Three candidates - all of them elected officials in North County - have made an early start in the race to succeed County Supervisor Bill Horn, who will be termed out of office next year after serving more than two decades in the District 5 supervisorial seat.
San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond and Oceanside City Council members Jerry Kern and Esther Sanchez all announced their candidacies in the first half of 2017, setting up a potential three-way race to succeed Horn, who at times during his 23-year tenure on the Board of Supervisors has proved to be a controversial figure.
The official filing period for candidates for Horn's seat runs from Feb. 12 through March 18 next year, so there is still plenty of time for additional candidates to join the race. The district includes the cities of San Marcos, Vista, Oceanside and Carlsbad, as well as unincorporated communities ranging from Rancho Santa Fe to Fallbrook to Borrego Springs.
While supervisorial races are officially non-partisan, Desmond and Kern are Republicans and Sanchez is a Democrat. Republicans enjoy a voter registration advantage of 37 percent to 30 percent over Democrats in District 5, but undeclared voters make up a hefty 26 percent of the electorate.
The Board of Supervisors oversees budgets for the Sheriff's and Probation departments, as well as the District Attorney's Office. The county provides a variety of municipal services, such as land-use regulation, for the unincorporated areas, but also handles public health issues for the entire county and manages park and library systems.
All of the candidates to replace Horn will face each other in the June 2018 primary, with the top two vote-getters moving on to a November run-off, unless one of the candidates wins the seat outright in June with more than 50 percent of the vote.
Through the first six months of 2017, Kern had raised $77,200, Desmond had raised $127,900 (including loans of $15,000), and Sanchez raised $1,500, including a $1,000 contribution from her own funds, according to campaign forms on file with the county.
Below are short profiles of each of the three announced candidates for the 5th District supervisorial seat, in alphabetical order.
Desmond, 61, who has served as San Marcos mayor since 2006 and will be termed out at the end of his current term in 2018, can boast of endorsements from Bill Horn and three other current members of the Board of Supervisors (Ron Roberts, Greg Cox and Dianne Jacob), and a number of mayors and council members from North County.
A commercial pilot for Delta Airlines for 31 years, Desmond said his three primary areas of focus, if elected, will be maintaining the county's record of fiscal prudence, keeping reserves at a healthy level, and repairing and upgrading the county's infrastructure.
"Those are the three main goals I want to achieve," if elected, Desmond said.
Desmond also wants to streamline county permit processes, and he said he will be a more accessible public official than Horn has been during his tenure. He noted that his personal cell phone number is listed on the San Marcos website, and that people are sometimes surprised when he's the one who answers the phone.
While he wouldn't commit to continuing to make his cell number public if he succeeds Horn, Desmond said, "I'm going to continue in that vein of being open and accessible and willing to talk to people."
Desmond said the biggest contrast between himself and his opponents are the respective financial situations of Oceanside and San Marcos. Oceanside, where both Kern and Sanchez sit on the city council, is considering putting a measure on the ballot for a temporary half-cent sales tax to help fund city services.
"San Marcos has money in the bank and we're taking care of basic government services," Desmond said.
Kern, 65, is a retired schoolteacher who co-founded a charter school in Oceanside and is nearing the final year of his third four-year term on the council.
"I feel the skill set I've developed over the past 12 years I'd like to take to the county," said Kern.
Kern cites his experience helping to run the county's third-largest city with a population of 167,000 as of the 2010 census (compared to 83,000 for San Marcos), and its full range of city services, from its own police and fire departments to lifeguards, a harbor and a municipal airport.
Oceanside also has many of the same types of land uses as the county, including agriculture, industrial parks and urban development, Kern said.
One major difference between he and Desmond, said Kern, is that he has been involved with labor negotiations with the police department, while San Marcos contracts for law enforcement services with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. (Desmond said San Marcos still must negotiate with the Sheriff's Department for the terms of its contract.)
As for Sanchez, his council colleague and opponent in the supervisorial race, Kern said, "I don't think she's a serious candidate," citing the Republican registration advantage in the 5th District and her fundraising totals, which run far behind Kern's and Desmond's so far.
Kern also contrasted his style with that of Horn, the incumbent.
" I don't think I would be as much a lightning rod as Bill, I'm probably more low-key," he said.
"I want to be a voice for North County to make sure we get our share of services, such as road work, that people pay for," Kern said.
Sanchez, 61, has served on the Oceanside City Council for 17 years, first winning election in 2000. A graduate of Brown University, she later went to law school and has worked as an attorney in San Diego County for more than 20 years, including two decades with the county Public Defender's office.
During her time on the council, she said, she has worked on issues ranging from crime and gangs to retention of police officers, to economic development and the environment. She pointed to a planned beach resort that is set to break ground next year as one aspect of Oceanside's diverse economic base.
"I feel that I've been able to bring people together to work together," she said. Even when disagreements existed on the council, "we've been able to get things done."
At the county, she said, she would focus on such issues as maintaining proper staffing levels and providing competitive salaries.
If staffing and salaries are not addressed, she said, "we'll see the best people leave and we'll become like a revolving door."
Sanchez, the lone Democrat running to replace Horn, the Republican incumbent, said she would bring a fresh approach to land-use decisions as well. She said projects such as a mixed-use residential development proposed for 400 acres north of Escondido will increase traffic congestion and the county's infrastructure costs.
"We need to work much harder to come up with really smart projects," Sanchez said.
With the county on the verge of changing leadership for the first time in many years as four veteran supervisors bump up against term limits, Sanchez said, "We need people with a different perspective to come in. The other two candidates would probably be more of the same."