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As a former spokesman for former Mayor Jerry Sanders, I’ve watched with disappointment as Mayor Bob Filner has engaged in counterproductive antics ranging from picking fights with the city’s hoteliers to ridiculing City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s physical appearance.
But when I hear local Republican Party officials complain about what’s happening, I can’t help but thinking they have no one to blame but themselves.
I don’t say this as some sort of partisan warrior. I am an Obama-supporting registered Democrat, but cast my mayoral vote for then-City Councilman Carl DeMaio, a Republican. What’s more, I witnessed the benefits of cross-party appeal first-hand, having served in the administration of a Republican mayor who was enormously effective in part because he made a point of reaching across the aisle.
The composition of Sanders’ staff was a reflection of his practical, non-ideological approach to governing. In his final year in office, his chief of staff was a Democrat, his deputy chief of staff a Republican and he had a healthy mixture of Democrats and Republicans serving below those two. We all worked together extremely well and Sanders left office with an approval rating in the 60’s.
So it is with the hope for a future that includes more elected officials like Sanders that I say this: The local — and, for that matter, the national — Republican establishment needs to take a look in the mirror.
Let’s review the history. First, during the mayoral primary, the Republican Party could have endorsed District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis or Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, both center-right politicians who supported the Republican Party’s most important goals, including fostering a pro-business environment and reining in public pension costs.
DeMaio, meanwhile, was a polarizing figure and by far the most conservative of the four major candidates. Given his record, he also was the least likely of the three Republican candidates to defeat Filner, the lone Democrat, in a general election. The Republican Party knew this and endorsed DeMaio anyway.
Few who follow local politics were surprised by this decision. The chairman of the local Republican Party is Tony Krvaric, a sort of cartoonish embodiment of the Republican Party’s most over-the-top impulses. If you’re not familiar with Krvaric, you can find him on Twitter, where he refers to Obama as “Dear Leader” — title of the late North Korea henchman Kim Jong-Il — and routinely calls even moderate Democrats “socialists.”
Like many political operatives these days, Krvaric seems motivated primarily by a zest for waging ideological warfare. To the extent that Krvaric influenced the votes of any on-the-fence moderates in San Diego, he surely pushed them in the opposite direction.
Then there was the editorial page of U-T San Diego, which spent the election staking out positions so far to the right it made the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal sound like the Soviet-era Pravda. Its most infamous editorial was the one accusing Obama of waging a “war on God and life” and predicting that if Obama were re-elected, the country would see “death panels,” rationed health care, “an effort to have late-term abortions paid for by taxpayers” and attempts to have “In God We Trust” removed from U.S. currency. It was comical — and it eviscerated the U-T’s own credibility.
Which was unfortunate for DeMaio, because when it wasn’t opining on national issues, the U-T was taking the journalistically unusual approach of running front-page endorsements of DeMaio. The whole spectacle alienated many San Diegans, who interpreted it as nothing more than a clumsy power grab by new U-T owner Doug Manchester. I know several people who voted for Filner specifically as an act of protest against the U-T’s editorial page. I myself considered voting for Filner for this exact reason (before deciding Filner was simply too risky a choice). In an election that Filner won by a margin of close to 24,000 votes, the irony is that the U-T’s relentless, bull-in-a-china-shop push for DeMaio might have shifted just enough votes to give Filner the victory.
Also, on the national level, the Republican Party has become, for many voters, a toxic brand, and I’m guessing this had to play at least some small role in the mayoral outcome. Today the national Republican Party is the party of birtherism and forced transvaginal ultrasounds. It is a party that hands a sizable amount of clout to the likes of Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Wayne LaPierre. Many Democrats in San Diego, especially those who don’t pay very close attention to local politics, would no sooner vote for a Republican for mayor than they would eat at a restaurant that’s just been found responsible for a salmonella outbreak.
So the next time Filner throws a temper tantrum, stakes out some incomprehensible policy position or makes an off-color remark that embarrasses the city — and by the time you’ve finished reading this, odds are one of these things has happened already — remember that it didn’t have to turn out this way.
All it would have taken was some common sense, restraint and a realization that moderation and compromise are actually, on occasion, good things.
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