San Diego Democratic Club Hosts Post-Election Forum
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
PHOTOS, top to bottom: Panelists Jennifer Tierney, David Rolland and Jess Durfee discuss the June 8 primary election results at the San Diego Democratic Club meeting June 24.
• Departing San Diego Democratic Club vice-president Alex Sachs (center) receives a proclamation from City Councilmember Todd Gloria (right) while club president Larry Baza (left) looks on.
• 36th District State Senate candidate Paul Clay
• Center political action coordinator Carlos Marquez
The predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club hosted a forum on the results of the June 8 California primary election at its regular meeting June 24. Pat Sherman, former editor of the Gay & Lesbian Times and current editor of the recently launched Gay San Diego, moderated the event and the speakers included San Diego County Democratic Party chair and former San Diego Democratic Club president Jess Durfee; San Diego CityBeat editor David Rolland; and political consultant Jennifer Tierney, who managed former Assemblymember Howard Wayne’s campaign for the District 6 seat on the San Diego City Council.
Though most of the topics discussed were about the San Diego County results — Wayne’s second-place finish to Republican Lorie Zapf in District 6; the passage of Proposition D, making San Diego’s strong-mayor government permanent and adding a ninth City Council seat; and the imposition of term limits on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors — Sherman’s first question to the panelists was about what Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown will have to do to overcome the enormous deep pockets of his Republican opponent, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman. “I prepared all my thoughts about local races!” Rolland joked in a tone of mock panic.
Durfee questioned the assumption he thought Sherman had made in his question that Whitman and Republican U.S. Senate nominee Carly Fiorina will be able to run together as a team the way incumbent Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer were in 1992. Durfee said that Boxer, Fiorina’s opponent, “will take care” of her. “There’s certainly going to be an uphill battle to match the magnitude of money on the GOP side,” Durfee conceded, referring to the willingness of Whitman and Fiorina to spend millions of dollars of their own money to bankroll their campaigns. But he also argued that the spectacle of two standard-bearers essentially trying to buy public office with their personal fortunes might backfire against the Republicans in general.
“Jerry Brown needs to stay on the tack he’s been on in the last few years,” Rolland said. “He needs to continue behaving like a maverick and taking a page out of the tea party handbook — not adopting their ideas, but playing up a progressive populism. He needs to distance himself from organized labor as much as he can, while at the same time using the rhetoric of labor in talking about working people and their families.”
Tierney, who didn’t answer the question about Jerry Brown, took the lead in responding to the next one: about the likely effect the term limits initiative will have on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. “It’s going to be a huge change,” she said. “It’ll take us years to find out what that means. At least it gives us a place to start the fight so we can at least say we’re in it.”
“I’m personally not in favor of term limits,” said Rolland. “They haven’t made the city of San Diego or the state of California better run, other than that there has been more representation of groups that have lacked representation in the past. There have been more women and ethnic minorities elected” due to term limits, Rolland said — and, he could have added, more Queers as well; openly Queer candidates were elected to the California state legislature and San Diego City Council only after term limits were imposed on those offices. But Rolland said that on balance he’s against term limits because “they limit your choice,” and as an example he said he’d like to have seen Donna Frye able to run for re-election to her District 6 seat on the San Diego City Council — especially since Right-wing Republican Lorie Zapf led the primary to replace her and, Rolland feels, has a good chance of winning the seat in the November election.
Durfee said that the presence of a term-limits initiative on the June ballot helped the insurgent challenges that kept the two Supervisors up for re-election this year — Ron Roberts in District 4 and Bill Horn in District 5 — from winning the outright majorities that would have eliminated the need for them to face challengers in November runoffs. Though both Roberts and Horn came close to the 50 percent plus one needed for outright victory — Roberts got 47,.8 percent of the vote and Horn got 47.5 percent — “putting term limits on the ballot as a concept set the tone” that allowed a majority of voters in each district to consider alternatives to the incumbents.
The first question from the audience was about Proposition D, which made San Diego’s strong-mayor form of government permanent and made the mayor’s power even stronger by adding a ninth City Council seat and increasing the threshold for sustaining a mayor’s veto of City Council legislation from five out of eight to six out of nine. The panelists assumed that the new Council seat will come from an increase in the number of Council districts from eight to nine in the next redistricting process after the 2010 census — even though some proponents of Proposition D were talking during the campaign about keeping the number of Council districts at eight and electing the ninth Councilmember citywide.
“If you look at the numbers in the city, the Ninth District will come mostly out of [Gay Republican] Carl DeMaio’s district and [Democrat] Sherri Lightner’s district, and it will probably lean Republican,” Tierney said. “I think strong-mayor is an opportunity for the public to be bullied, and now we’ve got to live with it.”
