San Diego Decides by Voice of San Diego

San Diego Decides is Voice of San Diego’s elections podcast. Hosts Sara Libby and Ry Rivard break down individual races and ballot measures San Diegans will weigh in on this year, as well bigger issues like the mechanics of voting, state-level drama and more.
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San Diego Decides by Voice of San Diego

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Oct 31, 2016

In our final episode before Election Day, we talk about the death penalty, which California voters will have a chance to end this year or reform.

Proposition 62 would end the death penalty in California. Proposition 66 would try to speed up appeals of death penalty verdicts, which could result in quicker executions or exonerations. (If both pass, the one with the most votes takes effect.)

First Sara Libby and I talk with Mike and Penny Moreau, whose son Tim was murdered in Oregon in 1990. They discuss that horrible case and the moral dilemma they faced before they cast their votes this year on the two death penalty measures. On the one hand, philosophically, they think it’s wrong to kill somebody else. On the other, they have seen the criminal justice system up close and found there is some value in the death penalty.

They talk about a practical benefit of the death penalty: It can provide leverage for prosecutors. Their son’s killers took plea deals to avoid a death penalty trial. As part of those deals, they agreed to help authorities look for Tim’s body, which they had buried in the woods. (They were unsuccessful; Tim has not yet been found.)

“That’s when we got interested in what impact hanging over someone’s head the threat of a death penalty – how it can help victims find out what happened,” Mike Moreau said.

The Moreaus have also shepherded other parents of murdered children through the justice system and they’ve seen people with life sentences get out of jail. Before they’d vote to end the death penalty, they said they want to make sure the justice system doesn’t ignore victims.

We also talk with Kelly Davis, a freelance journalist who focuses on criminal justice issues. She walks us through some of the other policy implications of both death penalty ballot measures.

To end on a lighter note, we also talked about our favorite things from the week.

Libby enjoyed the many Vine videos people reposted after the video-sharing service announced it would discontinue its mobile phone app, effectively ending the service. Particular favorites include this and this.

I enjoyed Saturday Night Live’s “Black Jeopardy” skit because it highlighted the similarities between black and white working class Americans –  their shared “disempowerment, suspicion of authority, and working-class identity,” as Jamelle Bouie at Slate put it – without papering over fundamental disagreements that still divide us.

Oct 17, 2016

Unlike presidential debates that are watched by millions, local political debates are rarely televised, yet they offer some of the only chances for voters to hear city and county candidates who will have direct say over so much of their lives.

This week we talk about those debates.

Local debates happen more than you’d think. Podcast co-host Sara Libby, for instance, moderated a city attorney debate last Monday between Mara Elliott and Robert Hickey. Then Hickey and Elliott met again two days later for another candidate forum in City Heights.

As a result, there’s a debate circuit that forms, as our colleague and frequent debate host Andrew Keatts explains. Opposing candidates who see each other night after night become familiar with each other’s talking points and maintain collegial bonds.

Unless they don’t: Keatts talks about one of the wilder local debates he’s hosted, our Politifest debate over a ballot measure that will change city election law.

We also talk about the U.S. Senate “dabate” between state Attorney General Kamela Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, and share other observations about the history of debating in San Diego.

Favorite Things

Andy’s favorite thing is the new HBO series “Westworld.”

My favorite thing is normal people who far outnumber reporters even though reporters often end up fetishizing working-class Americans, like Ken Bone, the accidental star of the recent presidential debate.

Sara’s is Sutter Brown, California’s first dog, as well as a touching Sacramento Bee editorial on mortality and our pets.

Oct 3, 2016

Those of you who were able to attend our Politifest presentation on the 17 state ballot measures not only got to learn about the ins and outs of the many complex measures facing California voters, you also got to witness our strong hat game.

We've recreated that presentation here on the latest San Diego Decides episode — unfortunately, you'll just have to imagine us wearing weird hats as you listen.

Some of the measures are relatively straightforward: One legalizes pot, for example. Another abolishes the death penalty. Others are quite tricky. Prop. 65, in fact, exists almost solely to confuse voters. That's the one that is sort of, kind of, about banning plastic bags, but will only become law if Prop. 67 — the actual plastic bag ban — passes, and Prop. 65 passes as well but with more votes. Told you it was confusing.

We run down all 17 ballot propositions in this episode, so get comfy, take notes and godspeed. And if you need some insight on the other huge slate of measures you'll weigh in on — the local San Diego measures — check out this handy guide.

