Carl DeMaio, who led the effort to repeal the state’s gas tax, appears at Golden Hall on Election Night. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Diane Harkey’s congressional campaign was remarkably underwhelming, but when inewsource asked her why Proposition 6, the statewide effort to repeal the gas tax, was so important to the Republican Party, her response boiled the campaign down to its truest essence: “It’s an issue that you can focus on. It’s not complex.”

Though Prop. 6 ultimately failed, credit goes to Carl DeMaio for recognizing that not-complex issue – in a famously car-centric state, people don’t like paying more money for gas – would resonate with a lot of people. DeMaio was the architect of the measure, and its biggest cheerleader, boosting it at rallies across the state and via his radio show.

Prop. 6 was not just its own ballot measure, it was the backbone of Republican campaigns up and down the ballot. Harkey and John Cox seemed to do as much campaigning for it as they did for their own bids for Congress and governor, respectively. Even some Democrats jumped on board.

Though Harkey, Cox and Prop. 6 all lost, DeMaio did score a gas tax-related victory earlier this year: Orange County voters recalled Sen. Josh Newman, a Democrat who voted for the tax increase in the Legislature.

DeMaio has been upfront all along that his efforts are about more than just the gas tax: “If you want to be a true opposition party, you have to mount a true opposition, and up to this point, Republicans have not been able to do that,” he told Politico. “My hope is that that infrastructure will then be utilized to go after something else.”

Of course, his efforts are also designed to boost another priority of DeMaio’s: himself.

After the gas tax went down in defeat and Republicans suffered unprecedented losses in November, Dave McCulloch, a longtime DeMaio spokesman who worked on the Prop. 6 campaign, sent out a press release quoting himself and casting the election as a wild success – for DeMaio. It said:

“There can be no doubt: Carl DeMaio has built the biggest online grassroots donor database of any Republican official or group in California,” said campaign veteran and digital expert Dave McCulloch of Capitol Media Partners – the firm DeMaio retained to assist with his digital fundraising. “When you give voters something to believe in, they want to help – even in a David versus Goliath fight in California – the grassroots support comes alive online,” he concluded.

This is part of our 2018 Voice of the Year list, profiling the people who kick-started San Diego’s biggest civic discussions over the past year.

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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