“My position on strong-mayor is that it’s really executive-mayor, which is what we have at the federal and state levels and in most of our largest cities,” Rolland said. He mentioned the heat he took for CityBeat’s endorsement of Proposition D and said he couldn’t understand the “lot of hair-pulling” in San Diego’s progressive community over its passage. He pointed out that the federal and California constitutions both set the threshold for a legislative override of an executive veto at two-thirds, so he didn’t think that was such a big deal at the city.
Rolland also cited a piece his paper had published by political writer John Lamb, linking the ninth City Council seat to the desire of San Diego’s Asian-Pacific Islander community for a district they can dominate the way African-Americans have in District 4 and Latinos in District 8. (Ironically, both Rolland’s comment and Lamb’s article ignored the fact that San Diego already has an Asian-Pacific Islander Councilmember — District 3 representative Todd Gloria, whose ancestry is Filipino.)
Durfee said that San Diego’s Democrats need to stop bitching about the power of the mayor and instead get behind an electable candidate so the strong mayor will be a Democrat. He pointed out that during the last City Council redistricting, “District 5 was already the largest and was projected to grow, and District 1 was the second largest,” so if the new Council seat comes mostly from those two districts it’s likely to be Republican — but the result will also make the current Districts 1 and 7 more Democratic, “so it’s somewhat of a trade-off.” He also said that the problem in creating an Asian-Pacific Islander district is those populations are not geographically concentrated in one area the way the city’s African-Americans and Latinos are.
Asked by the club’s outgoing vice-president for political action, Alex Sachs, why Lorie Zapf was able to win the District 6 primary by 12 percentage points despite seemingly devastating reporting in CityBeat about her and her husband’s finances, including delinquent taxes and mortgage defaults, Rolland said, “We were flabbergasted that she beat Howard [Wayne] by 12 points. One of my reporters exposed Zapf as a religious zealot who doesn’t think Gay people are fit for public office and should not be close to any kind of decision-making.” He defended his paper’s stories about the personal finances of Zapf and her husband, saying they raised legitimate questions about whether she could deliver on her campaign promise to bring “sound financial management” to the city when she and her husband didn’t seem able to do that personally. “We reported that she and her husband were delinquent on their mortgage and three times delinquent on their taxes, while they were contributing to political campaigns,” Rolland recalled.
“I want to compliment CityBeat on bringing that information forward,” said Durfee. “I loved seeing the Union-Tribune a few days behind — and probably holding their noses as they picked up CityBeat’s stories. It’s too bad CityBeat doesn’t have a bigger readership.” Durfee also examined the role of the Lincoln Club, the private Republican organization that took advantage of a court decision invalidating San Diego’s campaign finance regulations to pour large amounts of money into supporting Zapf. He said that Democrats need to stay committed to the race and not fall for the idea that the seat is lost since more people in the primary voted for Republicans than Democrats. “We always do better in November than in June,” Durfee said, “and we will do better in this district in November as long as we do our work.”
Tierney, who managed Wayne’s campaign, said, “District 6 has a good Democratic edge — but they’re not liberal Democrats. It may not win us any votes to repeat Lorie’s comments about Gays.” Like Durfee, she pointed out that between them, Zapf and the Lincoln Club sent out 11 direct-mail pieces, all negative attacks on Wayne rather than positive pieces on Zapf, whereas Wayne and his supporters sent out just five mail pieces and most of them were positive. “The Republicans will come into that district with guns blazing because that’s the only Council seat they can realistically pick up,” Tierney said. “We have to want it more than they do.”
Former club president Craig Roberts asked a follow-up question about lifting the money restrictions and whether that’s going to help Republicans long-term. “The window for unlimited contributions closed last week,” Tierney said. “You won’t see any more ,000 contributions to Zapf’s campaign. Now the limit is ,000 per person,” though she added that individuals and businesses can still give unlimited amounts to the Republican or Democratic parties for “member communications” — that is, mail pieces, e-mails and other targeted messages that go only to people registered with the party that’s sending them out.
Both Durfee and Rolland warned that the new restrictions on campaign contributions may also get thrown out by the courts, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case earlier this year signaled an inclination to throw out previous precedents and increase the ability of corporations to give unlimited amounts to political campaigns. “It’s a shame that the courts continue to equate money with speech,” Rolland said. “I’d like to see the courts realize that that gives rich people more power.”
