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Democratic County Supervisor candidates hold debut forum

REGION — On May 9, the Rancho Santa Fe Democratic Club hosted the first District 3 County Board of Supervisors candidate forum for three Democratic challengers aiming to unseat Republican incumbent Kristin Gaspar.

Hosted at the Lomas Santa Fe Country Club, the candidates discussed issues ranging from public transportation, housing, mental health treatment and climate change.

And the three of them — Escondido City Councilwoman Olga Diaz, University of California-San Diego Research Fellow Terra Lawson-Remer and Palomar Health board of directors member Jeff Griffith — spoke about how they would defeat Gaspar and why there were the choice for the job.

In her opening remarks, Diaz emphasized that she cut her teeth working in a contentious political atmosphere in Escondido under former Mayor Sam Abed, sticking around to see a changing of the political tide during the 2018 election cycle.

During more of her three-term tenure on the City Council, said Diaz, she was outnumbered, until recently by “Trump conservatives before he was even running for office.”

“I’ve been in office 10 years in arguably the most toxic political environment in this county,” said Diaz. “So you’ll have to understand, if I don’t hate Kristin Gaspar, my benchmark is Sam Abed and I spent all of my emotional rage on that man. Everybody else doesn’t bother me the same way.”

Diaz, the first ever Latina female elected to Escondido City Council, now works full time at Palomar College as its director of student success and student equity.

Lawson-Remer, by juxtaposition, pitched herself as a lifelong fighter on social activism issues. Discussing her educational background — both a law degree and PhD — she said she believes she is more qualified than the other candidates.

She also discussed her recent career background, most recently heading up the Flip the 49th federal congressional district organizing efforts, which led to the retirement of Republican U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa and eventual victory for Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Levin.

Before that, Lawson-Remer worked for the U.S. Department of Treasury under President Barack Obama. She now works as a Research Fellow focusing on political economy at University of California-San Diego.

“It’s not enough to have good intentions to build a better world,” said Lawson-Remer. “But we also need the skills and experience to forge real solutions to complicated problems.”

For his part, Griffith emphasized the connections he has made with union members working as a firefighter, as well as his broader familial ties to labor unions.

Griffith said those connections have given him a ground-level view of concerns expressed by working class people and serve as a major motive for his political engagement.

All three candidates slammed Gaspar for her stance on the San Diego Association of Government’s5 Big Moves” sweeping public transportation proposal, in response to a question asked by The Coast News during the question-and-answer portion of the forum.

Gaspar, elected to the seat by a narrow margin in 2016, has said she opposes further action on the transit plan until SANDAG fulfills the promise it owed to voters via a 2004 ballot measure.

Proposition A gave SANDAG authorization to pay for improvements to the state highway system in North County and East County.

Lawson-Remer called Gaspar’s stance “political grandstanding” with an aim to generate b-roll coverage for her campaign as a means to “divide and deceive” the electorate.

“There’s no reason that we need to pit freeways against transit,” said Lawson-Remer. “We’re going to have solutions that invest in what we need today, but really invest in what we need for the long term and where we need to go tomorrow in investing in mass transit.”

Diaz, similarly, said she believes Gaspar is being politically “opportunistic” because many voters do not follow the arcane details of SANDAG budgeting. Griffith also criticized the ethos that expanding highways will lessen traffic.

“I know Kristin Gaspar wants freeway expansion. You can’t build your way out of traffic. It’s impossible,” said Griffith. “It’s a shame, especially when the county Climate Action Plan failed twice and she’s going back to the same old tired stories about increasing freeways.”

In their closing remarks, the candidates exhibited differing visions for how to get votes for the March 3, 2020, primary election.

Lawson-Remer said her focus will be on swing voters, which she said make up about one-third of the District 3 electorate as independents, most of whom she believes have an anti-Trump sentiment.

A key part of her campaign strategy then, she said, will be to tie Gaspar to President Donald Trump, who she has twice visited at the White House during her time as a District 3 County Supervisor.

But Diaz went so far to say she hopes the contest does not advance that far, calling for the local Democratic Party to “galvanize around a candidate as early as possible.”

“At the end of the day, when we’ve got three Democrats up here working really hard to beat each other,” said Diaz. “We’re going to make it to that March primary and we’ll probably be tired and we’ll probably be a little bit broke. And Kristin will be fresh as a daisy. So, I think it’s an important strategy for us to pick soon.”