Like New Year's eve revelers nursing post-holiday hang-overs, San Diego voters are still recovering from a 2002 election-cycle that left more than a few with unsettled stomachs. A forgettable gubernatorial race produced nearly $100 million of advertising over-indulgence, and a $35 billion state budget deficit now promises to leave local transportation, health care and other programs feeling the post-election pain.
But like a problem drinker who resolves to make a fresh start in the New Year, voters had best enjoy the brief respite, because time marches on, and the next round of over-indulgence is only a few months away. California's early primary (March 2004) requires aspiring candidates at all levels to begin campaigning almost immediately in order to secure the support and financial resources necessary to make their candidacies viable.
At the federal level, Democratic presidential hopefuls are already scheduling fundraising expeditions to California's golden sands. Republicans, including local Congressman Darrel Issa and Northern California's Doug Ose, are beginning preparations for a possible challenge to incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Here in San Diego County, term limits will inspire another round of electoral musical chairs as Assemblymember Christine Kehoe and former Assemblymember Howard Wayne pursue termed-out Dede Alpert's State Senate seat, and former Assembly candidate Vince Hall eyes Kehoe's soon-to-be vacated 76th District seat. Democratic leaders, anxious to avoid another Shirley Horton-style loss, are encouraging City Councilmember Donna Frye to consider this race, as well. Republicans will be challenged to find another candidate who can pull together a broad-based coalition similar to the one that powered Horton's upset victory in the 78th District last year.
At 1600 Pacific Highway, County Supervisors Pam Slater, Dianne Jacob and Greg Cox will be seeking re-election; Slater and Jacob for a fourth time, Cox for a third. Although opposition has yet to emerge in these races, all three are beginning to raise funds and prepare for their campaigns. Recent history suggests that the current board's success in managing county government has made it extremely difficult to beat an incumbent supervisor.
At San Diego City Hall, Dick Murphy is presumed to be planning for a second and (with term limits) final four years in the Mayor's office, but the Chargers and a dismal budget outlook could make this a tough year for him. Casey Gwinn will be leaving the City Attorney's office after two terms, with Leslie Devaney, Deborah Berger and Mike Aguirre all aspiring to replace him. Unlike 2002, when two of the region's most hotly contested races involved open city council seats, all four council district races will feature incumbents in 2004 -- Scott Peters, Toni Atkins, Brian Maienschein and Jim Madaffer. But just because they're incumbents doesn't mean they won't be campaigning -- and the fundraising has already started.
At the San Diego Unified School District, the terms of three trustees -- Ron Ottinger, Ed Lopez and Frances Zimmerman -- are up. Ottinger and Lopez are supporters of Superintendent Alan Bersin, while Zimmerman has been an outspoken opponent. If Bersin and the teachers' union are unable to patch up their differences between now and then, look for another high-stakes battle for control of the board in 2004.
But the real blockbusters on the 2004 ballot may well be the ballot measures.
At the state level, a $12.3 billion school construction bond, Ward Connerly's measure to ban the collection of racial information, a $9 billion high-speed rail bond, another attempt to open-up California's closed primary election system, and a measure to eliminate the legislature's two-thirds vote requirement for budget approval are all on the drawing boards, as the governor and legislature grapple with closing the state's record deficit.
At the local level, a half-cent sales tax extension for regional transportation projects is planned. Other possibilities include approval of a new airport site, the afore-mentioned Chargers stadium issue, another major school bond measure, a city charter amendment for structural reform, and various tax and fee increases.
Because of San Diego's low campaign contribution limits ($250 in the city; $500 for county offices), it takes a long time and a large number of contributions to raise a significant campaign war chest. That, combined with a primary election that is less than 14 months away, is why many of the above-mentioned candidates have already begun their fund-raising activities. You can expect to begin receiving invitations to their events any day now.
Happy New Year!
Shepard is CEO of Tom Shepard & Associates, a San Diego-based political consulting and public affairs firm. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.