Queer Democrats Split on School Board District B, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General

author: 
Mark Gabrish Conlan/Zenger's

The predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club strongly supported Hector de la Torre for insurance commissioner, Tom Torklason for state superintendent of education and Mona Rios for National City city council — but they were unable to reach consensus on lieutenant governor and attorney general. Faced with two weak Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor — a Los Angeles city councilmember and a state legislator with a long voting record against marriage equality — the club held off in hopes San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom will run.

Queer Democrats Decline to Endorse for School Board Seat B

Back De La Torre for Insurance Commissioner, Mona Rios for National City Council

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: John DeBeck and Patrick McFarland, Mona Rios, club board members being sworn in by Assemblymember (and State Senate candidate) Mary Salas (right)

The predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club refused to endorse either Democrat running for the District B seat on the San Diego Unified School District board of trustees, 20-year incumbent John DeBeck or openly Gay challenger Patrick McFarland, at its regular meeting February 25. Though both DeBeck and McFarland did well on the club’s issues questionnaire — DeBeck scored 97.6 percent and McFarland 98.7 percent — members questioned their stands on labor issues and DeBeck’s long-time opposition to condom distribution to students through school health clinics. At the same time, many members were scared of former San Diego County Taxpayers’ Association president Scott Barnett’s possible candidacy on the Republican side, and said they hoped a stronger Democrat than either DeBeck or McFarland would emerge.

Both DeBeck and McFarland spoke to the club and took questions from members. DeBeck, who has a Gay brother, a Gay son and a Lesbian daughter, stressed his history of leadership on Queer issues while acknowledging members might have a problem with him on the condom issue. He seemed to be saying that if student health clinics did controversial things like dispensing condoms to students, there might be a parental backlash that would result in eliminating the clinics altogether. “I don’t think dispensing [condoms] will get the consensus the clinics need,” he said. DeBeck explained that he’d prefer that students discuss these issues with their counselors, who could refer them to Planned Parenthood or other off-campus groups if they needed birth control or STD prevention.

DeBeck also expressed opposition to so-called Project Labor Agreements (PLA’s), a labor-backed program designed to make sure all the district’s school construction and remodeling programs are done with union workers and contractors. DeBeck said he “worked hard to put a construction tech program in place” for at-risk students that placed its graduates with non-union contractors, and if the district committed to PLA’s on all its construction projects graduates of that program would not be able to work on district projects.

“As a proud Gay man, I’m happy to be here,” McFarland said in his opening statement. He called for “applying term limits to board members [to] bring in new people and help the district evolve,” and said “changing the organization chart and reducing top management positions from 22 to 18 could save $4 million for the classroom.” He said he was against layoffs of teachers “because they hinder the education of our students by increasing class sizes,” and called for schools to have “more autonomy to make curriculum decisions” instead of having what they teach determined by a central district administration. He disagreed with DeBeck on birth control in schools, saying he’d lived in France where “they give out birth control in classrooms, and it helps prevent student pregnancies.”

But McFarland got into hot water with the club — especially the union activists in it — when he said he would support contracting out district services to private companies, something DeBeck said he’s never favored. McFarland also angered San Diego city worker and union activist Michelle Krug when he didn’t know the difference between a defined-benefit and a defined-contribution pension. (A defined-benefit pension means one in which the employer guarantees workers a certain regular payment when they retire, and if their contributions to the system aren’t enough to fund that, the employer has to make up the difference. A defined-contribution pension is one in which the employer puts a certain amount into the pension fund, and if it isn’t enough to cover expected payouts the retirees get less money.)

Both candidates said they had been educated by the public school system, and DeBeck added that he’s served for 37 years as a teacher and 20 years as a school board member. Both said they were against closing the district’s smaller schools, and DeBeck boasted that he had personally helped save two schools by placing special programs with them — a Mandarin Chinese language project at Barnard and Suzuki music education at Crown Point. Both said they are strongly concerned about the welfare and safety of Queer students on campus, and promise to enforce anti-bullying policies aggressively. In their closing statements, McFarland said that as a much younger person he’d be “more reflective of student values,” while DeBeck said “the difference is between imagining ideas for schools and knowing how to make them work.”

