Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Legend of Dick Murphy

With the mayoral election coming up, I'd like to speak of the legend of Dick Murphy.  Yes, the Dick Murphy who Time once called one of the worst mayors in the country (which he was, but it wasn't all of his fault).  The same Dick Murphy who quit in 2005, seven months after his reelection.  You see, Dick Murphy's election as Mayor in 2000 was a sight to behold.  It was, quite simply, the most magnificent political move I have ever seen in San Diego politics.  And knowing this story can help us out in understanding who are the players in the mayor's race and in San Diego in general.
San Diego, like any city there are multiple interests with significant power.  We have the Downtown business establishment (made up of real estate, construction, banking, and tourism), which favors stability, is Downtown-centric (shocking, I know), and very behind closed-doors.  There is also Labor, made up of the, well Labor Council, the environmental groups, anti-tax groups and hardcore Republican types, the Catfish Club (African-American leaders who meet every week to chat over fried catfish), and a few other groups here and there.  By and large, the two biggest and most powerful groups are Downtown and Labor.  Downtown has the money and resources, and Labor has the grassroots.

In 2000, both Downtown and Labor backed one guy - Supervisor Ron Roberts.  Not only that, but Ron Roberts had San Diego's best political consultant at the time, Tom Shepard, who is hands down, the political consultant of the Downtown business establishment.  Hell, even though Roberts was a Republican, he had pretty substantial backing from some well-heeled Democrats. Everyone knew that if Roberts didn't win outright in the primary, he would kill in the general.  Sure enough, and in a primary that had over 10 candidates, Roberts took 29% of the primary votes, and Dick Murphy barely made it past the primary.

But Murphy's people had a plan.  Not only was Murphy more conservative than Roberts on social issues, but he was also more liberal than Roberts on environmental issues.  I'll wait as you get your head around that one.  The thing is that Downtown and Labor are pretty much center-right and center-left.  What Murphy did in both the primary and in the general election is he went hard right and hard left at the same time.  I know, I know, its crazy.  But it worked.  As Roberts raised and spent more and more money, Murphy managed to form a coalition with the anti-tax groups, the hardcore Republican groups, and left-leaning environmental groups and won the whole damn thing.  The strategy was breath-taking.

Of course, the whole thing blew up once we all found out that Susan Golding blew a whole the size of Texas through the San Diego Employees Pension fund.  But that's a story for a different day.  The key to remember is that each interest group has a substantial part to play in this election.  So who is backing whom?  Here is my guess:

Downtown Establishment: It looks like Downtown has not one, but two horses in the race as evidenced by Bonnie Dumanis getting the endorsements of Jerry Sanders and Kevin Falconer, and Nathan Fletcher getting Pete Wilson's backing.  Not this is interesting because Downtown is doing this despite having DeMaio in the race.  Hmm. . .looks like he doesn't have friends Downtown.  Is Fletcher socially moderate enough for Downtown? I don't know.

Anti-Tax, partisan Republicans: San Diego has always had its fair share of anti-tax cranks, but it is interesting to see that the anti-tax/anti-corruption groups splitting up along partisan lines (actually, we can thank Donna Frye for that, but that's a different post).  The anti-tax and partisan Republicans are backing DeMaio.

Democrats: Notice how I didn't mention the Democrats in 2000?  Yeah, well, we're back baby.  Democratic partisanship has shown itself to be a real power since Shelia Jackson beat the Teachers' preferred candidate in 2004, much to everyone's surprise.  With Filner definitely in, and Kehoe maybe in, one of these two will get the Dems' endorsement.  As much as Donna Frye is beloved by progressives, both Kehoe and Filner are loved even more.  I don't see Donna getting the nod over Kehoe or Filner.  Ever.

Environmentalists and Anti-Corruptionists: Ever since Donna Frye ran for office, there has been a split between the anti-corruption groups and the anti-tax groups which is kind of sad in a way.  Both groups HATE Downtown, but in the end have radically different agendas.  What is also true is that Donna Frye more or less cemented environmental groups with the anti-corruption groups, which is what lead to Mike Aguirre's election, IMHO.  If Donna Frye doesn't jump in, then Filner will have their support.

Labor: Its either going to be Filner or Kehoe.  Both have longstanding support from Labor, and both are great on labor issues. 

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