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Erica Holloway

Lincoln-Douglas Debate or Freak Show?

Let’s begin with praise. The online news folks at Voice of San Diego deserve big props for diving in head first with a great concept – a political festival centered around the first San Diego 2012 mayoral debate or as they called it Politifest 2011.

However, due to no filtering of candidates, it felt more freak show than what they dubbed a “Lincoln – Douglas” style county fair debate.

Though top-tier candidates, Rep. Bob Filner and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, participated – they were not “the talk” of the debate.

The “It” kid of the event, Rob Harter, called himself “Girly Girly.”

He opened up with a diatribe about how men are evil, ruining the world with war and guns. Oh, did I happen to mention this event took place on the grounds of the old Naval Training Center, where sailors like my father, attended boot camp?

Yes, clearly the Lincoln candidate.

Meaning wacky retired teacher and magician Loch David Crane played Douglas.

He really let loose the crazy canisters containing gems of pot-smoking adventures all over San Diego, including in his days at San Diego State University in Filner’s history class. All that dedicated pot smoking pot apparently left no time on his hands to read about the Comprehensive Pension Reform measure currently trying to qualify for the city ballot.

Priorities of a true statesman.

A few other crowd favorites: Build a casino in land-locked, upper crust La Jolla; do away with cable companies because they’re disliked by the public; and the creme de la creme, establish a “Little Amsterdam” district for marijuana use in downtown San Diego.

Two candidates skipped the event, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and City Councilman Carl DeMaio, to the chagrin of event hosts who once again pleaded for them to participate even as the debate began. The crowd booed their absence, but after the show finished, few felt they were going to feel any regrets.

Most of the real word play happened on the stage between candidates away from the microphone. Filner and Fletcher sat beside one another, chatting regularly, as you’ll see in a picture of the stage. At the podium, the top tier candidates reflected vastly different styles.

Filner: Rough edges, arrogant. A number of times, including to Fletcher, he started sentences saying: “That’s a great idea, fellow candidate, and when I’m mayor you’ll be my director of…”

Fletcher: Polished, reserved. He seemed to err on the side of caution when discussing highly “Republican” issues, including the Comprehensive Pension Reform measure, which received boos from the audience (mostly from the Filner side).

I went, I saw, I laughed and played along, but I hope that’s the last we’ll see of those time-wasters. We’ve got serious issues that needs the experience of a woman, not a girly girly.

– Follow me @erica_holloway.

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2 Responses to “Lincoln-Douglas Debate or Freak Show?”

  1. Richard Rider Says:

    I found this old article from the 2005 mayor’s race. It does an excellent job explaining why we have so many goofy candidates in this race — and makes me wonder why we don’t have more.

    Bottom line: The taxpayers subsidize this race, to the tune of maybe $10,000 per candidate — costs that normally are incurred by the candidate’s campaign.


    Separating the Mayoral Wheat from the Chaff

    This year we have a remarkable 11 ballot qualified candidates in the San Diego special election for mayor. But most are not really candidates by any meaningful criteria. This surplus of noncandidates results from the city taxpayer subsidies that make running for city office far too lucrative and easy.

    Consider the cost/benefit ratio of running for mayor. All that is needed to run is 200 valid city voter nominating signatures, plus a $500 filing fee — less than half the fee charged candidates in other jurisdictions who are running for offices paying roughly the same salary.

    But, more important, the city taxpayers totally subsidize the candidate’s 200 word ballot statement and photo. This free ballot book ad is then sent to the 597,000 registered city voters. In contrast, when one runs for an office in any other local jurisdiction, the candidate statement (if allowed) is paid for by the candidate.

    The San Diego County Registrar of Voters (ROV) charges local San Diego County government jurisdictions holding elections (cities, school boards, etc.) for the costs of their elections. Usually these jurisdictions then charge most or all of the printing costs of the election to the candidates running. But not the city of San Diego.

    The ROV charges the city for each candidate who has a ballot statement. The cost is $100, plus $10 per thousand voters receiving the ballot book. Since there are about 597,000 voters in the city of San Diego, the city’s cost for a mayoral candidate comes to $6,070. Hence the taxpayers of San Diego are paying $5,570 ($6,070 minus the small $500 filing fee) for anyone who is interested in publicizing his pet cause, seeking employment, or advertising his business while nominally pretending to run for mayor!