Though the club voted overwhelmingly to consider an endorsement in the race, the members’ debate that followed revealed surprisingly little support for either candidate — even though DeBeck has been regularly endorsed by the club before and McFarland is running as an openly Gay man.” I really would like to see John DeBeck replaced, but I can’t vote for this young man at this time,” said Michelle Krug. “I can only go by what he said. Maybe his answer about contracting out didn’t reflect his true feelings, but I still can’t support someone who doesn’t understand the difference between a defined-benefit and a defined-contribution pension.”

“It makes sense for the club to vote for no endorsement,” said youth activist and club member Jonathan Goetz. “It would be nice to vote for a cute, young Gay man but we don’t want a person on the school board who supports contracting out. But it also doesn’t make sense, when there is an openly Gay man in the race, to endorse someone else.”

Allan Acevedo, former president of Stonewall Young Democrats — the club’s affiliated youth organization — took exception to Goetz’s comments, less on their substance than on Goetz’s calling McFarland “a cute, young Gay man.” Acevedo said that Goetz would never have dared refer to a female candidate of McFarland’s age and looks as “cute,” and said he’d support McFarland because “we should look at who has the right values and the right head. I think Patrick has the right values and we can work with him.”

“Some of you may remember that I started running for school board myself eight years ago, and John DeBeck helped me,” said union official and longtime club member Brian Polejes. “He was identified with the teachers then, but something happened and he’s since gone over to the dark side. We’ve worked hard to achieve a progressive majority on the board, and he’s been a consistent opponent to them.”

Eventually the club took a vote, but it was overwhelmingly against endorsing either candidate. Thirty-four members voted for no endorsement, to 11 for DeBeck and three for McFarland. A motion to rate both candidates acceptable — a lower level of support that, according to the club’s endorsement rules, can mean either that more than one candidate is suitable for support or a candidate has some problematic stands on certain issues — was defeated, 11 to 36, amid comments by some members hoping that a stronger candidate would file in the two weeks left before the deadline to get on the ballot.

By contrast, Mona Rios swept to an easy endorsement in her race for the National City City Council. She made a brief statement and didn’t get asked any questions, and the motion to make an endorsement in the race passed by 45 to zero. Rios, a club member, voted to make the endorsement and then, as required by club rules, left the room while her candidacy was considered. She won the endorsement by acclamation on a unanimous voice vote.

Confusion Over Statewide Offices

The club also considered making endorsements in four statewide offices —lieutenant governor, attorney general, insurance commissioner and superintendent of public instruction — but endorsed in only two of them. The club overwhelmingly selected Assemblymember Tom Torklason of Antioch for state superintendent of public instruction over school district superintendent Larry Aceves and State Senator Gloria Romero after former club presidents Jess Durfee (now the chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party) and Craig Roberts gave him ringing support. Durfee praised Torklason for his background as a teacher and his strong support of education in the state legislature, and Roberts said that at the last Democratic state convention Torklason had given a stronger presentation than either of his rivals.

The club also chose Assemblymember Hector de la Torre over fellow Assemblymember Dave Jones for state insurance commissioner. Both candidates had representatives advocate on their behalf; de la Torre’s surrogate was Assemblymember Mary Salas and Jones’ was former club president Gloria Johnson. Jones has been in the news lately because he’s chair of the Assembly committee investigating the recent increases of up to 39 percent in the health insurance premiums Anthem/Blue Cross charges individual policy holders, but de la Torre issued a statement handed out at the meeting stating that for him the fight to control health insurance abuses was personal.

