Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Changing Face of San Diego Politics

One of the things that drives me absolutely nuts about San Diego is that because so many people move here from places decidedly colder, there is little institutional memory about San Diego.  The news media is particularly bad about this.  As a result, they either rely on old assumptions, and then become shocked when something obvious happens.

Politically speaking, it is worth noting what San Diego once was, and what it has become.  When I was growing up in the 1980's, the City of San Diego was a socially moderate, but fiscally conservative city.  Pete Wilson wasn't just the former mayor, but he was also the model for all future Republican mayors, up to and including Jerry Sanders.  Each mayoral candidate went before the brilliantly titled "San Diego Democratic Club" - an LGBT organization - for its endorsement, and ended up softening their stances on abortion and LGBT rights as a result (at least a little bit).  But that said, San Diego was a solid vote for the GOP in any state-wide or national race.

But sometime during Clinton's Presidency, things turned around in San Diego - it became more and more Democratic and more liberal.  By the time I finished college, and moved back home, Democratic registration in the City of San Diego dwarfed GOP registration.  In fact, the San Diego County Democratic Party changed the message in its pamphlets from trying to convince people to become Democrats to trying to convince local Democrats to become more active.*  And now we find out that even in the County of San Diego - long a bastion of conservatism - Democrats now outnumber Republicans.  Holy crap!

This shouldn't be all that surprising though, because all the while, the local Democratic Party has gotten stronger and stronger.  The biggest test of strength came in 1999.  The Party Chair, Art Casteneras, insisted that the aforementioned San Diego Democratic Club stop endorsing Republicans, even in non-partisan elections.  This was a huge, huge deal at the time because the San Diego Democratic Club isn't just an Democratic club that serves the LGBT community, but it was (and probably still is) the biggest, most active and most influential Democratic club in the City.  Most Democratic activists thought Art was nuts. But, you know, he was right.  With that move, the Democrats in San Diego stopped playing nice with the Republicans. (Or most of them)

After Art came Bob Jellison, then Kennan Kaeder, and now Jess Durfee, all of whom have built up the Party in one way or another.  Of course, Jess has done the heaviest lifting.  Now, not only is San Diego more Democratic in registration, but also has the kind of organizational support necessary to actually do something.  In 1999, there was a real concern that if the San Diego Democratic Club left the Party, there would effectively be no Democratic Party in San Diego.  That's not the case today.

Voting patterns have begun to follow suit.  More and more Democrats have been elected to office, with 5 of the 8 City Council members being Democrats (and Howard Wayne should have been the sixth).  Two of our four Representatives are Democrats.  The list goes on and on.  Organizing has something to do with the changes, but demographics plays a bit part.  As coastal residents, we're more concerned about the environment because it can kill us more directly (surfers, for instance, suffer directly from ocean pollution).  San Diego is also becoming more Hispanic** and more Asian.  As these trends continue, the hold the GOP once had on San Diego lessens more and more.

And that is the changing face of San Diego politics - the demographics have changed, and the Democrats have gotten their act together.  Little wonder the GOP has thrown a hissy fit over redistricting - all the trends are going against them.

*The author may or may not have had something to do with this decision.

** Compared to the rest of California, San Diego has a shockingly low number of Hispanics/Latinos.  Seriously, San Diego is around 30% Hispanic, the rest of the state is 37%.  This seems bizarre given our proximity to Mexico until you realize that until the immigration and drug wars made border-crossing a bitch, a fair number of people were binational, and would work in the U.S. and live in TJ, getting the best of both worlds.  Now that border crossing IS a bitch, more than a few people who hold both American and Mexican citizenship have bit the bullet and moved to San Diego.  That's not the entire reason why the Hispanic population in San Diego has increased, but I think it plays a part.

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