican budget guru whose “Path to Prosperity” imposes draconian cuts to the government—and particularly Medicare—but fails to bring the budget into balance for nearly 30 years, if even then. But this is the kind of “responsible” approach DeMaio believes will solve all of our problems. There’s a lot of lip service to “balancing the budget,” but no real intent other than to stifle government’s ability to function.
I don’t suppose it might have crossed Mr. DeMaio’s mind that a better approach might be the one taken by the last president to preside over a budget surplus in this country. Bill Clinton’s budgets led to a $236 billion surplus in 2000, largely through a slightly higher tax burden on the super wealthy. It was the Bush tax cuts that put an end to that surplus and gave us the huge deficits that have begun to steadily shrink during the Obama presidency. The wealthy weren’t doing too badly back then, either, but it was the middle class that was as strong as it has ever been, which is the key to strong economic growth. Rich people don’t drive the economy, the middle class does.
“….and champion pension reform legislation to help fix state and local budgets.” Like the one that sent the City of San Diego from a projected budget surplus into a $40 million deficit in the upcoming budget year. DeMaio insisted that the switch from a defined benefit plan to a 401(k) style plan would be the principle driver that would save the city nearly $1 billion in pension expenses. What DeMaio to this day refuses to acknowledge is that his obliteration of the pension system as we know it actually cost the city $40 million more in pension liabilities just this year alone.
DeMaio refused to acknowledge a basic mathematical fact: The entirety of his projected $963 million in savings from Prop B would come from the pensionable pay freeze that is (illegally) mandated in the law. California state law requires that all public employee salary issues be collectively bargained, and clearly states that changes to employee pay cannot be unilaterally enforced, and cannot be determined by popular vote. Yet that’s precisely what Prop B did.
All of that was rendered moot earlier this week when Mayor Bob Filner announced a five year labor agreement with all six of the city’s public employee unions that instituted a 5 year pensionable pay freeze that will ultimately lead to Prop B fulfilling most DeMaio’s promises. Without the agreement, no pension savings. And because the agreement came about through negotiation and cooperation with the unions rather than demonization, it’s unlikely that it would have happened via the bully tactics of a DeMaio led administration guided by the premise that public employees are the problem and not even a part of the solution.
The truth is that San Diego’s public employee pension system was broken, by City Councils and mayors past through the deliberate underfunding of the system to meet other desires. But that problem was fixed through reforms instituted by more recent councils, and the pension system was largely back on solid footing. Prop B was an entirely unnecessary step designed to disabuse San Diegans of the value of the services public employees provide to city taxpayers.
DeMaio’s aspirations are buoyed by a recent GOP sponsored poll that showed DeMaio running ahead of Peters 49% to 39%. One has to wonder, however, whether this was the same polling outfit that the UT-San Diego cited when they declared that DeMaio held a similar 10 point lead over Bob Filner in the waning weeks of the San Diego mayoral race.
DeMaio does also have a Republican voter registration advantage of 6,500 in the district going for him, although there are also nearly 112,000 Decline to State voters (although DTS voters are typically more conservative). Still, it would seem that DeMaio will have an uphill battle trying to convince a district that just ousted a conservative Republican with a long history in Congress to elect an even more conservative candidate who has proven to be one of the more polarizing figures on the San Diego political scene.
“I see myself as a ‘new generation Republican’ who wants to challenge the party to focus on pocket-book, economic and quality of life issues in a more positive and inclusive way.” Just like the rest of the Tea Party, as DeMaio fits right in with that crowd—the anti-tax, anti-government, trickle down gospel folks.
The 2014 San Diego congressional races just got a whole lot more interesting. The 52nd District race in 2012 was among the most expensive in the country, and given that DeMaio is a direct Karl Rove disciple, expect the same—or worse—this time around.
This was originally published at San Diego Free Press.