Sep 19, 2016

Just before we went to tape the latest episode of the San Diego Decides podcast, former Obama adviser David Axelrod had a fortuitous tweet:

During election season, various polls get blasted in people’s faces like they’re being hurled from a T-shirt gun. Making sense of them all – especially when they sometimes seem to contradict one another – is tough.

In this episode, Ry Rivard and I run down some of the many things to consider when reading a poll: Who was paying for it, who was surveyed and how (did the interviewers use cell phones? Did they have Spanish-speakers available?) and what questions were actually asked. We also talk about the rise of online polling – a method that was considered kind of a joke as recently as a few years ago but is growing more sophisticated at a rapid clip.

And we talked with John Nienstedt of Competitive Edge, who’s been polling San Diegans for decades, about lessons he’s learned over the years.

Nienstedt said that even subtle changes in the wording of a polling question can produce significant differences in results.

He pointed out that in 2015, the Chargers paid for a survey that asked: “Do you favor or oppose the city and the county spending $400 million to build a new NFL football stadium in the Mission Valley area of San Diego?” About 61 percent of the respondents said they opposed that plan.

“I pointed out when this was touted to me – the question itself, if you read it carefully, what is a respondent supposed to say? Because you’re putting the emphasis on the city and county spending $400 million – that’s what you’re responding to,” Nienstedt said. “You’re not responding to a package or a proposition or an initiative, you’re responding to whether they should spend that money. The default is gonna be no.”

Aug 8, 2016

This week, Sara Libby and I start preparing for the weighty decisions we’ll all be asked to make in this fall’s election.

These are weighty not only because they’re important decisions, but because there are a lot of them. When you get the state’s Official Voter Information Guide in the mail this fall, you’ll see it’s a voluminous document, the size of some cities’ telephone books. The guide takes voters through the pros and cons of at least 17 different statewide ballot measures.

We go through the guide, how you can use it and offer some first impressions about the layout, writing and fun facts scattered throughout. We suggest starting a book club soon if you want to get through the whole thing by Election Day.

The guide doesn’t even include the numerous city and county ballot measures that you’ll also be asked to decide in November.

We also list our favorite things of the week. My favorite thing is a rhetorical tic that Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, has: He repeats himself for emphasis, something I’ve found that I do too. Sara’s favorite thing this week is the new HBO series “The Night Of.”

Jun 13, 2016

Sara and Ry recap what happened on Election Day in San Diego and what races are still going into the fall.

May 31, 2016

The primary is right around the corner, so co-hosts Sara Libby and Ry Rivard tackle some of the biggest local races and issues that'll be on the ballot.

VOSD staffers join the podcast this week to help break things down and give listeners useful information in advance of the June 7 vote.

Andrew Keatts talks about a few of the San Diego City Council races and the five-way city attorney race. He also shares some important background and details about Rebuild San Diego, the measure put forward by San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey that promises to finally deal with the city’s large infrastructure funding dilemma.

"Somewhere along the line someone dropped the ball or somebody lost their nerve," Keatts said of the measure, which the city's independent budget analyst has said lacks a new source of revenue to actually make a dent in the city's crumbling infrastructure problem. "One thing or another happened, but the plan that was sketched out never happened and instead what we have is Proposition H."

Also on the podcast, VOSD's Ashly McGlone shares some insight about the city's raging debate over vacation rentals and what the candidates for City Council District 1 are saying the city should do to regulate them, education reporter Mario Koran discusses the unusually exciting race for the San Diego County Board of Education, Scott Lewis explains the lackluster mayoral race and other staffers discuss more races and measures.

Favorite Things

• Ry Rivard's favorite thing this week is "All the Way," an HBO movie based on the life of President Lyndon B. Johnson and his work on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Rivard says the series takes a good look a a politician who decided to do something bold with his time in office.

Sara Libby's favorite thing this week is San Diego's growing love of cold brew coffee. She specifically names Barrio Logan cafe Por Vida's horchata cold brew and North Park's Holsem Coffee's  banana bread cold brew.

May 16, 2016

This week we explore races full of lawyers: the race for city attorney and two San Diego Superior Court judge races.

The first race is full of intrigue, campaign ads, sniping among candidates and has a lot of people’s attention. Sara Libby and I talk with Andy Keatts, who has been covering the race. Recently, he's explored the client lists of Robert Hickey and Rafael Castellanos and looked at how frequent city foe Cory Briggs’ endorsement is affecting Gil Cabrera’s campaign.

The judges’ races, though – you’d be hard pressed to find much out about either of them. Forty-three of the San Diego Superior Court’s 128 sitting judges are up for election this year. Only two are actually in races, though: The rest are running unopposed, so will be elected automatically.

