By Miriam Raftery
Photos (top left to bottom right): Steve Vaus, Joel Anderson, Tom Lemmon, and Kenya Taylor
Update: Lemmon has opted not to run.
May 30, 2019 (San Diego’s East County) – Stepping down due to term limits in 2020 after 28 years, San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob leaves some big shoes to fill. Four candidates, two Republicans and two Democrats, have thus far announced plans to run for the 2nd Supervisorial district, which covers 2,000 square miles encompassing the eastern two-thirds of the county.
The contenders for the ostensibly nonpartisan race are Poway Mayor Steve Vaus and former State Senator Joel Anderson, both Republicans. Democrats Tom Lemmon, a labor leader who heads up the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council, and Kenya Taylor, a mental health counselor and NAACP board member, are also in the running.
Below are highlights of their backgrounds and goals if elected, as well as analysis of the challenges each may need to overcome to win the race.
Mayor Steve Vaus has picked up the coveted endorsement of Supervisor Jacob, as well as Supervisors Jim Desmond and Kristine Gaspar plus a long list of community leaders. He’s recently gained visibility in local and national media for his leadership role after the shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue. Vaus also serves as chair of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). He owns a Poway production company and is also a Grammy Award-winning musician with multiple Emmy Awards. His key challenge may be in persuading voters across the massive district that he understands issues across the rural and mountain areas, as well as the cities within East County, beyond Poway.
Vaus may appeal to rural voters not only with his ever-present cowboy hat but also his campaign promises listed on his website: “My priorities as East County’s Supervisor will be the same as my priorities as Mayor: Keeping us safe from crime and fire, maintain infrastructure, protecting and expanding open space, encouraging development of new housing, and being accessible.” That’s a key issue at a time when Supervisors are grappling with developer-backed changes proposed to the General Plan that could open up backcountry, fire-prone areas to massive housing developments.
Vaus won reelection in 2018 as Mayor with 63% of the vote. He has also served as executive vice president of a national charitable organization serving disadvantaged youths, as chairman of the Poway Budget Review Committee and oway Citizens Substance Abuse Task Force, a well as executive director of the Poway Community Leadership Institute and on the Board of Trustees for the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Pacific Southwest Region. He also produces an annual Carols by Candlelight holiday concert which has raised money for needy children for the past 29 years. His wife, Corrie, is an award-winning journalist and video producer; they have raised four children in Poway.
Joel Anderson served in the Assembly and State Senate before leaving due to term limits. He previously was a director in the Padre Dam water district. He has been endorsed by former California Governor Pete Wilson, indicted Congressman Duncan Hunter, State Senator Brian Jones and others. Anderson has amassed a sizeable campaign war chest to fund his campaign, having previously announced plans to run against Jacob in 2016 before withdrawing. He later ran an unsuccessful campaign for State Board of Equalization, losing to Mike Schaefer, a Democrat who was not endorsed by the Democratic party after being disbarred in two states.
Anderson's key advantage is strong name recogntion representing large legislative districts that mostly overlap district 2. His website oddly lists no accomplishments during his long legislative tenure, though he has long touted himself as a tax fighter. On his campaign website he states, “How many times have we been taxed with promises of road repair and construction? I’m willing to fight the downtown establishment for needed road repairs. I’ve lived in East County over thirty year and I know that we deserve better from our county government.” He calls for more beds for the mentally ill and controling costs for "attainable housing."
Though a strong party fundraiser, Anderson’s record is blighted by a legislative reprimand for threatening to “bitch slap” a Sacramento lobbyist after drinking at a Sacramento restaurant/bar and for an FPPC finding that he violated campaign laws by accepting contributions over the maximum allowable limit, funneled through a Republican Central committee in another county, from a local developer and a Native American tribe. Anderson may also have difficulty wooing voters who recall his refusal to take a position on controversial energy projects such as Sunrise Power Link and the Quail Brush power plant, as well as his letter to Supervisors in support of a controversial energy project in McCain Valley on property owned by his then-landlord, the same Hammond family construction company that previously made donations in excess of legal limits funneled into his legislative campaign.
