By Garvin Walsh
Mayor Catherine Blakespear trumpeted some “huge” news on social media last week — her race against Orange County businessman Matt Gunderson for the District 38 California State Senate seat is going to be “a tight, single digit race that will likely be one of the closest in California.”
The claim was based on polling conducted by FM3 Research, in which Blakespear appeared to hold a lead over Gunderson, albeit one just on the cusp of the margin of error.
Apparently the state Democratic Party agrees. The week also brought the news that three county Democratic organizations shifted $250,000 into Blakespear’s campaign (Tehama $100k, Fresno $100k, and San Mateo $50k). That’s a lot of firepower. Presumably they think she’ll need it.
None of this is a surprise. In a June commentary in this newspaper, this writer opined that “it’s going to be a close race, likely the closest of Blakespear’s political career.” That view was based on a high-altitude assessment of voter registrations in the newly drawn district, on the potential for a “red ripple” in California, and on the belief that Blakespear’s franchise in Encinitas has been diminished by voter experience with her imperious style, her scandals and political controversies.
The tight race is a glass half-full versus half-empty situation. On one hand, assuming for the sake of argument that the poll is credible, Blakespear may have an advantage at the moment. On the other hand, the report begs the question — after nearly 18 months of campaigning (since March 2021), and after being involved in local and regional politics for 10 years, is that all she’s got?
The mayor’s opponent, Matt Gunderson, is a newcomer to electoral politics, having spent a successful career in business. He declared his candidacy just before Christmas 2021, and didn’t ramp up until spring was approaching.
In the name recognition department he’s playing catch-up, but when people meet him they find an accomplished individual of moderate temperament, who’s a good deal more respectful of the ability of local citizens, governments, and businesses to manage their own affairs than is Mayor Blakespear.
In the campaign’s early stages, Gunderson has been busy introducing himself. Expect to see both campaigns in the next two months focus more on issues, attempting to more clearly define themselves with voters. Issues may not be Blakespear’s strong suit, and her purported lead is vulnerable.
The Mayor’s campaign thus far has relied on threadbare talking points intended to gather a coalition of grievance-based and other interest groups. She rings all the usual bells: pro-union, anti-gun, environmentalist, pro-“equity,” pro-women’s rights, anti-natural gas, pro-affordable housing, pro-density, pro-homeless, soft on crime, pro-tax, pro-bicycle, pro-mass transit, pro-abortion and generally pro-regulation whenever the opportunity arises.
It’s not clear that Blakespear’s kiss-all-the-babies approach is a winner. On some issues, like abortion, it’s hard to discern a difference between her and Gunderson; he’s been pro-choice for years.
Like her, he’s an environmentalist and supporter of women’s rights. On other issues, like fiscal discipline, he’s in a position to make the better case. And the problems of crime and homelessness have gotten worse on Blakespear’s watch in Encinitas — these are among the biggest issues statewide, and her response has been status quo.
Also, Gunderson can point out the contradictions which lurk within Blakespear’s themes, e.g., making “affordable housing” more expensive by imposing new green requirements on developments.
The biggest issue for voters should be local control — Gunderson is for it, Blakespear not — and it’s a sore point in Encinitas. The Superior Court ran roughshod over the local version — Prop A — enforcing Sacramento’s demand that numerous sites be upgraded for dense, multi-family housing, despite the voters’ rejection of Blakespear’s housing plans.
One last point warrants mention: Blakespear first ran for mayor with a “preserve Encinitas” and fiscal prudence message, but she governed as a pro-density advocate and a spending juggernaut. She iced that cake by pursuing the same approach at SANDAG, which she chairs.
The contrast between those two personae begs this question: Who is Catherine Blakespear, really? Perhaps Gunderson’s opportunity lies in encouraging voters to ask the same question.
Garvin Walsh is a resident of Encinitas who enjoys sharing his many opinions on political matters.
Blakespear says she is for affordable housing, then refuses to actually force the developers to make developments contain a higher percent of affordable.
Blakespear won YIMBY of the year last year, which her buddy Todd Gloria just did. The difference is that Gloria has the gust to come out and say it on twitter, while Blakespear hides it.
She also refuses to admit to being in favor of SB9, her mentor Toni Atkins’ bill.
Blakespear is the worst of both worlds, a YIMBY in favor of State control over local housing, while actually being against affordable housing. her developer handlers won’t allow it.
She has also shown herself to act as if she is being anointed, refusing to debate her opponent.
The clear choice in this race is Matt Gunderson. I can’t even come up with one reason to vote for Fraudspear.