Friday, October 12, 2007

Queer Democrats Endorse Block for Assembly


Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Photos,top to bottom: Marty Block, Arlie Ricasa, Auday Arabo

The predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club at its September 27 meeting overwhelmingly endorsed San Diego Community College board member Marty Block for the 78th District seat in the California State Assembly — which, much to local Democrats’ disgust, has been held for six years by Republican Shirley Horton, former mayor of Chula Vista. The club heard from three Democratic candidates for the seat — Block, Sweetwater High School district board member Arlie Ricasa and small-business lobbyist and former San Diego County prosecutor Auday Arabo — but ultimately 78 percent of the members present voted to endorse Block, well above the 60 percent threshold needed for the club’s endorsement.

What seemed to impress the club members most about Block was his political experience, name recognition and long list of endorsers, including former 78th District Assemblymembers Lucy Killea, DeDe Alpert, Howard Wayne and Mike Gotch, as well as San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye, former Congressional candidate Francine Busby, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, former San Diego Democratic Club president Gloria Johnson, labor activist and fellow Community College District board member Peter Zschiesche, businessmen Murray Galinson and Chris Wood, community activists Nicole Murray Ramirez, Bob Lehman, Bruce Abrams, John Lockhart, Greg Evans, Dwayne Crenshaw, Vince Hall (who lost the seat to Horton in 2002), David Valladolid and Cecil Steppe, club members Michelle Krug, Margaret Moody and Brian Polejes.

Block also boasted of organizational endorsements from the American Federation of Teachers Local 1931, the California Faculty Association, the Faculty Coalition for Public Higher Education and the California Federation of Teachers. “They’ve endorsed me,” Block said, “because they know I’m the most electable candidate. They know that I’m right on the issues, and they know that you won’t have to come to Sacramento to lobby me. I’ll come to your meetings.”

Auday Arabo, a newcomer to electoral politics who promoted himself at the meeting with a handout that contained a San Diego Union-Tribune feature about him from 2005, emphasized his personal story. “My family brought me here in 1979 from Baghdad, Iraq for opportunities, not for them but for me,” he recalled. His parents supported themselves and their family by running a small grocery store in City Heights, and Arabo went to college, worked as an aide to Republican Congressmember Brian Bilbray, then was hired by the county district attorney’s office and prosecuted cases until he took a job as lobbyist for an association of small grocery-store owners. “We have a power vacuum in the 78th Assembly District,” he said. “I went to school here, I believe in the community, and I believe the community believes in me.”

Arlie Ricasa, who ran a close second to Maxine Sherard in the 2004 Democratic primary in the district, presented herself along the lines of 76th District Assemblymember Lori Saldaña, a woman of color who won a closely contested primary against two white candidates in 2004 and went on to take the seat. Though she offered a few endorsers of her own — her leaflet listed State Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny and Assemblymember Mary Salas (as well as State Senator Christine Kehoe, who actually dual-endorsed both Ricasa and Block) — her main appeal was as a grass-roots candidate, willing to walk the district and work hard to reach voters. “The 78th Assembly District is longing and starving for inspirational leadership,” she said. “I believe in the core Democratic values, including education, equal access to health care and safe communities.”

All three candidates scored well on the club’s issues questionnaire, but only Block got 100 percent. Ricasa and Arabo both were uncomfortable with the questions on euthanasia, and Ricasa qualified her answers on the questions about same-sex marriage and relationship rights by saying she supported them “in general.” Asked about their party affiliations, both Block and Ricasa proudly said they were lifelong Democrats. Arabo said he had registered as a Democrat when he was first naturalized as a U.S. citizen, switched to the Republican party when he went to work for Bilbray, and changed back to Democrat when he “saw the hate” within the Republican party. Arabo then said that the untold story about Iraq is the oppression of its minorities, including its Queers; making an ironic reference to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claim that there were no Queers in Iran, Arabo said, “There are LGBT’s in Iraq.”

