Tuesday, September 24, 2013

An Open Letter to Members of the San Diego Democratic Central Committee

Hello Fellow Democrats,

Tonight you will get to make a choice to endorse a candidate for San Diego Mayor.  Choose correctly, and you can turn this election into a win-win for Democrats, progressives, and other left-leaning types. Choose badly and we can end up with Kevin Falconer as our mayor.  Ick.  And here's the choice you should make - endorse no one.

Now before I explain my reasoning, let me first give you a few bonafides.  I used to serve on the Central Committee, and also served on the Executive Committee for the San Diego County Democratic Party, while also serving as the President of the San Diego County Young Democrats.  Hell, I served with the three former chairs of the Party - Kennan, Bob, and Maureen - while I was on the Executive Committee.  While I am no longer as active as I used to be (such is the practice of law), I am still a Democrat in good standing, and I think this blog speaks for itself.

Let me also say this - I don't have a dog in this fight.  I barely know Fletcher or Alvarez, but know people who do, and they highly of both. I supported Aguirre for City Attorney, and loved his bulldozer mentality in City Hall, along with his stirring speeches at during our Central Committee meetings. So, really, I'd be happy with any of these men as Mayor (though I would've preferred Toni).

So, this letter isn't about picking one candidate or another, its about being smart. And right now, the smart play is to not endorse anyone. Here's why - as long as you do not endorse any candidate in this race, Alvarez and Fletcher (especially Fletcher) will go from Democratic club to Democratic club vying for endorsements.  In the process, Fletcher will be pulled further and further to the left.  This isn't just because he will be fighting for endorsements, but because he will spend more and more time talking to progressives, listening to them, and answering their questions.  He will develop greater connections to the Democratic Party and to progressive groups.  Alvarez, meanwhile, will get the lion's share of these endorsements.  He's a strong progressive, he's smart, and well-liked.  Even where he doesn't win, the competition for endorsements will increase his name ID.

In short, forcing both of these candidates to vie for Democratic club endorsements will strengthen both candidates in areas of weakness.  Alvarez increases his name ID, and Fletcher becomes more and more involved in the Party he joined a few months ago.  This doesn't happen if you endorse either candidate.

By the way, about Fletcher's conversion. Before we hold Fletcher's recent conversion from Republican to Independent to Democrat against him, let's remember that his conversion was a huge coup for us. Fletcher was a rising star of the Republican Party until recently. Let's remember that he's backed by Lorena Gonzalez, the most successful Labor leader we've had in San Diego in a long time.  Let's remember that we poached with an eye towards his future run for public office and that Fletcher now is the frontrunner in the race.

What you should absolutely not do is endorse either candidate (or Aguirre).  If you endorse Fletcher (he is the frontrunner, after all), you piss off a good Democrat in Alvarez, and Fletcher can ignore Democrats in his run for mayor.  If you endorse Alvarez, you push Fletcher further to the middle, and we lose influence on a guy who could be mayor.  Also, remember that more likely than not, one of these guys will run against Falconer in the run-off.  So, we want both to be strong.

Now I know that you will be asked to endorse based on your principles, or based on your emotions, or based on connections, but you need to think strategically.  Both of these men - Alvarez and Fletcher - are strong candidates, and both represent the future of the San Diego Democratic Party.  Let's do what we can to build both of these guys up.  That way, we end up with 1 guy as mayor, and the other guy as a strong candidate for a higher office further down the line.  Its the smart play.


Phat Jim

Monday, September 23, 2013

Labor Gets Trolled Again (?)

One of the most interesting aspects of the San Diego's mayoral special election is the existence of Nathan Fletcher.  Fletcher fit the mold of the socially liberal, fiscally moderate, San Diego Republican that has been kicking Democrats asses for decades (See Sanders, Jerry; See also Wilson, Pete).  Then hurricane DeMaio happened, and the San Diego GOP, which had avoided eats-its-young tendencies of the CA GOP, ate it young.  Rather than backing Fletcher, or taking no formal position in the primary, it endorsed DeMaio big-time.

That lead to Fletcher (and his supporters) leaving the Republican Party to become a decline-to-state. And it created an opportunity.  As I have said before, Fletcher is the classic little-ray-of-sunshine - he's everyone's friend, people who meet him instinctively trust him, and you end up agreeing with him.  Oh, and he is an ex-Marine (I know, I know, there is no such thing), in a military town. Fletcher was a guy on his way up.  If the Democrats could get Fletcher to become a Democrat, then they'd have a rockstar candidate in their back pocket.  Ultimately, that's what happened. Lorena Gonzalez, Jess Durfee, and even Bob Filner, started wooing Fletcher pretty much from the get-go.  Hell, I think they were planning this before the DeMaio endorsement.  Either way, they got their man, and planned to stash him away for a few years, let him build up his progressive ties and run him for something.*

Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men. . .Filner ends up being a HUGE perv, resigns after 9 months in office, and Fletcher jumped in the race for Mayor as a Democrat. And, given his general inclination to being mildly pro-government (he actually voted for the State of California to spend money, something Republicans in the State Assembly do not typically do), his support of LGBT rights, and a his pro-biking environmentalism(ish), Fletcher is probably a Democrat at heart.