We talk with Johanna Schiavoni, a local appellate lawyer who worked on judicial endorsements when she was head of the Lawyers Club of San Diego. She tells us how judges races work and how voters can get more information on these important but unheralded contests.

Crazy Ballot Initiatives

This ballot measure is actually on the ballot in June, so it may not be that crazy: Proposition 50, which would prevent state legislators from receiving pay while they are suspended. In 2014, three state senators were suspended for various and separate allegations of wrongdoing, but each kept getting their Senate salary. That seemed sorta odd, so this proposition aims to change things.

Sen. Joel Anderson of San Diego is a major opponent of the ballot initiative, though. Rather than strengthening ethics in Sacramento, Anderson argues the constitutional amendment here would weaken it: “Prop. 50 is designed to make you feel like the Sacramento political class actually wants to take a tough position to root out corruption. What they are really doing is hiding from you the fact that they would not make the tough decision to expel a convicted felon—their buddy,” he writes in the official state voter guide.

The Legislature already has the power to expel lawmakers. An expelled lawmaker’s seat becomes empty, so someone else takes their place. Because of this, Anderson argues, relying on suspensions rather than expulsion is the wrong path, because a suspended lawmaker is allowed to keep occupying the office while the lawmaker’s district does not have an active representative.

Favorite Things

My favorite thing is the language political journalists use when they are out and about in rural America. Usually, these are folksy-sounding words and phrases that real people don’t really use – towns and people are “hardscrabble” and when people eat they are said have “tucked into hearty meals,” whatever that means.

Sara Libby’s favorite thing is the Twitter account @PhotosOfTV, which archives the most interesting chyrons (those bits of text at the bottom of the screen). Lately, PhotosOfTV has noticed a man whose title is simply “Tired of Birds”; a segment on the “Cankle Criss” striking America and a Northern Virginia woman who is apparently a “’Notable Tree’ Owner.’”

May 2, 2016

There's a lot to unpack when it comes to politicalactioncommittees, or PACs.

Joe Yerardi, a reporter at inewsource, joins San DiegoDecidesthis week for a quick PAC history lesson, including arundownof the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling andothercases that have upended the world of campaign finance inthelast few years. He also reviews the basics when it comesto"dark money" and other termsswirling around themysterious world of campaignfinance.

"This stuff is a little hard to wrap your head around,"Yerardisaid. "But really it's extremely important to how this cityandthis country is governed."

Hosts Sara Libby and Ry Rivard go from learning about PACstotalking to someone who runs one. Aimee Faucett, COO of theSanDiego Regional Chamber of Commerce, joins the show to discussthePACs she heads. The Chamber used to keep politics at arm'slengthbut has significantly ramped up its involvement in localraces.Faucett said the Chamber's goal when it comes togettinginvolved in politics and elections is to give the localbusinesscommunity a say in how the region is being run.

"In San Diego, we're tying to be the mostbusiness-friendlyregion in California and with that we need tostart helping andsupporting campaigns by getting businesscandidates elected so thatwe have a voice," she said.

Faucett also talks about the candidates and issues backed bythechamber, including plans for a convadium, theinfrastructuremeasure called Rebuild San Diego and minimumwage.

Also on this podcast, Libby and Rivard discuss the City Council District 1 candidates andtheirbootstraps, Bruce Lightner's weird website problems and more.

Crazy Ballot Initiatives

There are a few wild ballot proposals that involvecampaignfinance. One would amend the state Constitutionto impose a 1,000 percent sales tax on allpoliticaladvertising in California. All media spending by allpoliticalparties, PACs or candidates would be subject to the tax,and themoney would go to public education. Anotherproposedmeasure is the brainchild of a local businessman. It's beendubbedthe "NASCAR measure'' and would require lawmakers towearthe names of their top 10 donors on their person – as in,theywould have to wear pins or stickerswithdonors' names. The mock-ups of what that would looklikeare hilarious.

Favorite Things

Sara Libby's favorite thing this weekisa profile of author Angela Flournoy atBuzzFeed.Flournoy's book, "The Turner House," is Libby'sfavorite newbook.

• Ry Rivard's favorite thing is TheAxe Files, a podcast by David Axelrod,President Obama'sformer campaign architect.

Apr 18, 2016

In the political arena, underdogs are candidates who don't get many endorsements, they raise little money compared to competitors and they don't have much name recognition.

People think underdogs are long-shots who won't likely win, but sometimes they pull out a surprise.

