Above: Escondido Councilwoman Olga Diaz received an endorsement from the Escondido Democratic Club she had sought since April. Courtesy photo
ESCONDIDO — At its June 8 meeting, the Escondido Democratic Club voted unanimously to endorse Olga Diaz in the District 3 San Diego County Board of Supervisors race against Republican incumbent Kristin Gaspar.
Originally slated as a three-candidate forum moderated by the League of Women Voters of North County San Diego, only Diaz — a member of the Escondido City Council since 2008 — attended and vouched for an endorsement. The other two declared candidates, Terra Lawson-Remer and Jeff Griffith, did not attend but competing explanations have arisen as to why.
Georgina Tomasi, president of the Escondido Democratic Club, addressed the topic of the two missing candidates in introducing Diaz at the meeting.
Tomasi said a forum and endorsement was originally scheduled in May, but the club decided to postpone after some candidates had pre-existing scheduling conflicts.
“We sent invitations out as a club on May 8, and we sent — it was an email communication to all of the candidates — and we said if you weren’t able to come to this event, please let us know and please send a surrogate,” said Tomasi. “And so, the candidate who responded to us and who is here to present to us and who accepted our invitation was Olga Diaz.”
Diaz, too, broached the topic of the absence of Lawson-Remer and Griffith early on in her remarks. She knocked them for their inability to make it to the meeting.
“I would have loved to have some of my candidate colleagues so that you could see the difference between our level of knowledge and our ability to answer questions … ,” said Diaz. “That said, if you have candidates who do not make themselves available, right off the bat you should understand that’s not a candidate who’s doing to be able to make it in the long run.”
Griffith and Lawson-Remer, though, said they see the story as a bit more complicated.
Lawson-Remer told The Coast News she could not attend due to a professional speaking commitment predating her decision to run for office. In an email dated May 20 provided to The Coast News, Lawson-Remer wrote that she responded to the May 8 email invitation from the Escondido Democratic Club with a request for a different date.
“We have been a very cordial set of candidates so far, with everyone focused on the issues and qualifications, so I will not be surprised if (Diaz and Griffith) choose to continue operating with good sportsmanship and fairness and support my request to postpone this forum to the July or August meeting,” wrote Lawson-Remer. “Or, alternatively, to hold it on another day in July in conjunction with other clubs in the area so that we maximize attendance and participation.”
She closed the email by asking Diaz and Griffith how they preferred to proceed. According to the email chain, only Griffith responded.
“There has been no coordination from the Escondido Democratic Club with the candidates on this matter,” wrote Griffith in a May 22 email. “I do not feel that it is appropriate to have a forum when another Democratic candidate can not attend. I believe in fairness especially when I respect my other opponents. If we can not change the date to include all of us, I will sit out on this forum.”
According to a follow-up email provided to The Coast News by Griffith, seeing no change in the scheduled date of the forum, he decided to pull out due to an expressed desire to keep the process “fair and inclusive.”
“I’m sorry that I will not attend. We could have coordinated a date when all the candidates could attend,” wrote Griffith in a May 30 email. “We have enough time for an alternative date. I am saddened that we could not come together as Democrats to solve this matter.”
With only one candidate left in the forum, the League of Women Voters also backed out.
“It is the policy of the League of Women Voters to not moderate a forum if only one candidate can attend,” Anne Omsted, president of the League of Women Voters of North County San Diego. “We so notified the club.”
Lawson-Remer says that she believes more efforts should be made to ensure candidates can attend Democratic Club meetings and make the case for endorsement.
“I think it’s important to support an inclusive and truly democratic process that proactively creates opportunities for working people to participate — most people who work cannot just show up when they have non-negotiable job responsibilities,” she said. “That’s what democracy is about — creating the conditions to make it easy for people to participate, and encouraging maximum participation— not inflexible rules that exclude diverse voices.”
The June 8 meeting was not the first time a controversy had arisen between the tandem of Lawson-Remer and Griffith, juxtaposed with Diaz, as it relates to the Escondido Democratic Club’s endorsement process. And it predates the May membership meeting timeline offered by Tomasi.
According to an email provided by Griffith, Diaz had sought the Escondido club’s endorsement at the April meeting. The club had a vote scheduled at that time, but Griffith said he asked for the County Democratic Party’s leadership to intervene just days before it took place and it was called off.
According to the San Diego County Democratic Party’s bylaws, all primary candidates for an elected office must receive the “date, time, and place of the club’s meetings and of the club’s endorsement process” at least five days prior to the meeting.
A North County-based Democratic activist, who requested anonymity, noted that Diaz had a long-standing relationship with Tomasi, the latter also a member of the Escondido Union School District Board, saying it could explain the early push for an endorsement from the Escondido club.
For her part, Tomasi expressed disappointment that things turned out the way they did, saying it was the goal of the club’s leadership to have all three candidates present.
“It just balances it out because you can then hear everybody’s side,” said Tomasi. “I was a delegate to the California Democratic Convention and having all of the presidential candidates there was just what I needed. I really needed to hear all of the candidates there and it was just wonderful.”
Cody Petterson, president of the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action, said there are many reasons why getting an endorsement from a local club is important. But perhaps first among them is that it can help for branding.
“Right off the top, you get to put it on your campaign literature, so if it’s a club that’s influential or it says something important about who you are that they would support you, you can put that on your literature,” said Petterson.
Petterson also said that, all maneuvering aside, it was always most likely that Diaz would get the endorsement of her hometown club.
“Once you understand the dynamics (of the club endorsement process), it can be pretty obvious which way a club is going to go and if it doesn’t go that way, it can be pretty shocking,” he said.
Steve Horn is a San Diego, CA-based reporter covering Escondido and San Marcos. He works in a full-time capacity for The Real News Network, an online broadcast news outlet, covering climate change. He has worked as a staff investigative reporter for the publications Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News and as an investigative reporter for the climate news website DeSmog.com. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.