The Oct. 4, 2017, delegates meeting of the San Diego Working Families Council / Image via Facebook

This spring, labor leaders and supporters of Nathan Fletcher’s county supervisor campaign set a clear standard: No one should seek or accept money from Mickey Kasparian.

That’s over now.

Kasparian became persona non grata among the dominant liberal forces in town in steps. First, he was pushed out of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council amid allegations of workplace discrimination and sexual assault. Kasparian, still the leader of the local United Food and Commercial Workers chapter, then set up a splinter group for unions, the Working Families Council.

Union-Tribune reporter Josh Stewart then surveyed Democratic officials and candidates on whether they believed Kasparian should be pushed out. Fletcher, then running in a primary with a crowded Democratic field to replace Ron Roberts on the Board of Supervisors, said yes.

Kasparian then found another candidate to support against Fletcher, in former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña.

With the promise of Kasparian spending six figures to oppose Fletcher, his campaign began attacking it as stained money that no liberal in good standing should accept. The Building Trades Council, which fiercely supported Fletcher by arguing he wouldn’t just be one friendly representative, but a leader for years to come, especially got on board.

“Despite her reputation for being a progressive female leader, I have learned over the years that Lori Saldana will say or do anything to advance her political career, even embracing a sexual harasser and begging for his political contributions,” Carol Kim, head of the Building Trades Council, said in a press release from Fletcher’s campaign titled “Women Speak Out Against Mickey Kasparian Endorsement of Lori Saldana.”

Seven months later, the idea that progressive candidates should not embrace Kasparian or seek his political contributions seems to be out the window.

The Building Trades Council this week endorsed all seven candidates who had previously been endorsed by the Working Families Council.

Kasparian’s group last October endorsed the re-election bids of Rep. Juan Vargas, Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas, state Sen. Ben Hueso, Assemblyman Todd Gloria, Council President Myrtle Cole and San Diego Unified Trustee Kevin Beiser. They also endorsed San Diego City Council candidate Antonio Martinez’s bid for the open seat in District 8.

Building Trades designated two of those candidates – Cole and Martinez – as “key campaigns.”

Kim said Building Trades had “honest conversations” with those candidates and is happy to endorse them, and that she would not recommend other candidates seek a Working Families Council endorsement.

But are candidates betraying survivors of sexual harassment if they seek support from Kasparian or the Working Families Council, as another labor leader said in that same press release?

“You know, I can’t answer that question specifically on behalf of the Building Trades or the Labor Council because we have never taken it up,” Kim said. “However, as a woman who believes other women when they come forward with their personal stories of past trauma, I would personally say ‘yes.’ I can’t imagine why anyone would want Mickey Kasparian’s name tied to their campaign at this point.”

Progressives Giveth and Taketh Away From Maienschein

Assemblyman Brian Maienschein / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group withdrew its support this week for Republican Assemblyman Brian Maienschein because he voted against a bill giving transgender foster youth access to health care consistent with their gender identity.

Earlier this year, Equality California endorsed both Maienschein and his Democratic challenger, Sunday Gover, for the 77th Assembly District, which includes parts of northern San Diego and Poway. He’s straight and she’s a lesbian, so the decision caught local progressives by surprise.

But considering that he works well with Democrats in Sacramento and earned a perfect score by Equality California in 2015 and 2017, Maienschein could have walked away with the endorsement solo. Having both candidates get the endorsement, Democrats said, was a victory.

Now the endorsement belongs solely to Gover.

Her campaign made the most of it — noting in a press release that Equality California’s decision to rescind the endorsement came one day after Maienschein sent residents a mailer saying he was “advocating for equality.” His support, said Dan Rottenstreich, Gover’s campaign manager, was “crumbling.”

But hold up: Maienschein was the only Republican running for state or federal office in November who grabbed the endorsement of the Building Trades Council.

Kim, the labor group’s political director, highlighted Maienschein’s vote last year in support of SB 2, which provided a permanent source of funding for affordable housing statewide. His vote was crucial to ensuring that bills made it to the governor’s desk.

Kim said Maienschein made himself vulnerable among his own base “and we felt it was important to show appreciation for him doing the right thing, despite it.”

— Jesse Marx

Dems Think They’ve Got a Shot at Republican Senate Leader

State Sen. Pat Bates was never widely seen as a vulnerable incumbent. But if late campaign donations are any indication, the state Democratic Party suddenly thinks it’s got a chance.

A potential Dem trophy: Bates isn’t an anonymous back-bencher. Since early 2017, she’s been the Senate Republican leader, a title that doesn’t give her much sway given Republicans’ severe minority status in Sacramento, but nonetheless puts her at the front of her party’s caucus.

And the 36th Senate District isn’t an obvious opening. Republicans have a nine-point registration advantage, as of last month, in the district that straddles the coastal areas of southern Orange County and northern San Diego County.

In play? Things might be different in those areas this election, though, with a flood of money from Washington D.C. coming into the congressional race to replace outgoing Rep. Darrell Issa. Recent polls have Democrat Mike Levin with a healthy lead over Republican Diane Harkey.

But all the Democratic attention on the district as a pick-up opportunity means there could be a turnout operation there that could benefit Bates’ challenger, businesswoman Marggie Castellano.

At least, it seems like that’s what the California Democratic Party has in mind.

The party alone has given Castellano $71,679 in direct contributions just since Sept. 28, and she’s brought in over $200,000 from the party, political action committees, other Democratic candidates and small Democratic groups since late August.

Castellano and the Dems still have a tough climb. Bates had $673,000 on hand as of Sept. 22, and has raised at least another $61,000 since then.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the amount of money Mickey Kasparian planned to spend opposing Nathan Fletcher in the primary for his supervisor campaign.

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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