The Morning Report
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The County Board of Supervisors isn’t shifting to the left anytime soon.
With Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar’s victory in the county’s District 3, the board will again be composed entirely of Republicans – thwarting Democratic hopes of maintaining a seat that could eventually help them take control of the longtime conservative board.
Gaspar’s opponent, incumbent Dave Roberts, was the first Democrat elected to the board in many years, but faced a tight race this year after a scandal haunted his first term.
The district that spans along the coast from Torrey Pines State Beach to Encinitas and to the east from Mira Mesa to Escondido, was considered a swing seat. Though Democratic registration had surged before the general election and Roberts was the incumbent, Gaspar pulled through.
The election remained too close to call for more than two weeks. Initially Roberts had the lead, but as mail-in ballots were counted, Gaspar gained ground and had pulled into a more than 1,100-vote lead.
“Incumbency is powerful but severely diminished when squandered the way Dave Roberts disgraced himself and the office with his sexual harassment and hostile work environment issues,” said San Diego County Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric in an e-mail.
Usually incumbents have the advantage, but a scandal in Roberts’ office where employee resignations and formal complaints against him ultimately cost the county $310,000 in lawsuit settlements. While the district attorney opted not to press charges against Roberts, the issue tarnished his re-election bid.
Gaspar campaigned on fiscal responsibility, addressing homelessness and improving public safety, roads and infrastructure. She was against the San Diego Association of Government’s proposed transportation and infrastructure tax measure that failed at the ballot earlier this month. After June’s primary, she said she cast her ballot for President-Elect Donald Trump, but later backed away, saying she no longer supported him.
Her stances on housing and growth were difficult to discern as mayor of Encinitas, where most voters oppose most developments that come forward. Gaspar has said that protecting open space – a campaign stance you need to take in District 3 – and building more housing are both priorities. She has said that the county needs to make it easier to build housing, was financially backed in her supervisorial run by developers, and was part of a Political Action Committee that gave money and funded mailers for Measure B, the ballot initiative to approve Lilac Hills Ranch, which also failed on election day.
However, as mayor of Encinitas, she has cast votes to make development more difficult. For instance, she voted for policies that undermined a state law requiring cities to give developers the chance to build more market-rate homes if they include low-income homes in their projects.
Francine Busby, head of the county’s Democratic Party, said the result is a reflection of her resources and a blip in the eventual shift of the county to swinging Democratic.
“Gaspar’s win reflects the fact that her campaign far out-spent the Roberts campaign and voters were swayed by her message about the staff issues that Roberts experienced,” Busby wrote in an e-mail.
Gaspar’s campaign committee raised more than $400,000. A separate group supporting her, Citizens for Honest & Fair Leadership Supporting Kristin Gaspar, raised another roughly $478,000 during the year. On October 31, the group spent another roughly $10,595 on mailers for Gaspar.
Roberts’ committee raised more than $360,000 in the same period.
Busby said demographics will eventually favor Democrats heavily in two county supervisorial districts and that Gaspar’s seat will be a battleground into the future.
Of the nearly 316,416 registered voters in the district as of September, 105,671 are registered Democrats and 107,892 are registered Republicans. About 9,500 are registered in the American Independent Party, which has far-right values (but which people often mistakenly register with, thinking it makes them an independent).
Since District 3’s elections coincide with presidential elections – and demographics countywide are shifting increasingly Democrat – Busby said she thinks Democrats will regain the seat once Gaspar terms out.
In the meantime, the Democrats will turn their sights to other seats on the board.
The seats currently held by Supervisor Ron Roberts, whose District 4 primarily includes the city of San Diego, and Bill Horn, whose District 5 encompasses parts of North County, will be up for grabs in two years.
Roberts’ seat could flip Democratic, based on registration numbers. As of September, roughly 45 percent of registered voters in District 4 are Democrats while about 21 percent are Republicans.
Still, San Diego has a Republican mayor despite Democrats holding a registration advantage.
Horn’s district still leans Republican.
The County Board of Supervisors had been composed entirely of Republicans for decades until Dave Roberts won his seat in 2012. A shift to the left could mean significant differences in how the county is run.
The county has 17,000 employees and a budget of roughly $5 billion. The board acts much like a City Council for the unincorporated parts of the county – it makes land-use decisions, sets the Sheriff’s Department budget and operates libraries, parks and street maintenance.
Some smaller cities contract with the county for police services from the Sheriff’s Department. The county also provides fire services and is the first responder for wildfires.
The board also implements state and federal programs in the county, over which it has some flexibility and discretion. The entirely Republican board has long touted its Triple A rating and its hefty financial reserves – money Democrats would be more inclined to put toward social services.