On a national level, the 2010 elections will go down in history as a populist revolt against big government. But in three North County cities, the year will be remembered as the one in which voters really, truly paid attention.
To their credit, voters in Carlsbad, Oceanside and Encinitas studied the issues, weighed the pros and cons of each side, and made informed decisions, unswayed by who had the most, and prettiest, campaign signs and mailers.
Call it the election of sense and sensibility.
In the Carlsbad mayor’s race, victor Matt Hall was seriously outgunned by fellow Councilman Keith Blackburn in both signs and mailers, thanks in large part of the police and fire unions, which spent thousands of dollars to protect their inflated pensions. The Friday before the election alone, I received no fewer than five Blackburn mailers, including one, sent by the Carlsbad Police Officers’ Association, that hit a new low in sleaziness. Under the headline, “Matt Hall neglected our families’ safety,” the cops blasted Hall for “talking to reporters” after the Kelly School shootings, while praising Blackburn for “humbling” donning his police uniform and helping out behind the scenes.
Similarly, the unions littered the city with “No on G” signs, while the pro side didn’t put up a single sign. Even so, the proposition, which sought to give voters a say in future pension packages, handily won.
Blackburn and his union backers had the misfortune of watching pension reform become a rallying cry not just in Carlsbad, but all over the state—and voters clearly paid attention to Hall’s insistence that the existing pension structure for public employees is unsustainable and reform is desperately needed if Carlsbad is to avoid financial ruin.
In Oceanside, the pension issue also played a key role in convincing voters to return Jerry Kern to the council while sending fellow incumbent Chuck Lowery packing—and replacing him with city treasurer Gary Felien, a Kern prodigy.
Lowery was elected to fill the council seat vacated by Rocky Chavez in a special election last June. At the time, he swore up and down that he would be an independent voice on the council, despite previous big-bucks support from the unions during the abortive attempt to recall Kern last December.
But just three months later, Lowery effectively paid back the unions for their support when he voted with Councilwoman Esther Sanchez and Mayor Jim Wood for a generous new contract with firefighters that would not only cost the financially troubled city another $543,000 a year, but also give the union veto power over staffing changes and fire agency consolidation negotiations.
Last Tuesday, the taxpaying citizens of Oceanside paid back Lowery for his infidelity by voting him out of office.
And then there is the sad case of Dan Dalager in Encinitas. He was riding high this year when his council re-election campaign began, chalking up a huge victory when he led the charge to save the Hall property from commercialization and getting it tagged as the city’s next big public park. He also began his campaign with the title of Mayor, which rotates year to year among council members.
But then word broke in the press of a few, shall we say, irregularities. First, Dalager was accused of accepting a bunch of free kitchen equipment from an appliance store owner who later appeared before the Encinitas City council to appeal an order to remove an illegal wall he built in front of his home. Dalager voted to support the appeal.
Then, it was revealed that Dalager never disclosed a $100,000 loan he received three years ago from a friend. The loan should have been reported on the annual disclosure forms elected officials are required to file. Dalager, however, neglected to do that. His friend subsequently appeared at a council meeting to express his support for a property owner who was asking the council for a reduction in affordable housing development fees. Dalager’s buddy used to own that property. The council voted 4-1 to reject the request. The lone holdout: Dan Dalager.
I’ve written before in this space that Dalager is at heart a good guy who may have exercised poor judgment in a couple of instances, but certainly shouldn’t be kicked out of office for his indiscretions. Voters apparently disagreed with my leniency; on November 2, Dalager finished last among four candidates.
Uninformed electorate? Not in North County. The results of election 2010 indicate our voters were paying attention—to the issues and the facts, as reported in the newspapers, rather than the signs and the mailers. And while I may not agree with all their decisions, I certainly respect them.