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County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, a firebrand local politician if there ever was one, has developed quite an enemies list during more than two decades in office.
The local Red Cross can’t be a fan: Jacob scorched the charity over its diversion of wildfire donations and even went on “60 Minutes” to describe its ineptitude. On the power front, a hot topic in the backcountry areas she represents, Jacob has repeatedly tangled with SDG&E. She’s also wrangled with Indian casinos, property owners and county pension officials. Jacob even got into a bitter spat with the then-owner of the L.A. Times.
Throughout it all, she’s preserved her reputation as a conservative Republican who is willing, able and eager to make a political stink when needed.
Now, she has a fight on her hands.
Jacob, who wants to be elected to her seventh term next year, will face a notable opponent for the first time anyone can remember. And, as they say in horror movies, the call is coming from inside the house: Her rival is another Republican, state Sen. Joel Anderson, and he’s successfully wooed the local GOP establishment to stand behind him. More importantly, the county Republican Party is giving him a whole lot of money after itself raising tens of thousands from Jacob foes like SDG&E and construction companies.
The question is: Why is she facing opposition now? There doesn’t seem to be a single definitive answer. The best explanation may be that a combination of factors — her votes, her refusal to play footsy with the GOP establishment — has put Jacob in the firing line.
Here’s what we know.
Jacob has teed off GOP power players …
While she’s developed a reputation as a rock-ribbed Republican, Jacob hasn’t been a full-fledged defender of property rights: In 2011, she and three other county supervisors voted to make it harder for some rural property owners to develop their land. That has apparently alienated some of her conservative base, although the vote didn’t spawn a significant challenge for her in the 2012 election.
Indeed, many of Anderson’s fans work in the construction industry, a fact that could work against him. He’s sure to get attacked in campaign mailers for an April 30 fundraiser that was co-hosted by more than two dozen representatives of construction-related companies along with a long list of Republican current and former politicians. The event was held at a construction company’s offices in Lakeside.
“I’m not saying that every project should be approved. Some projects are not good,” said Laura Nelson, who formerly worked as an administrator at El Cajon’s Cass Construction, now owned by her son, and who’s supporting Anderson. “You need someone with an open mind and will consider all of the possibilities: How many jobs is this going to bring, the economic impact. Not just, ‘No, we don’t want any development.’ All I’m looking for is a balanced approach.”
Jacob and the local Republican Party are hardly bosom buddies. When the county Republican Party’s Central Committee endorsed Anderson in February, former Councilman Carl DeMaio tweeted that Jacob “has ignored the central committee,” and added that “the story is a simple one of neglect.”
… Who Are Spreading Money Around
In January, the county Board of Supervisors — with Jacob in support — limited political parties to no more than $25,000 donations in individual supervisor races. The county Republican Party dumped a hefty $200,000 into Anderson’s campaign coffers just a day before the limits went into effect.
That’s a lot of scratch, especially considering that the party spent about $2 million in all of 2014, according to the California secretary of state’s office, a bit more than it made in contributions.
The party’s donation came on March 4. Just a week before, SDG&E gave a whopping $25,000, disclosures reveal. Among the other late February donors are a Lakeside construction company, a Santee real-estate firm, Lakeside’s Barona Band of Mission Indians, the Cornerstone Communities developer firm, and a La Mesa company called Davisson Enterprises. Lakeside, Santee and La Mesa, of course, are in East County — and in Jacob’s district; Jacob has had fights with Indian tribes and SDG&E.
Her Campaign Cash Vote Didn’t Help
Did Jacob masterfully plot to put campaign limits in place to avoid big donations against her by the county party? At least one GOP honcho is hinting that she did.
“I don’t think Dianne helped herself with that stunt she pulled,” griped county Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric to the U-T, as he expressed suspicion about the timing of the limits.
But Jacob wasn’t the prime mover behind the limit on donations. That was Supervisor Ron Roberts, another Republican.
