The most important race you’re not watchingPolitically Aware Thursday, May 3rd, 2012
Commentary: Politically Aware
With a gay councilman a lesbian district attorney, a newly independent assemblyman who supports marriage equality and a straight U.S. congressman with a 100 percent score from the Human Rights Campaign, local LGBT political coverage has understandably focused on the race for San Diego mayor. While there is no doubt that electing an openly gay or lesbian mayor would be historic, it’s not clear what policy victory it would herald. Democrats have been sharing power on the City Council for some time, and since Mayor Sanders’ support of marriage equality, LGBT issues haven’t been exactly languishing in a drawer in City Hall.
San Diego County is a different story. No resolutions in support of DADT repeal or marriage equality – though there is a policy to support the repeal of birthright citizenship. No Human Relations Commission to bring such issues to the board. Oversight of the CalFresh program recognized nationally as a model of what NOT to do.
These are just a few of the reasons the LGBT and progressive communities need to pay attention to Dave Roberts’ bid to replace retiring District 3 supervisor, Pam Slater-Price. Roberts would be the first openly gay man elected to the board. He would be the first new face on the board in more than 16 years. Though the election is technically non-partisan, he would be the first Democrat in more than 20 years. Even District 4, which includes most of the City, continues to elect Republican Supervisor Ron Roberts despite a registration advantage for Democrats.
“County supervisor” may not sound as sexy as “mayor”, but it is actually a more powerful position by political metrics. Each county supervisor is one of only five people controlling the strings, rather than one of ten (nine councilmembers and the mayor). With 3,769,191 residents, the County population is nearly three times that of the City. The budget, $4.86 billion, dwarfs the City’s $2.71 billion.
That budget funds services crucial to the LGBT community. Federal and state healthcare dollars for the otherwise uninsured come in the form of County Medical Services (CMS). For LGBT youth disowned by their parents, and adults who can’t access insurance from their same-sex partner, these programs provide critical support. Or at least they could.
The offices of the district attorney and sheriff are also run by the County, which becomes important when determining whether violent acts against our community are prosecuted as hate crimes, and whether acts of civil disobedience are prosecuted at all. Counties also perform numerous administrative functions, including issuing marriage licenses.
Roberts has a number of things in his favor in what is sure to be a tight race. He has post-partisan appeal, with endorsements from leading LGBT and straight Democrats, independent icon Donna Frye, and retiring Supervisor Slater-Price, a Republican. His biography includes private sector and governmental experience relevant to many of the counties important functions.
If we’ve learned anything from electing LGBT officials, it’s that having a seat at the table changes more than one vote. It softens opposition by putting the face of a colleague on our issues. It serves as a focal point for coalition building, and can bring silent supporters out of the closet. It provides an access point for new ideas – in this case anything in the past 20 years. Putting Roberts on the board could do much more than make 5-0 votes 4-1. It could get the LGBT community off the menu and on the invite list in San Diego County government.
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