But of course, Fletcher isn't the only Democrat in the race. David Alvarez has a longer record of progressivism, and generally thought of highly.  And so, the Labor Council is backing Alvarez. Or, rather, most of the unions in the Labor Council are supporting Alvarez, the rest are supporting Fletcher. In the meantime, Republican groups are attacking Fletcher because of his Republican past, and that he has "changed parties three times."  

This past has sparked an interparty fight within Labor and the Democratic Party.  The head of the local American Federation of Teachers (which represent Community College instructors), alleged that Lorena Gonzalez rigged the whole thing so that she could be an Assemblywoman. Nathan Fletcher's confidential Labor Council questionnaire was sent anonymously to create a minor shitstorm.

All of this reminds me, in part, of the recent District 4 campaign between Dwayne Crenshaw and Myrtle Cole.**  Labor backed Cole full-tilt, even running misleading attack ads on Crenshaw, because Republicans were sending out anti-Cole mailers.  As I noted then, Labor got trolled, and turned what should have been an easy election for them into a knock-down, drag-out fight.

And that's where I think we're headed in the San Diego's special election. This should be an easy election for Labor - Fletcher has the look of a frontrunner, and Alvarez, with mild union backing, could pull the race leftward, while at the same time raising his name identification.  Properly done, this campaign could, and should be a win-win for the Democratic Party, the Labor Council and the City of San Diego.  But, if the warfare continues, Fletcher will become more hostile to progressive groups, and we could end up with Falconer (the Republican), as mayor.

*By the way, Labor does this all the time because they have to. Republican candidates have, for the most part, deep donor pockets to pull from, and then use that money to gain traction. Progressive groups don't have that luxury, and need to have candidates who can hit the ground running.

**Cole's profiles in courage have thus far been stellar - during the campaign, she claimed that her opponent was a crackhead, practically admitted that the ad was false, and was the last City Councilmember to call on Filner to resign after the 16th or 17th woman came forward.  I hate to say I told you so, but. . .

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Breaking Away From Politics

Since this blog is called Politics and Religion, and with national politics being depressing and all, I thought I would go with a religious post.  And so, naturally, I'm going to talk about Pope Francis. After all, he's all over the news and Andrew Sullivan's blog.

So as a progressive, what do I think about Pope Francis? Well, I have to admit that I was a bit wrong about him.  Initially, I thought that Francis was an extrovert in the style of Bill Clinton. Not in the womanizing kind of a way, but in the loving crowds kind of a way. Unlike Pope Benedict, Pope Francis seems to enjoy the politician aspect of being Pope.  He likes the crowds, enjoys mingling with people, and calls people on the phone (he apparently opens with, "Hello, this is the Pope.")  He also seems like he's not an asshole, buying a used car to drive around in and what not.

But what's interesting is that Francis' most recent interview, which has Andrew Sullivan practically twisting his nipples in delight, (you can thank me for the mental image later) is that Francis goes the opposite way.  According to Francis, he is a dick, and his dickishness comes from when he separates himself from regular people and the community.  So, he has to be engaged with the crowds and with the regular folk, lest his own dickishness comes out.  Oh, and his past dickishness lead people to think he's a conservative, which he says he isn't.

How liberal Francis actually is remains to be seen, but there's something refreshing about a guy in power who knows his own weaknesses and owns up to them. Every person has to come to grips with their own inner asshole, understand who that asshole is, and try to keep the asshole in the dark hole where he belongs. Its the kind of inner reflection that I would expect from a Jesuit.

At the same time, I hope that this kind of inner reflection and charisma will lead Pope Francis and the Catholic Church to more progressive ways, such as allowing priests to marry, allowing women to be priests, and opening up the rules on contraception. I won't hold my breath on abortion, though. I also hope to see a Catholic Church more focused on poverty, union membership, and ending war - things that the Church gave up when it decided to fight the culture wars. And, of course, I hope that Pope Francis can help the Church reconcile itself with past, horrific, child abuse.  I don't know if that's possible, but I am more hopeful with Francis than I ever was with Benedict.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Race to Replace Bob - Looking at the Contenders

With Bob   having finally resigned, and the special election heating up, I think we should look at contenders for the Mayor's race.  But before we do, we have to consider what makes a candidate viable.  A politician is unlike any other type of job because politicians are supposed to be able to gain and wield support of other people (and interest groups) because without such support, politicians can't pass legislation, and can't effectively govern (social contract and all that).  For a candidate, this kind of support comes in two basic forms - money and energy.  

While money is self-explanatory, energy is somewhat more complicated. Energy can mean the level of excitement a candidate brings when giving speeches, or the number of endorsements a candidate brings in.  Good candidates can harness that energy into grassroots campaigning, which, in turn, generates votes more effectively than any other form of campaigning.  Seriously, when I first started working on campaigns, I thought it would be all TV commercials and speeches (a la "The Candidate").  Instead, its walking door-to-door, followed up by direct mail, followed up by telephone calls.  It is mind-numbing, exhausting work, but it works.