Arizona Immigration Law
A surprise bit of business for the club at its June 24 meeting was a resolution, pushed by club president Larry Baza, to go on record opposing SB 1070, the law recently passed in Arizona requiring police officers with a “reasonable suspicion” that the person they have stopped for any reason is an undocumented immigrant to ask that person’s immigration status and arrest them if they cannot provide proof that they are U.S. citizens or legal residents. It also makes being an undocumented immigrant in Arizona a state, as well as a federal, crime. Though the law contains a pro forma statement that police are not supposed to use it as an excuse to do racial profiling against Latinos, the law’s opponents, both inside and outside Arizona, argue that in practice Latinos will face police harassment, and possibly even wrongful deportation, because of it.
Baza felt so strongly about this issue that he temporarily relinquished the chair so he could present the resolution directly. He argued that Queer people have a direct interest in the immigration issue because “we have LGBT [Queer] immigrants who are married. We have an immigrant policy that doesn’t work. Latino-American people are a workforce that drives agribusiness and contracting. The [federal] government needs to fix it. I believe Arizona is fixing it the wrong way. This is scapegoating. It is [racial] profiling.” Baza argued that California’s anti-marriage equality initiative Proposition 8 passed by a wider margin among Latinos and African-Americans “because we did not do our job. The Latino community is going to want to know where we stand on this issue.”
Since the issue was being presented without notice having been given to the members previously, it first required a two-thirds vote of the members present to waive the notice rules. City worker and union activist Michelle Krug supported the motion, saying that time was of the essence, especially since the law is supposed to go into effect in Arizona at the end of July. “In all of the communities I bridge,” she said, “there is the issue of people not understanding each other’s issues. This is a no-brainer.”
The resolution as drafted urged local governments in San Diego County to pass their own resolutions opposing SB 1070, “call[ed] on the entire LGBT community to stand with the Latino and progressive communities” against the bill, endorsed the demand for so-called “comprehensive immigration reform” including the Uniting American Families Act (a bill that would allow U.S. citizens in bi-national relationships with foreigners of the same gender to sponsor their partners for immigration the way U.S. citizens in opposite-gender marriages with foreigners can now) and supported the call for a boycott of Arizona until the law is repealed.
The boycott call was the one controversial part of the resolution. Club member and union staffer Brian Polejes asked if immigration rights activists in Arizona supported boycotting their own state the way Black civil-rights activists in apartheid-era South Africa had supported the international boycott of their country. Former club president Andrea Villa said she didn’t know, but that some members of the Arizona state legislature who had opposed SB 1070 had joined the call for a boycott of Arizona. Eventually, with one minor change — adding a clause urging the California state legislature not to pass a similar bill — the resolution to oppose SB 1070 passed with just one vote in opposition.
The meeting also heard from Carlos Marquez, political action coordinator of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center, on plans for rallies on the so-called “Day of Decision” when federal judge Vaughan Walker issues his decision on the constitutionality of Proposition 8; and Paul Clay, candidate for State Senate in the 36th District against Republican Joel Anderson, who said he thinks he stands a good chance of winning because many Republican voters dislike Anderson enough to cross over. The club voted to endorse three Democratic nominees for statewide office, one — Attorney General candidate Kamala Harris — in an office they hadn’t endorsed in for the June 8 primary, and two others — Lieutenant Governor candidate Gavin Newsom and Insurance Commissioner candidate Dave Jones — for whom they’d endorsed their primary opponents.
The club also heard a presentation from San Diego State University professor Marti Hatrack about AB 2072, a bill currently before the California State Senate that would affect the options made available to parents of deaf newborns about the communication options available to them. Hatrack, speaking in American Sign Language (ASL) with a volunteer interpreter translating for the audience, explained that the deaf community had opposed this bill largely because it promotes the interests of audiologists and hearing-aid manufacturers rather than the deaf community. What specifically upset her was that in the eight-page brochure that would be given to parents of deaf newborns under the bill, the emphasis was on teaching deaf children verbal English rather than ASL. “We’re promoting ASL and English in a bilingual approach,” she said.
Hatrack said the Senate Health Committee agreed to a compromise amendment in which a brochure will be developed by a committee of 10 — five representatives of the ASL community and five supporting aural language instruction. “We have no problem with that,” she said. “The speech development community loves this as well, because they know you cannot develop speech without a language first. But [hearing aid manufacturers] have a big problem with allowing ASL into the family. We had a victory yesterday [at the Senate Health Committee hearing] but we didn’t win the battle.”
Finally, the club said goodbye to Alex Sachs, vice-president for political action, who is moving to Iowa — where, ironically, one of the key political issues facing the Queer community is preserving a court decision allowing marriage equality for same-sex couples in the face of a campaign to repeal it at the ballot box, the way California voters did by passing Proposition 8. Larry Baza said a heartfelt personal goodbye, and City Councilmember Todd Gloria presented Sachs with a city proclamation. One club member joked that Sachs had done so much for the club “it’ll take 16 people to replace him.”