Lori Saldaña is a self-admitted political underdog who joins podcast co-hosts Ry Rivard and Sara Libby this week to talk about her underdog status in the mayoral race, and her surprise win in a past race for state Assembly.

Saldaña was a major underdog when she ran for Assembly. She said she won, in part, because the Democrats she was up against were too busy slinging mud at each other.

"People said it was a circular firing squad of Democrats in that primary and I ducked," she said.

Also on the podcast this week, Kevin Melton, a Republican candidate for the 78th District Assembly seat. Melton is running against City Councilman Todd Gloria — someone who's well known, has racked up endorsements and raised far more money — but Melton said he doesn't consider himself an underdog at all.

"I'm able to relate with all sides and all people," he said. "So those people who need to come over who are fiscally conservative, socially moderate – they will vote my way."

Melton said on the podcast that he has a slate of high-profile endorsements but that they'll stay secret for the time being. He also said that though he hasn't reported much money on campaign fundraising disclosures, that will soon change.

After the podcast taping, Melton emailed a new list of endorsements: "Supervisor Bill Horn, Assemblyman Brian Jones, Councilman Scott Sherman, Coronado Councilman Richard Baily, the entire Republican Party Central Committee 78th Assembly District, Republican Federation of Women Coronado, Point Loma, La Jolla, Del Mar, Solano Beach." But he also said he has the endorsements of four "major people in the city" that he still can't share.

VOSD's Lisa Halverstadt also makes an appearance on the podcast this week to shed some light on the race to fill Gloria's District 3 City Council seat.

Candidates Chris Ward and Anthony Bernal are similar in a lot of ways. They've both said no to public funding for a new stadium for the Chargers and yes to a dedicated funding stream to fix the estimated $300 million of infrastructure needs in Balboa Park.

The two have also invoked Gloria's image in their campaigns, even though neither candidate has gotten his official endorsement yet.

Crazy Ballot Initiatives

The Secret Ballot Voting in State Legislature Initiative is also a bit of an underdog to make the November ballot. The proposed measure wants legislators to be required to vote by secret ballot, thereby eliminating voting records and any method of understanding how our elected officials are doing their job.

Favorite Things

• Rivard's favorite thing is the California Public Records Act. During the Saldaña interview, the candidate brought up her complaint that someone with political motivations has requested her personnel records. Rivard said he likes the fact that anyone can file a public records request, and it shouldn't matter what the motivations are behind each filing, because the public deserves access to public files. The public, after all, is paying for them.

• Libby's a USC alum, so her fave thing this week is the school's recent hire of Lynn Swann, a former professional football player, as athletic director.

Apr 4, 2016

You might've heard that California's presidential primary, for once, could actually matter this time around. But that doesn't necessarily mean you can just stroll into a poll this June and weigh in.

The latest San Diego Decides is all about voting — what needs to happen before you can vote in the primary, how voting is changing and some of the controversies surrounding how votes are counted.

Hosts Sara Libby and Ry Rivard speak with Rep. Susan Davis, who has for years been pushing a bill that would allow any eligible voter to vote by mail. Californians can vote by mail easily, but folks in many other states have to jump through onerous hurdles like producing a doctor's note or proving they'll be on vacation on Election Day.

“If you actually get sick on Election Day, you probably didn’t know you were going to get sick, which means you probably didn’t go to the doctor in order to get a permission slip so that you can vote by mail,” Davis said.

Also on the show: Vince Hall, executive director of the Future of California Elections, a group charged with modernizing the voting process in California.

Hall talks about some of the latest reforms to the voting process and why you still won't be able to vote online anytime soon.

"With paper ballots, you always have accountability, you have an audit system that allows you to essentially recreate the election, precinct by precinct, based on demonstrable physical evidence of what happened," Hall said. "But when you’re talking about digits in a computer, you don’t have that permanent record, that permanent accountability, with the way the internet currently functions.”

Hall closes with some sobering statistics about California voter participation: “In 2014, the voter participation rate in California was so bad, that the average voter was older than the average Californian’s parents. So it was really a grandparent electorate. And in our state, in that year, an 18 or 19 year-old was more likely to get arrested than to vote in a state-wide election.”

Crazy Ballot Initiatives

The latest proposal to go under the microscope is a measure that would eliminate charter schools — all of them.

Sara talks with a supporter of the measure about why she believes the plan is viable.

Favorite Things

• Ry shares some lore from his home state of West Virgina, which has a history of alleged voter fraud.

