San Diego Democratic, Republican party heads weigh in on Tuesday’s recall election

The heads of the San Diego Democratic and Republican parties share why they oppose or support California’s recall vote

San Diego recall ballot

Mail-in ballots for the gubernatorial recall election must be postmarked on or before Sept. 14 or hand-delivered by 8 p.m. on Tuesday. Photo by Jakob McWhinney/City Times Media

Jakob McWhinney, Multimedia Journalist

September 14 marks the final day for Californians to return their mail-in ballot, or vote in person, in the state’s gubernatorial recall election of Governor Gavin Newsom.

The process, including how to fill out the ballot, has confused many Californians, and as of September 12, only 40% of San Diegans had returned their mail-in ballots, according to data released by the California Secretary of State.

Representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties of San Diego County disagree on a myriad of issues and how to solve them, from homelessness to wildfires. 

But neither has endorsed a candidate on the second question on the ballot — who should succeed Newsom as governor if he is recalled.

But what about the first question?

Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party and a former San Diego City College student, said his organization is advising San Diegans to vote no on the recall.

Of the 46 candidates vying to replace Newsom, Rodriguez-Kennedy couldn’t name one he’d recommend voting for, even among the Democratic candidates, whom he referred to as “unvetted or unqualified.”

Democrat Rodriguez-Kennedy criticized some of the controversial statements made on the campaign trail by Republican frontrunner and talk radio host Larry Elder, like his opposition to a minimum wage.

He also criticized another gubernatorial hopeful, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, citing what he called his inaction on the city’s homelessness crisis, costly real estate deals made under his watch that have recently come under scrutiny, as well as his handling of a 2016 hepatitis A outbreak that lasted two years and killed 15. 

“He was failing on pandemics before pandemics were cool,” said Rodriguez-Kennedy in a phone interview with City Times.

Faulconer is currently polling at around 5%, according to polling aggregator 538.

Jordan Gascon, executive director of the Republican Party of San Diego County, is advising Californians to vote yes on the recall, but like Rodriguez-Kennedy, he’s not endorsing any of the candidates on the ballot.

“We are advising all voters to … vote their conscience on the candidate,” Gascon said. “We believe that we need everybody to turn out and we, as a party, decided by choosing one candidate over another, it would alienate different groups of people. We need to have a unified front to recall Newsom and then let the voters decide who should take their ticket’s place.”

What inspired the recall

Democrat Rodriguez-Kennedy believed the recall has largely been driven by Republican efforts to spread misinformation.

“(It) has led to the Republican Party manipulating the fears of people into signing the recall petition,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said. “The Republican Party has … misinformed on COVID-19, misinformed on vaccine mandates, they misinformed on mask mandates, they misinform on whether or not the presidential election was correct, and that leads to extreme outcomes, like the January 6 attempt to seize control of the government, or in this case, the manipulation of our democratic system to a to steal the election.”

Republican Gascon argued that the recall was driven by a whirlwind of issues including everything from government overreach, California’s struggles with wildfire preparedness, the state’s Employment Development Department scandal, and misleading budget surplus announcements.

“There has been a failure of the Democrat-led government when it comes to the EDD, to spending … I think there’s a lot of lies out there,” Gascon told City Times in a phone interview. “The budgetary situation that they’ve gotten themselves into (has) been really a lie. They claim that we have a budget surplus whenever we have all these unfunded liabilities and it’s just fancy budgeting. I think the everyday citizen is smarter than that.”

Candidate Elder has campaigned on anti-mask and vaccine mandate sentiments, and Gascon acknowledged that the COVID-19 lockdown has had an effect on voters, but argued that the real change was that it gave many an opportunity to more properly scrutinize their political leaders.

 “I think there’s a lot of anger and frustration to do with COVID,” Gascon said. “Not necessarily the government’s fault, I think everyone’s trying to do their best there, but people have been at home for a year and a half now and they’ve woken up. They’ve been in front of their screens a lot more and are becoming more educated as to what the government has been doing.”

What’s at stake

Rodriguez-Kennedy warned that much is at stake for Californians, such as the danger of Republican governance during the COVID pandemic, having a Republican governor replace Senator Dianne Feinstein should her position become vacant, rising homelessness, and progress made in recent decades to fight climate change.

 “If we had a governor who reversed all of our climate change advances over the last decade, we would be doing significant damage to a climate that is already approaching irreversible damage,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said.

Republican Gascon hopes a new governor can help to tackle the homelessness crisis — which an April report by the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless suggests may have doubled in 2020 — and the threat of wildfires.

“We haven’t had any big fires since 2017, so I think we’re due for some,” Gascon said. “We’re just now entering fire season and we’ve already had many fires. Managing our lands is really important (and) the governor has a lot of say when it comes to everything.” 

Gascon, who’s a member of the Board of Directors of the Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County, also struck an environmentally conscious tone.

“We live in one of the greatest places in the world,” Gascon said. “We want to make sure we have clean air, clean water, clean beaches, clean rivers, you know. We’d like to conserve our resources. We’re the Conservative Party when it comes to that.”

Is this recall democratic?

Rodriguez-Kennedy echoed concerns expressed by Democratic politicians and political pundits nationally regarding the potentially undemocratic nature of the recall election structure.

“If someone were to be elected in this recall they would be elected with what, 20% of the vote?,” he said. “That person would not have a majority vote in support and that means, in effect, a smaller, less diverse electorate will have seized power from the greater, more diverse electorate, and that is undemocratic on its face.”

Gascon doesn’t share Rodriguez-Kennedy’s concern about the recall election structure, saying he didn’t understand how anyone could claim it’s not a democratic process.

“I think there’s nothing more democratic than a set number of people getting together (and) saying ‘we would like to call for another vote,’ and then forcing the entire state to vote,” Gascon said. “I think throughout history the minority has always kind of been squashed, and in California, the Republicans are a minority. It’s time for a minority to actually have a say.”

What about higher education?

Rodriguez-Kennedy said that community college students, in particular, should back Newsom because of his record on education, which includes his efforts to increase funding for public colleges and universities, and his signing into law of AB 132 which, among other things, implements an expansion of the Cal Grant program and creates programs to help underrepresented students.

“Republicans do not support free community college (and) largely support privatizing education, which is something that students would actively and vociferously oppose,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said.

“Republicans don’t particularly support the social safety nets,” he added. “As a former City College student, as a former homeless student, if you take away the social safety nets and programs that keep people off the streets or you weaken them … you can really cause significant damage to the most vulnerable populations of students.”

Gascon didn’t have specifics about Republican plans to strengthen the state’s educational system, and particularly its 116 community colleges, but he said Republicans generally support community colleges and alternatives to four-year universities.

“We need to train the workforce and make sure that all of our students have all the skills necessary to be successful,” Gascon said. “Not everyone wants to go on to a four-year university, (so) we need to have options for everyone.”

Ballots for the gubernatorial recall election must be postmarked by tomorrow, Tuesday, September 14. San Diegans can also vote in person at any of a number of polling locations set up around the county.

City Times wants to hear from you! We are looking for our community — fellow students, faculty, staff and alumni — to share perspectives on the recall election and how they voted. You can send your thoughts in writing by email or share them on social media, including @sdcitytimes and #cityspeaks. You can also leave us a voice recording.