    The $500 filing fee and free ballot statement is a ridiculously low price for such a valuable advertising opportunity. The result is a cluttered ballot and confusion as to who is really running for mayor. Now that the first candidate financial reports are filed, we get to see just who is a candidate, and who is just playing games.

    Perennial “candidate” Jim Bell is a perfect example. An environmentalist obsessed with solar power, Bell runs over and over for mayor simply to push this single issue. His ballot statement is an ad for renewable energy. In candidate forums (oddly enough, he is invited to several), his answer to every question seems to come back to the need for solar energy. Whatever the merits of his cause, he never for a moment makes a serious effort to win the race. And he spends almost nothing beyond the filing fee.

    Others appear to be advertising for their business rather than running for mayor. Ed Kocher, a professional mediator, seems to be angling for a job as mediator between the unions and the city. He is spending almost nothing on his race.

    Myke Shelby, the owner of a Harley Davidson dealership, is spending considerable money on his race through TV ads, gaining name recognition for himself and his company. While he has loaned his campaign $100,000, he has raised only $250 from others – a clear sign that he is not really running a campaign to win.

    But by far the cleverest “candidate” is Pat Shea, an attorney who is running on the single idea that declaring Chapter 9 bankruptcy will cure everything. There is another attorney candidate with the same siren bankruptcy pitch – Scott McMillan – but he lacks Shea’s credentials. Shea is being treated as a major candidate because he was a leading attorney in resolving the Orange County bankruptcy, which, by the way, was a totally different situation. Shea presents himself as the “bk” expert who can save San Diego.

    But not as mayor. He is not really running for mayor. He’s angling to be the city’s lead attorney if the city declares bankruptcy – a job that would pay him millions of dollars! Compared to that, the mayor’s salary is insignificant.

    Consider: Shea has raised a grand total of $100 from donors for his campaign. He has spent less than $1,000 of his own money on his race.

    Moreover, Shea’s brilliant marketing strategy is working. Other leading candidates have said in forums that, if elected, they will be hiring Shea as the city’s bankruptcy attorney, should that option be pursued. Donna Frye has said so. So has Myke Shelby. I’m not sure about Sanders. Steve Francis and Richard Rider have thus far refrained from declaring their desire to hire Shea as bankruptcy attorney.

    Actually these declarations have a smell to them. Each candidate hopes to win the endorsements of others, should they make it into the runoff. Are candidates who publicly announce that, if elected mayor, they will give their opponent Pat Shea a multi-million dollar contract (apparently without competitive bidding) indeed offering an inducement to Shea to endorse their candidacy after Shea loses? Perhaps the city’s moribund Ethics Commission might want to consider this question.

    Moreover, how much confidence can we have in Shea’s sweeping assertions claiming that bankruptcy will fix everything, with zero cost to taxpayers, and no loss of services? He sounds like a barker at the Del Mar Fair. His campaign to make millions off a bankruptcy contract makes his every claim highly suspect.

    Based on the financial disclosure reports on fundraising through 11 June, only four candidates are running a serious campaign for mayor – Donna Frye, Jerry Sanders, Steve Francis and Richard Rider. Frye has raised about $75,000 for her campaign, while Sanders has raised about $106,000. Steve Francis, by far the wealthiest candidate, is spending mostly his own money on this race – currently over $800,000. Richard Rider has loaned his campaign $100,000, plus raised about $22,000 from individuals.

    The city needs to reconsider its policy of offering a free candidate ballot statement. It is costly to the taxpayers, and clutters the ballot with people advertising their talents and wares. Frankly it is surprising that more San Diego business and professional people have not yet recognized the golden opportunity this under-priced advertising service offers.

    If Shea lands a multi-million dollar job from his brilliant ploy, and we don’t end this ballot statement subsidy, we can expect the next mayoral ballot to be flooded with candidates who are pushing pet causes, or advertising their businesses and talents. It’s time to start charging candidates rather than the taxpayers for the printing costs of these ballot book candidate statements.

  2. cjmcinsd Says:

    Hey, Erica! Perhaps you were bored or high, but you said that one of the whacked-out suggestions was to “do away with cable companies because they’re disliked by the public.”

    Actually, what “Girly Girly” said was that we ought to INCREASE TAXES by increasing cable bills because they are the only bills San Diego residents do not seem to mind paying!

    With 8,000 channel packages and 200″ flat screens, good old Girly Girly may be on to something! I’ve already passed the idea on to the Obama 2012 campaign.