• Sara's vibing The Return of the '90s: TLC, O.J., the Clintons and "Full House" are all back.


Show Notes

Mar 21, 2016

San Diego Decides is Voice of San Diego’s elections podcast. Hosts Sara Libby and Ry Rivard break down individual races and ballot measures San Diegans will weigh in on this year, as well bigger issues like the mechanics of voting, state-level drama and more.


In this week's episode, hosts Sara Libby and Ry Rivard talked about three big races this week: the race for mayor, the race for city attorney and the race for the District 9 City Council seat.

Sara and Andrew Keatts interviewed mayoral candidate Ed Harris, and share some excerpts of that conversation. Harris addresses why he decided to get in the race, and what separates him from Mayor Kevin Faulconer even though they seemingly have a lot in common.

Next up: the race for city attorney saw some verbal sparring between Rafael Castellanos and Gil Cabrera, as Voice of San Diego’s Andrew Keats wrote about recently. Both candidates have been preparing to run for several years, so they both have a lot invested in winning. A third candidate, Mara Elliott, has not received as much attention or money, but she may have a built-in advantage with her title, “chief deputy city attorney.”

The race for City Council's District 9 is also starting to heat up, with three main candidates contending for the position: Ricardo Flores, chief of staff for outgoing Councilwoman Marti Emerald, Georgette Gomez, associate director at the Environmental Health Coalition, and Sarah Saez, program director for the United Taxi Workers.

KPBS reporter Megan Burks, who's covered City Heights and surrounding communities for years, stopped by to talk about the unusual dynamics at work in D9. Two neighborhoods separated essentially by just a roadway are actually a world apart: Kensington has a 60-70 percent voter turnout and its median income is about $90K a year. By contrast, City Heights’ voter turnout can be as low as 14 percent, its median income is $21K a year.

Crazy Ballot Initiatives

Sara plans to highlight a few of the strangest measures vying to make the November ballot in each episode. First up: A measure that would require candidates and lawmakers to take regular lie detector tests, and another that would restrict any speech that has to do with Holocaust denial.

Our Favorite Things This Week

Sara: Acting as VOSD's pop culture ambassador, Sara selected Rihanna's new album, Anti.

Ry: Bruce Lightner, who's running to replace his wife, Sherri Lightner, as the City Council rep for District 1, compared their combined power to one of the great American political dynasties. Asked if he'll get a name-recognition boost, he told the Union-Tribune:  “It won’t be the first time. Look at the Kennedy dynasty.”

Megan: A city in New York has created a Hamsterdam to address the heroin epidemic: a part of town where you can use safely and freely. Former KPBS reporter Tarryn Mento pointed out that this is basically "The Wire" come to life.


Show Notes Page


Mar 3, 2016

What role do endorsements play in politics? Is it just a lot of back-slapping among friends and political influencers? Do they really sway voters in any meaningful way? And what is the process that goes on in the background that leads to an organization or individual endorsing a political candidate?

These are just some of the questions that we’re exploring on this, the first episode of Voice of San Diego’s new podcast, San Diego Decides. Throughout this podcast, we’ll be digging into all kinds of different aspects of the 2016 San Diego election. This episode is bringing you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about endorsements in a political election.

There are certain times when an endorsement is, in fact, an overwhelming factor, particularly when the general voting population is not especially up to date on the issues or the candidates, or when candidates have very similar voting records. Other times, endorsements are little more than announcements that go straight into trash folder of your email inbox.

Sara and Ry also reveal whose endorsements they’d seek out if they were running for office in San Diego, and Brian Pepin, the new president of the Lincoln Club of San Diego County, comes on to discuss his group’s process for deciding whom to endorse.

This Week’s Favorite Things

Sara Libby: The state of Oregon passed a “Motor Voter” law, and has signed up more than 10,000 new voters since the start of the year.

Ry Rivard: “Sometimes a Great Notion,” a novel by Ken Kesey.


Bullet Points

  • People will tend to rely more on endorsements when they don’t especially know what’s going on
  • When you really understand what’s going on, endorsements are less important
  • When two people with very similar voting records are running against each other, it’s one of the only ways to differentiate
  • Tony Atkins and Marty Block are a recent example of endorsements playing an important role
  • Lori Saldana, who is running for mayor as an independent, endorsed Bob Filner for mayor a few years ago, but has since revealed that she was aware of his issues with his treatment of women at the time, and had actually warned party leaders about it. She since stated that she didn’t want to bring up the harassment while her father was still alive
  • Endorsements are important to candidates both for the resources that come with them, and in the way that endorsements can sway voters