Tom Lemmon, as leader of a powerful labor union, has the advantage of being able to muster up boots-on-the-ground support to walk precincts on his behalf, as well as appeal to voters who want to see more priority on bringing good-paying jobs and affordable housing to the region.
“East County is home to middle class families who work hard, play by the rules and yet are struggling to get ahead in today’s economy,” Lemmon says, the San Diego Union -Tribune reports. “I’m running for those working families who need a champion standing up for them on the county board.” He is currently chair of San Diego’s largest affordable housing site and has served on various nonprofit boards including United Way and the San Diego Workforce Investment Board.
Lemmon also serves as a commissioner at the California State Parks Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division. Off-road issues helped propel Brian Jones into political higher offices, it’s worth noting. Lemmon describes himself as a “desert rat” raised in Ocotillo Wells on his commissioner page but has not yet set up a campaign website.
Lemmon’s biggest challenge will likely be overcoming the still hefty Republican registration advantage in the 2nd Supervisorial district particularly in rural areas and GOP strongholds such as Santee, though some urban of the district have shifted to a majority Democratic registration, such as Lemon Grove, La Mesa, Spring Valley and El Cajon. Democrats plan to target East County heavily for the first time, however, seeing opportunity with an election coming on the heels of a corruption trial this fall for Congressman Hunter and a likely large Democratic turnout among those dissatisfied with President Donald Trump during the 2020 presidential race.
Kenya Taylor, a Rancho San Diego resident who says she’s spent 30 years working across East County to help young people, families and seniors receive services they need, states on her website, “I’m running for Supervisor because our neighborhoods deserve more. We deserve a County government that is focused on the health, safety, and economic survival of every city, community and neighborhood.”
She holds a master’s degree in counseling and a bachelor’s in sociology from San Diego State University. She is Co-Chair of the Southeastern Live Well Center Health Workgroup and membership chair of the Black Women’s Institute for Leadership Development. She’s also been involved with the Rady Children’s Hospital Auxiliary Southesat Cluster Unit and other health-oriented groups. Taylor also serves on the Ramona Art Docent Steering Committee and the NAACP San Diego branch executive committee.
Taylor’s site includes specifics on many issues ranging from stopping the Cottonwood and El Monte sand mines to promoting farming and green jobs, improving quality health care access and programs for drug addiction as well as mental health, invetsing in fire prevention resources and other emergency response needs, championing safe schools, creating affordable housing opportunities, supporting small business owners, developing programs for women veterans, and a long-term plan to address homelessness, among others.
Her key challenge, like Lemmon’s will be in overcoming the party registration disadvantage for Democrats, as well as defeating a labor leader in her own party. She’s hitting the ground running with an issue-oriented website and messaging that may hold appeal for constituencies that have long felt disenfranchised on a Board of Supervisors that until recently was composed of five conservative Republicans and still has only one Democrat, Nathan Fletcher. She could also benefit from a likely high turnout among minorities and women voters as women’s health issues make headlines nationally and several prominent women are among the Democratic presidential contenders, including California Senator Kamala Harris, also an African-American woman, in 2020.
Jacob's legacy and beyond
All four will be running in the long shadow of Dianne Jacob’s legacy, which has included creation of many parks, open spaces, trails and libraries, spearheading creation of an Alzheimer’s project, as well as her push to create a County Fire Authority that aimed to improve fire protection, albeit with some opposition, notably in Julian. Jacob has earned respect for standing up against industrial-scale energy projects, backing creation of a community choice energy option, and being a vocal critic of SDG&E. Unlike many politicians who are largely inaccessible to their constituents, Jacob has also been known for her “coffee with constituents” in towns across the massive district that runs east to the Imperial County line, south to the international border, and north into the mountain communities.
With major changes proposed for the region in energy projects, housing developments, transit, sand mines and more, the next Supervisor will have a strong role to play in shaping the future of East County.