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Mayoral candidate and current District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said today she opposes the Republican push to convert all new city of San Diego employees except police from guaranteed pensions to a 401(k) plan.

Her stance offers the first major Republican dissent to a compromise plan struck between different party factions. It ensures that the 401(k) ballot measure, slated for the same June 2012 primary that will feature what is shaping up to be a star-studded mayoral race, won’t simply be a battle between the GOP and employee unions.

The compromise measure includes switching firefighters to the 401(k) plan, one of its most controversial features. That was a deciding factor for Dumanis, who said she can’t support a plan that doesn’t exempt police, firefighters and lifeguards.

“I am a strong supporter of pension reform,” she said in an email to us. “However, it is my core belief that those who put their lives at risk daily in the line of duty should have a secure pension.”

Mayor Jerry Sanders and Councilman Kevin Faulconer originally pushed a plan that exempted public safety members. A competing proposal from Councilman Carl DeMaio and business groups would’ve moved all employees to the 401(k) plan. The two sides eventually put together a compromise plan that exempts just police and attempts to freeze employee play in order to whittle away at the city’s smothering pension liabilities.

Here’s Dumanis’ full statement, which she sent to our Scott Lewis in response to his post last week breaking down the district attorney’s conundrum:

It is clear that pension reform in San Diego is vital to our fiscal recovery. I am a strong supporter of pension reform. However, it is my core belief that those who put their lives at risk daily in the line of duty should have a secure pension. I appreciate the enormous amount of work that has gone into the proposed compromise ballot measure by the Mayor, Council members and business leaders who have participated in the process, but I can’t support a measure that doesn’t exempt police, firefighters and lifeguards from a 401k pension plan. When it comes to public safety we must be competitive to attract and retain the very best. There are other ways to address the fiscal impacts for public safety. Some of these have already been implemented.

The decision sets up a new level of intrigue in the race to replace Sanders. Dumanis and the mayor, a former police chief, have long been strong political allies. If he endorsed her, he would be supporting somebody who opposes one of his signature efforts.

Dumanis’s stand also places her squarely against her own party. As Lewis wrote last week:

First, it’s going to be difficult for any Republican to go against the plan. They’ll be pummeled by DeMaio, Faulconer and the body of newly fired up Republican activism in San Diego.

The news further highlights the burgeoning contrast between San Diego’s established, institutional Republicans and the more aggressive wing led by Councilman Carl DeMaio and party Chairman Tony Krvaric. Dumanis’s campaign also said today that she wouldn’t seek the endorsement of the firefighters union.

Next up: Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher. The Republican hasn’t formally announced his candidacy but faces a similar decision, to stake out a more centrist position or go along with DeMaio and Faulconer, who are also believed to be running.

You can reach me at andrew.donohue@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0526. Follow me on Twitter: @AndrewDonohue.

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