The questions from club members covered a wide range of issues, from reforming California’s “three strikes” law on criminal sentences to what government can do to help small businesses to a controversial city ordinance recently passed in San Diego that taxes all stores that sell tobacco products $163 per year and requires them to register with the police. Block and Ricasa both said they supported the measure, which is aimed at raising money for programs to keep young people from smoking. Arabo said the lobbying group he represents, the Independent Grocers’ Association, opposed the bill and said a state law passed in 2004 offered enough programs and funding to keep underage people from using tobacco products.

As a former prosecutor, Arabo took a strong position against reforming the three-strikes law. “Three-strikes defendants are accused of serious crimes. The public safety community is as one on this [defending the current three-strikes law],” he said, adding that the unsuccessful reform initiative on the 2004 ballot — which would have required court review of third-strike sentences and likely led to the early release of many inmates whose third-strike sentences were for nonviolent crimes — was “completely out of line.”

Block and Ricasa both agreed. Block called some of the sentences under the current law “Draconian” and Ricasa said, “It is a shame that this state spends more on incarceration than on education. That’s why we need logic in Sacramento. Let’s be smart about the legislation. When we’re ranking in the bottom quartiles [among all states] in education funding, what are the long-term consequences?”

The candidates were also asked who is giving them money. All three denied receiving funds from tobacco companies or lobbyists. Arabo said most of his contributors were deputy district attorneys and small business owners. Ricasa said she had collected most of her money as $5 contributions from ordinary citizens, and Block said most of his contributors were “rich lawyers, poor educators and the LGBT community.” All three candidates opposed laws requiring notification of parents of minor girls seeking abortions, and said they supported equal workplace benefits for same-sex couples. “The San Diego Community College District is the only one in the county that provides equal health benefits to domestic partners,” Block boasted.

“I’m very humbled and honored, and representing the LGBT community at the state level would make me more than proud,” Ricasa said in her closing statement. “This district is starving for leadership and needs inspirational leadership.” She said that the district needs a strong representative because, under Horton, “no one has heard from it in years.”

“I ask you to please consider and judge me on the basis of what I am, not what I was,” said Arabo, who realized that his principal problem with this group was that he’d been a Republican and had worked for and supported Brian Bilbray. “Sacramento and the 78th district need change.” Arabo said he’d been endorsed by Democratic state controller John Chiang and Patty Davis, who unsuccessfully ran in the district against Horton in 2004, and described himself as an outsider running in a district where “people are tired of politics as usual.”

“I’ve been endorsed by you in my community college races, and you know me,” said Block. “I supported Sandra McBreyer’s school for homeless kids in the 1990’s, and many of those kids were LGBT. Our district is the only one [in San Diego County] that pays full benefits not only to domestic partners but to the dependents of domestic partners.”

Former club president Gloria Johnson said that Block “has been a member of the club so long we don’t have a record of when he joined.” She said one reason she supports him is that he is a member of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Block was also supported by club member Nancy Miller, who said there were two excellent candidates but Block was more electable; and by Pat Coffey, who read a long statement from Betty Bacon of San Diegans for Disability Righs on why they support him.

San Diego Unified School District board member Shelia Jackson, whom the club had endorsed for re-election at the previous month’s meeting, said, “I support Arlie for the same reason you supported me. People are tired of business as usual. I met Arlie when I ran for school board and she went from being a person no one knew of to being second in the [2006 78th District Assembly] primary.”

The club also made two other endorsements on September 27: former Channel 10 news reporter Marti Emerald for the District 7 seat on the San Diego City Council, and Cathedral City Councilmember Greg Pettis for the 80th District seat in the Assembly. Though the 80th district is entirely outside San Diego County and ordinarily the club does not endorse for races outside the county, its bylaws have an exception allowing it to endorse openly Queer candidates anywhere in the U.S. — and Pettis qualified.