Here's the interesting part about money and energy - in every campaign, there is a limited amount of either.  Generally, its the same people who give money to campaigns, and the same people who volunteer in campaigns. While Obama blew everything out of whack by getting more people involved, a municipal city election such as this is going to have limited money and energy.  So, certain candidates (and you will see this below), are going to take money and energy away from other candidates. 

The Contenders

Kevin Falconer (R): A couple of weeks ago, the various right of center types came together to find out who their candidate was going to be. As a result, Kevin Falconer stepped in to run and Carl DeMaio* and Ron Roberts (both Republicans) stepped out. As a result all the conservative money that backed DeMaio in the last race is going towards Falconer.  So, he'll get money.  But, will he have any energy? I'm not sure. Thus far, his main legislative accomplishment was banning booze from San Diego's beaches.  Beyond that, I don't know much about him, except that he lost to Michael Zucchet for his Council seat, and then when Zucchet was wrongfully forced to resign, Falconer beat none other than Lorena Gonzalez in the Special Election.  

*By the way, I think that Filner might have held onto office as long as he did to screw over DeMaio.  If Filner resigned in July, the special election probably would take place sometime in October, with the run-off in January.  By waiting until the end of August, Filner made sure the special election occurred later (November/February), and that didn't give DeMaio enough time to run for Mayor and turn around and run for Congress if he lost.

Nathan Fletcher (D-ish): As I tell most people, Fletcher is a little ray of sunshine. And I mean that in non-sarcastically.  He's one of those types who is genuine, charming, and appears to be a great guy. Little wonder that Fletcher had a cabal of fairly well-connected supporters join him in leaving the Republican party.  And they are going to keep supporting him. That's why Fletcher the independent was the number 1 recruitment target of the San Diego Democratic Party (among others).  He fits in a long line of high level candidates San Diego Labor stashes away - Mike Zucchet, Lorena Gonzalez, etc - and the people who dealt with him in the past, absolutely love him.  Of all the candidates, he has the most energy in this race.  Add to that the money lining his campaign coffers, and Fletcher is a serious, serious candidate.  

His one weakness is the matter of timing.  Had Filner lasted a complete term, Fletcher would have had a full four years of being a Democrat under his belt, and made more inroads with the Progressive left. So, Labor has been split in supporting him.  

With that said, Fletcher is way, way out of the gate already.  He has a website, volunteers to walk door-to-door for him. He probably has a consultant, and almost certainly has letterhead.  Not only is he gathering energy, he's using it effectively, and doing it before everyone else.  This is a big advantage and shows how much energy Fletcher has already.

David Alvarez (D): The City Councilmember from San Diego's southern-most district is the progressive that a lot of lefties were hoping for. Here's the thing - I know next to nothing about David Alvarez. I do know that he beat back the South Bay political machine that elected the last three City Councilmembers from his District, and he did so by being a strong progressive.  He's been backed by the San Diego Labor Council (with the exception of the SD Police, Firefighters, Municipal Employees and Lifeguards, all of whom support Fletcher), and will probably be supported by a fair number of other progressive organizations.  Since he has such strong support, he will be a player, but unless he gets his grassroots operation up and running now, he will have a lot of trouble becoming mayor.  That said, Alvarez may be running to raise his profile. 

Mike Aguirre (D): Aguirre is a wild card. As the former City Attorney (who lost to Jan Goldsmith in 2008), Mike was the wrecking ball of City politics, who did a lot of good things, but mostly pissed people off.  He's sort of like Filner, but without the good constituent relations and awful treatment of women.  Now normally Aguirre would be deemed a minor candidate but for one very important detail - Mike is independently wealthy.  He can self-fund his campaign.  As a result, he doesn't need San Diego Labor, or anyone to run, and it makes him a player.  He also fits into the ass-kicking reformer that San Diegans wanted when they picked DeMaio and Filner as their candidates for Mayor in 2012.  The only real issue with Mike is whether or not he can harness the energy that his money creates for him.  

Lori Saldana (D): Here's the thing about Lori - when she first ran for State Assembly, she was the 3rd choice of the powers that be.  The first two choices - Vince Hall and Heidi von Szeliski - ran such a negative and relentless campaign that they killed each other's chances, and pushed Lori to the forefront. In other words, she was the accidental State Assemblymember.  That said, Lori was smart, and positioned herself well in that campaign.  In this campaign, however, I don't see how she gains any traction.  All the progressive liberal types are going to back Alvarez (who has the benefit of not endorsing Filner while knowing that he harassed several women, unlike Lori), and all the other Dems are going to back Fletcher.  So, I suspect that Lori will mirror her original Assembly campaign and hope she positions herself correctly, which she won't.

So, with all that said, we're in for an interesting race ahead.