“I’m running for insurance commissioner to make sure what happened to my family won’t happen to yours,” de la Torre wrote. “When a rare infection put my five-month-old daughter on an intensive care respirator, my wife and I had to fight the health insurance company, while my baby fought for her life.” Though both de la Torre and Jones publicly opposed Proposition 8, the voter-approved ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage, de la Torre’s statement said, “I take pride in being one of [the] few Latino legislators who placed aside political calculations to take a public stance in favor of marriage equality.” His packet included copies of an op-ed piece in California’s largest Latino paper, La Opinión, he published on May 26, 2009 urging the California Supreme Court to rule Proposition 8 unconstitutional. De la Torre won with 34 votes to nine for Jones and two for no endorsement.

The club was far more split on the other two statewide offices. The declared Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor are state senator Dean Florez and Los Angeles city councilmember Janice Hahn. But a report that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is considering a run for lieutenant governor now that he’s given up his bid for governor electrified the membership and led at least one person to advise that the club should “wait to see what happens with Newsom and endorse later.”

Former club president Craig Roberts urged an immediate endorsement for Janice Hahn, whom he described as “good on LGBT [Queer] issues” — in sharp contrast to her opponent. “We absolutely cannot led Dean Florez win this race.” Roberts didn’t say why, but Florez has a long string of votes in the legislature against marriage equality for same-sex couples. He was the only Democrat in the state senate to vote against Mark Leno’s marriage equality bill in 2005, though he reversed himself last year — and got criticized by anti-Queer Web sites that had formerly supported him — when he voted to support the constitutional challenge to Proposition 8. The club decided by 30 votes to five against endorsing in the lieutenant governor’s race at this time.

The club also decided not to endorse for attorney general, but there the problem wasn’t too few candidates, but too many — that and the fact that the race came up after the meeting had already been going on nearly 2 1/2 hours. The Democratic primary is being contested between San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris, Los Angeles city attorney Rocky Delgadillo (who ran for the seat in the last election but lost to Jerry Brown, who’s expected to give up the job to run for governor), private-practice attorney Chris Kelly (currently in charge of privacy policy for Facebook) and three sitting Assemblymembers: Ted Lieu of Torrance, Pedro Nava of Santa Barbara and Alberto Torrico of Fremont.

“It’s a huge field,” said Durfee. “I’ve met them all except Kelly and I can’t figure out who I want to support.” Roberts suggested the club not endorse at all in the primary and instead wait for the general election and support the primary winner against the Republican nominee. Harris came to San Diego to consult with the San Diego City Council in the run-up to the Proposition 8 lawsuit, which the city finally joined; and Nava had come to a previous meeting of the club and introduced himself — but only one club member was willing to consider an endorsement on February 25.

The club also swore in its own officers and passed a resolution by former club board member Ellis Rose calling on Democrats in Congress to pass a strong health insurance reform bill. “The ability to pass and implement national health care reform is perceived by the public as a major test of whether elected Democrats are able to lead and govern when in power,” Rose wrote in his resolution. “The Massachusetts special election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy demonstrated that voters who otherwise support and want health care reform will vote for a Republican if they feel that Democratic officeholders are unable to effectively govern (even when holding large majorities).”

Rose argued in his resolution that if the Democrats fail to pass a health reform bill at the federal level, it will have “negative impact on incumbents and candidates for offices up and down the ballot.” His draft not only called on senators and Congressmembers from California and elsewhere “to successfully pass health care reform as soon as possible” and to use “every reasonable means possible, including [budget] reconciliation” — a possible procedural way around the 60-vote requirement to close debate in the Senate — to do so, but also to cut off party campaign funding for any Democratic senators or Congressmembers who support the Republican filibusters or otherwise “work to defeat and sabotage health care reform.”

Though Rose’s resolution passed with no negative votes and only four abstentions, he was disappointed that it didn’t spark more of a debate on the floor. He said after the meeting that he intended the resolution as a wake-up call warning club members that their resolutions wouldn’t have much effect if national Democrats fail to make government work on health care, economic recovery and other big issues. Rose was worried that failure in Congress would make the Republican Party more attractive to voters and cancel out grass-roots campaign efforts by local groups like the San Diego Democratic Club. Instead, he complained, club members seemed to treat his resolution like an annoying interruption of the all-important business of endorsing in state and local races.
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