San Diego has a longstanding tradition of electing establishment Republicans, often with either military or law enforcement roots as its mayor. Before becoming U.S. Senator and California governor, former Marine Corps officer and Republican Pete Wilson was mayor of San Diego from 1971-1982. Wilson, a moderate to liberal on social issues, did limit the growth of the city’s budget, cut property taxes locally and helped revitalize downtown. However, he was against Prop 13 in 1978 (limiting California’s property tax and requiring a 2/3 majority for increases in state taxes) before he was for it. San Diego city workers opted out of Social Security in 1982 when then-Mayor Pete Wilson promised the city would provide taxpayer-funded health care for retired workers. This promise has played a significant role in increasing the city’s unfunded liability.
Following Wilson as San Diego mayor (1983-1985) was Republican Roger Hedgecock. He volunteered to work in Goldwater’s 1964 campaign and is now a solid conservative voice on talk radio. In the intervening time, Hedgecock was known as a moderate Republican county supervisor and then moderate Republican mayor who decried the Los Angelization of San Diego. Democrat Maureen O’Connor broke the Republican mayoral spell when she served from 1985-1992.
Republican Susan Golding was mayor from 1992-2000. She is a supporter of gay rights, affirmative action, an environmentalist, and pro-choice. She also would have hardly been described as a deficit hawk/fiscal conservative. She, Democrat City Manager Jack McGrory and the city council famously underfunded the pension system as part of their scheme to bring the 1996 Republican National Convention to the San Diego Convention Center.
Golding was followed by Republican and former Army officer Dick Murphy as mayor, 2000-2005. During his time, San Diego was memorably labeled “Enron by the Sea.” He was hardly a fiscal conservative either. In fact, in a 2004 New York Times article Carl DeMaio, then of the San Diego Citizens Budget Project, persistently questioned the mayor and the city’s creative accounting schemes. From the New York Times: Among the chief causes of the long-term instability of the city’s employee retirement fund was a pair of decisions in 2002 to add benefits for future retirees while reducing the city’s annual contribution to the funds. Among the most costly was a program called a deferred retirement option plan, or DROP, which allows a worker to defer retirement and build up a special account earning 8 percent interest and a 2 percent annual cost-of-living adjustment.
Murphy was followed by former Police Chief and current Republican Mayor Jerry Sanders. Mayor Sanders hasn’t managed to implement the managed competition for which voters voted. He was a staunch supporter of Prop D, the failed .5 cent city sales tax increase proposition in 2010. He hasn’t brought about pension reform. If and when he does, do you really think he will include Police and Fire in his pension reform scheme? I, for one, do not envision the former Police Chief doing so.
All this San Diego mayoral history brings us to yesterday, when establishment Republican District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis declared her candidacy for San Diego mayor. She fits the formula: Establishment (cozy with Downtown folks). Republican. Law Enforcement (District Attorney). Not well-versed with city-wide fiscal matters, or at least has no plan (basically by her own admission).
Dumanis, who hired Democratic consultant Jennifer Tierney to head her campaign team, has a strong relationship with Mayor Sanders. She said of his tenure:
“I think the current mayor has done a good job in bringing things forward,” she said. “I think there’s more to be done.”
Is Bonnie Dumanis simply running for Mayor Jerry Sanders third term? She might actually even be part of a longer legacy of soft Republicans without a fiscal plan that spans decades in San Diego. There is ample evidence that her brand of “Republican”, the kind that hires a Democratic consultant and talks in platitudes about “consensus”, wins San Diego mayoral races.