To make matters even more complicated, Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer diverged from his party in 2013 as a councilman and supported low political party campaign contribution limits in the city of San Diego. He didn’t face retribution from the GOP for failing to follow the party line.
Some GOP Types May Stay Out
The Lincoln Club, a “pro-business” San Diego political action group, is a good friend to have if you’re a Republican. It spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the 2012 race for San Diego mayor, much of it on harshly negative political advertising that seemed to play a significant role in dashing the hopes of legislator Nathan Fletcher, the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat.
But it doesn’t seem likely that the Lincoln Club will take a side in Jacob vs. Anderson. Many of its members like both candidates, said executive director Ryan Clumpner.
“From the standpoint of someone seeking our endorsement, that makes it hard to convince the membership that this is a race where we should focus our limited resources,” he said. Still, the Lincoln Club did commission a poll about the race; Clumpner wouldn’t reveal the results.
The Race Is Already Personal
The war of words has already begun. Krvaric, the party chairman, told U-T San Diego that the GOP’s $200,000 donation is designed to push Jacob out: “We think it’s time for Dianne Jacob to retire. We think (the contribution) might help her in that decision.”
In response, Jacob snapped back: “I won’t be bullied out of office by somebody who cares more about partisan political games than he does the residents of my district.”
Note the suggestion of bullying, an especially powerful accusation when the alleged bully is a man and the target is a woman. You may see more along these lines: The Jacob campaign is hinting that sexism is afoot, taking note of the GOP’s failure to stand behind veteran County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price in 2012. The saga around the end of her political career, however, is complicated.
Then there’s the matter of the county GOP’s pox-on-all-their-houses approach to the board of supervisors, which now has four Republicans who’ve been in office since the 1990s and one fairly new Democrat: “They’ve been ruling like royalty so long,” Krvaric told the U-T. “Frankly, most of them have gotten arrogant. People are ready for change.”
And it Will Get Worse
Anderson has been in state politics since he was elected to the Assembly in 2006 (he joined the state Senate in 2010), but he’s much lesser-known than Jacob. The race is now on to define him in the public eye.
It helps that he’s gotten endorsements from Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, two local assemblymen and the mayors of El Cajon and Santee. Jacob’s campaign will have two easy shots at him, though: campaign contribution misconduct and coziness with the construction industry.
In 2009, Anderson, then an Assembly member, was fined $20,000 by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission for soliciting and accepting campaign contributions in excess of the legal limit.
The fine followed reporting by U-T San Diego about the nearly $150,000 that flowed from Anderson’s 2008 Assembly campaign committee and business interests in eastern San Diego County to Republican central committees in Fresno, Placer and Stanislaus counties. Those committees, in turn, made donations in similar amounts to Anderson’s 2010 Senate campaign committee.
Anderson gave the money back and blamed confusing rules.
Dems (Yes, Dems!) May Play a Role
Whatever happens in 2016, a Democrat is very unlikely to sneak in and win the county supervisor race in District 2. The district is home to 329,456 voters: 39 percent Republican, 31 percent Democrat and 24 percent independent. It gets even unfriendlier for Dems in some parts of the region (looking at you, inland North County). The only even remotely feasible scenario: The two Republicans bloody each other so much that a run-off pits a right-leaning Democrat against a devastated Republican.
On the other hand, District 2 is not as much of a rural district as you might assume from Jacob’s heavy focus on backcountry issues. It includes cities like Poway, La Mesa, El Cajon and Santee, plus a significant chunk of the eastern stretches of San Diego, including Rolando, the College Area, San Carlos, Del Cerro, Allied Gardens and Grantville.
City-dwelling Democratic voters, in fact, could swing the 2016 election (or elections, if there’s a run-off). This fact will put both Anderson and Jacob in an awkward position: They must appeal to their conservative Republican bases but will need to peel off some Democratic and independent votes. That means only one thing: painting themselves as mavericks who don’t fall in line when the GOP tells them what to do. On this front, Jacob has the early lead.