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Not long ago, I laughed when Tony Krvaric, the chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego, started lashing out on Twitter about the “establishment.”
What’s going on in San Diego when the head of the Republican Party can act frustrated with something called the establishment?
Well, things are changing.
Recently, I sat down with Republican San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio to talk about his “Roadmap to Recovery” — a plan he says will put the city into balance and protect city services in the face of a major shortfall. I hope to have more on that later. But he also had a message for the city’s elite as we’ve known them: He’s done with you.
DeMaio said the debate over Proposition D declared that the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce is “woefully out of step with the general public.”
“It was always frustrating to see how people fawned all over the Chamber of Commerce and [the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.] when the chamber and EDC don’t play a role in politics,” he said.
Why waste time trying to get them to support you, he said, if they don’t work for you.
“They don’t support candidates, they don’t get behind initiatives. They do talk. And that’s wonderful — to have people talk. But you can talk all you want. If you don’t act, you don’t get results,” he told me.
During the debate about the Proposition D, whether the chamber would support the measure became an intriguing subplot. After expressing reservations about the plan to raise sales taxes if a list of reforms were met, the chamber, in a close vote, endorsed the proposal. It was seen as a major win for Mayor Jerry Sanders and other Republicans who had chosen to support the controversial tax hike.
So how can DeMaio say the organization doesn’t support initiatives when it was actually supporting the very measure that pushed him to say these things? Money. To his point, the chamber doesn’t actually put money behind its causes.
“I want to work with people who actually understand that the city needs to make tough decisions and they’re willing to stand up and help make those decisions a reality,” he said.
Who are these groups? DeMaio said the new establishment, basically, is made up of three groups: The Building Industry Association, and related contractors groups, the Realtors, the Restaurant Association and the Lincoln Club. He said they’ll all put their money and heart into their causes.
Now, is this true? Do chamber types put their money where their mouth is? See for yourself: The U-T put together a very helpful visualization of the money behind the two sides of Proposition D. Supporters of Prop. D actually raised a significant amount from business leaders. Much of it, though, came in before the chamber announced its support.
I called the chamber for a response to DeMaio and they sent me to Chairman Tom Wornham, a vice president for Wells Fargo Bank.
Before we get to Wornham, it should be noted that the idea that the chamber is not very effective politically isn’t a new one. Former Chairman Ben Haddad, two years ago, took his post with a call to arms of sorts for the chamber to make itself relevant. And when I finally talked to Wornham, he fully admitted that it was not a political player. It doesn’t have a political action committee, like the Lincoln Club, through which it can funnel money to candidates and causes.
The chamber’s role, Wornham said, was to be the “honest broker.”
“We do not support candidates; we do not have a PAC. We’re a nonprofit organization and it’s not in our mission,” he told me.
But he pointed to support of Mayor Jerry Sanders and his push to make the strong-mayor form of government permanent as evidence of the chamber’s successes. He also pointed to the chamber’s role in keeping the San Diego delegation united in support of a massive water infrastructure bond in the Legislature (the bond, of course, was later scrapped).
Finally, Wornham says Proposition D was actually a success.
“What D showed was that, in the city of San Diego, Republicans, Democrats, labor and business could get together and do something. It was the first time we had a roadmap that made sense and the first time voters across the city could vote on whether they wanted to do it,” he said.
So what does an honest broker do? Wornham made an interesting point. It’s no secret that within the ranks of city insiders, there’s a bad taste for DeMaio. Wornham confirmed that it had gotten to the point where people were dismissing DeMaio and many of his ideas just because they came from him.
“That’s where we could come in as an honest broker. If he would reach out to the organization, which he says doesn’t have any pull, we may be able to be a good go between. Parts of Carl’s plan make sense,” Wornham said.
It’s a vision of the role of the chamber as one that validates decisions as opposed to fighting for them. It’s a group that lines up behind something their leader puts together or gives its stamp of approval to a major proposal.
That’s how you expect an establishment to act. By its very nature, it doesn’t have to act, only bless.
DeMaio says those blessings don’t matter anymore. We’ll soon see. The next test will be in the 2012 race for mayor. DeMaio clearly wants to run.
Wornham told me his bet was on Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher.