Four months ago residents in San Diego County elected two new county supervisors for the first time in decades, launching a period of dramatic change in the region.
The next step in that change is taking form. With three seats potentially in play and the March 2020 primary just over a year away, a handful of candidates have officially announced their candidacies.
A majority of the five-member county board is at stake.
“It is actually a big deal, in large part, because it has been so long since there has been a Democratic majority,” said Brian Adams, a political science professor at San Diego State University, adding that he isn’t sure that there has been a Democratic majority. “They (supervisors) have a lot of power, and Democratic control could change a lot of things.”
The opportunity for Democrats comes thanks to an unprecedented situation. Two longtime supervisors with more than 20 years experience each, Supervisors Greg Cox and Dianne Jacob, are unable to seek re-election due to term limits.
Also, the seat held by incumbent Republican Supervisor Kristin Gaspar is widely regarded as in play. Democrats possess a slight registration advantage in Gaspar’s District 3, which encompasses part of San Diego and the cities of Encinitas, Escondido, Solana Beach and Del Mar.
Gaspar has not committed to seeking re-election. She declined to be interviewed for this article.
Democrats get in early
Faced with a favorable map and an unfamiliar opportunity, Democrats are aggressively pursuing supervisor seats. At least four Democratic candidates have announced candidacies and are actively running so far.
For the District 1 seat long held by Cox, which covers the South Bay, Democrats have a 72,000-person advantage in voter registration. A couple of Democrats with roots in the community have already announced they’re running.
Rafael Castellanos, an attorney and chair of the Port of San Diego, announced at the beginning of January. He said he is prioritizing creating more economic opportunity in the South Bay.
Also Nora Vargas, a Southwestern Community College trustee and healthcare advocate, announced her candidacy a few weeks ago. She said she aims for a community perspective on the board and is prioritizing health equity.
Meanwhile the seat in District 3, and a potential race against Gaspar, has similarly drawn candidates with full resumes.
Terra Lawson-Remer, an economist and attorney living in Encinitas and former senior adviser in the Treasury Department under the Obama Administration, has been open about running for months. Lawson-Remer, who also was pivotal in the “flip the 49th” campaign that helped elect Rep. Mike Levin (D-Oceanside), highlighted as her priorities environmental sustainability, economic growth and affordable housing.
Olga Diaz, an Escondido City Council member, discussed her candidacy for the District 3 supervisor seat with the Coast News Group earlier this week. She said, if elected, she would focus on local issues and expanding the University of California school system’s presence into North County.
Other Democrats also are exploring potential candidacies or have set up committees, such as state Senator Ben Hueso.
“We have really good candidates in District 3 and District 1, and I wouldn’t be surprised if District 2 is even a possibility,” said Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, chairman of the San Diego Democratic Party.
Republicans more reticent
Republicans, on the other hand, have been hesitant to publicly announce their candidacies.
As of Friday, Feb. 15, no Republican has officially announced they’re running for a Board of Supervisor seat in 2020 including, again, the one eligible incumbent, Gaspar. Republican candidates also have not been publicly active in establishing campaign committees.
“I’m actually surprised we haven’t seen more,” said Adams, from SDSU.
It’s not as surprising for the Gaspar seat, he added, because it makes sense that potential Republican candidates would wait to see what she’s going to do. But, he said, it is surprising for Jacob’s soon-to-be vacant East County seat.
And for the South Bay seat, there isn’t a deep Republican bench in the district, Adams said, a similar problem facing Democrats in East County’s District 2.
So far, state Senator Joel Anderson, who previously mounted a bid to unseat Jacob, may be the only Republican with a committee already established for a supervisor’s race. That committee had more than $289,000 in it, as of the last reporting period.
Anderson did not respond to a request for an interview.
Contributing to the lack of publicly declared candidates is the timing; the primary is coming much earlier in this election cycle than the last, said Tony Krvaric, chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County.
“I think people are gathering their sea legs around this,” he said “People are used to having more time.”
Krvaric said he knows there are several people currently looking at the seats and “making the rounds, talking to people,” and he expects most to declare their candidacy by the end of March, at the latest.
“There’s no secret that the majority of the makeup of the board is on the table,” Krvaric said. “We’ll have Republican candidates.”
— Charles T. Clark is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune