San Diego, once again the eyes of the nation are upon you.
This time last year, our then-mayor’s sexual harassment scandal grossed out people from Sheboygan to Sausalito. Now we’re in the news for a more mundane reason.
San Diego is home to one of the most competitive congressional elections in the country between Democratic incumbent Scott Peters and Republican challenger Carl DeMaio.
This means between now and November national political reporters will descend on San Diego to write about the two candidates and What It All Means about our country. There will be a lot of good, like the National Journal’s excellent DeMaio profile from earlier this month. But inevitably, people will get stuff wrong.
They might make factual errors, miss important context about the city or get spun too hard by the multi-million dollar campaigns on both sides. That’s why we’re inaugurating You Don’t Know SD.
Since we’ve followed both candidates closely over the years, we plan to set the record straight when these missteps emerge.
Certainly, we’re not immune to our own mistakes or leaving out context. We’ll continue to correct our own errors when we make them. We also understand that it’s easier to tear things down than to build them up. So to help people get the background they need about the race here are a few notes about both candidates:
The fact DeMaio’s a gay Republican has attracted much of the interest in this race. He had a rough childhood, and moved from Orange County to boarding school in Washington D.C. after his mother died and his father left the family. His troubles growing up have contributed to his difficulties discussing his personal life – though he’s talking about it publicly more than he used to. DeMaio has faced some of the most vicious personal attacks in local politics in recent years, but his abrupt style also has inflamed enemies and engendered some distrust among would-be allies.
DeMaio made his money in Washington D.C. by finding a policy vacuum and exploiting it. In college, he worked for a Republican-backed think tank and learned about a law designed to get federal agencies to set performance goals and meet them. He created two companies that ran conferences to teach government workers how to comply with the law and teach private-sector workers the same strategies. He later sold the companies for millions.
What he did before in San Diego politics
DeMaio was elected to the City Council in 2008, representing the city’s northeastern neighborhoods and its most Republican district. His run for mayor in 2012 unofficially began two years before the election when he emerged as the leading voice against a sales tax increase that crashed and burned at the ballot box. (Some would argue he began running for mayor when he first came to San Diego in 2002.) DeMaio’s most identified with a successful initiative that gave most new city employees 401ks instead of pensions. He finished first in the 2012 mayoral primary, but fell to Bob Filner in the general election. DeMaio opted to run for Congress rather than jump in the special election to replace Filner after a group of Republican power brokers picked Kevin Faulconer to be the party’s standard bearer.
Peters was an environmental lawyer before going into politics. He’s pretty wealthy – the sixth richest member of Congress according to OpenSecrets.org, which estimated his net worth at roughly $112 million. Peters’ money primarily comes from his wife, Lynn Gorguze, who runs a venture capital firm with her father.
What he did before in San Diego politics
Peters was on the City Council in 2002, a time when the city made a terrible decision to underfund its pension system. This choice led to catastrophic budget deficits and a decade of pensions dominating local politics. He’s recently sounded a more regretful tone about his pension decisions.
Peters became the city’s first Council president after it switched to a strong-mayor form of government, but was unable to use that platform to get elected city attorney in 2008. Peters was termed out of office the same year, and bided his time as a Unified Port of San Diego commissioner before challenging then-Rep. Brian Bilbray in 2012. His very narrow victory in a race with a high turnout of Democratic voters set up this election, where voters should skew more Republican.