Monday, April 28, 2008

Queer Democrats Endorse Morrow for Mayor

Candidate Upstaged by Frye and “Fox” Against Proposition C


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • Used by permission

The predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club endorsed former San Diego City Counclimember Floyd Morrow for mayor, but he was upstaged by current City Councilmember and former mayoral candidate Donna Frye. Frye not only spoke out against Proposition “C,” a measure on the June 3 ballot to allow the mayor to appoint the city auditor, but to dramatize her point that passing “C” would be “like having the fox guard the henhouse,” she brought along a volunteer in a fox costume and did a skit in front of the club.

“It’s like being told by the Internal Revenue Service that you’re going to be audited, but they’re going to let you pick the auditor,” Frye said of Proposition “C.” She said that John Turrell, who served as city auditor from 2005 to 2007, quit the job when voters approved the strong-mayor form of government and Mayor Jerry Sanders told him to “be a team player” in his work. Frye noted that the San Diego County Democratic Party, the San Diego League of Women Voters, Latino-American Political Association, Clairemont Town Council, her colleagues Brian Maienschein and Tony Young (both of whom voted against putting “C” on the ballot) and State Senator and former City Councilemember Christine Kehoe had all opposed “C.”

Morrow, who spoke before Frye, said when he was asked about Proposition “C” that he wasn’t sure what it was. When it was explained to him, he said, “That’s an easy one. You don’t appoint your own auditor.” Morrow also was unaware that current law in California does not require minor girls to notify their parents if they’re pregnant and plan to have an abortion, though he made it clear that he agreed with the club’s pro-choice position against parental notification.

Aside from that issue, Morrow’s positions on the club’s issues questionnaire agreed with the club on all points but one: he marked himself as unsure whether women in the military should be allowed to participate in combat. Morrow said that his uncertainty about that issue stemmed from his skepticism about war in general, noting that when he served in Korea “I learned war is not the answer for anything. War is outmoded. It’s ruining our country and our economy, and we should be working to abolish it rather than worry about women serving in the front lines.”

Morrow served on the San Diego City Council from 1965 to 1977 and was one of the first elected officials in San Diego to reach out to the Queer community in general and the San Diego Democratic Club in particular. That cost him his Council seat in 1977 when a coalition of evangelical Christian churches in San Diego came together to target him and another City Council candidate. Evonne Schulze, for their support of Queer rights. The churches put out a publication called The Church News and used it to turn out Christian voters against Morrow and Schulze. This successful campaign was cited as a model by the organizers of the Moral Majority three years later.

Once out of elective office, Morrow practiced law until retiring in 2000, whereupon he found a new career partnering with a friend of his from his days in Korea to build affordable homes in Mexico. He made it clear to the club that his positions on their issues have not changed since 1977. “I have fought all my life for equality,” he said, “not just in the law but in its application. I want a world where people are not judged by sex or orientation or any of the stupid ways people judge people.” He also cited Congressmember Bob Filner, former State Senator Jim Mills and author Gore Vidal among his endorsers.

The club also endorsed African-American candidate Dwayne Crenshaw for District D on the San Diego Community College District Board of Trustees after Crenshaw — a long-time club member and ally who’s had the club’s support in his previous unsuccessful runs for elective office — acknowledged that he is Gay. He joked that after his last failed try for the San Diego City Council he was “unelected, unloved and unemployed” — he’d quit his job because he expected to win the seat, and in the aftermath of his loss his boyfriend broke up with him. Asked by one club member if he’d found a new partner yet, Crenshaw said no, “but I’m having a lot of fun recruiting.”

More seriously, Crenshaw said that after his last loss he had sworn off elective politics altogether, but “I’ve been re-inspired by Barack Obama.” He talked about an organization he works with that reaches out to gang-affiliated young people and tries to help them get out, and his interest in being on the Community College Board came from the fact that the community colleges are the only place the people he’s trying to lift out of gangs can get an education. Crenshaw boasted of his endorsements by Congressmember Bob Filner, Councilmember Frye and all the current Community College Board members — including Assembly candidate Marty Block. Crenshaw also said he’s one of only two African-Americans being endorsed this year by the Victory Fund, a nationwide organization formed to encourage and support the election of openly Queer candidates to office.

In addition, the club considered the two statewide propositions and three city of San Diego propositions that will be on the June 3 ballot. The club had no trouble with the California Democratic Party’s recommendations on Propositions 98 and 99, both of which would restrict the powers of state and local government to take private property under eminent domain. Proposition 99 would keep governments from seizing people’s private homes and transferring them to private property owners, while 98 would protect all private property. But because of 98’s poison pills — it would abolish all rent controls, prevent cities from municipalizing private utilities and possibly jeopardize zoning laws and environmental regulations as well — the club joined the state party in supporting 99 and opposing 98.

The city propositions proved more controversial. The club easily opposed “C” and supported “A,” which exempts the police and fire departments from the privatization initiative voters passed in 2006. The sticking point came with “B,” a complicated initiative that requires the City Council to place on the ballot a measure making San Diego’s strong-mayor government — initially passed in 2004 on a five-year trial basis — permanent and adding a ninth City Council seat, thus increasing the number of Council votes needed to override a mayoral veto from the current five of eight to six of nine.

The club was almost ready to oppose “B” (on a motion made by this reporter) when some of the heavy hitters involved in the issue weighed in and demanded that the club follow the lead of the San Diego County Democratic Party and support it. “I’m particularly concerned that raising the veto override requirement to two-thirds will make it virtually impossible to pass progressive legislation,” said retired attorney Charlie Pratt. “The big money people would only need a few people on the City Council to give the Mayor dictatorial power.”

“We don’t want this on the ballot,” said former San Diego County Democratic Party chair Maureen Steiner. “That’s all the more reason to vote against it, because it will just confuse the voters” — a reference to the oddity of asking the voters to pass one ballot measure just so they can vote on it all over again two years later.

But labor staff member Brian Polejes said the club needed to endorse the measure in order to prevent an even worse strong-mayor proposition from going before voters this November. “This was a compromise between supporters and opponents of a strong mayor,” he said. “We are not in position to get everything we want. We have a Republican Mayor and a lot of Democrats on the City Council who don’t always vote with us on these issues.”

Jess Durfee, former club president and current chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party, added to Polejes’ warning. “If ‘B’ fails, the advocates of a strong-mayor form of government are not under any obligation not to put the strong-mayor form of government on the ballot before 2010,” he said. “If ‘B’ fails, the strong-mayor proponents can hire paid signature gatherers and put it on the ballot in November 2008, and it would be shoved down our throats in a form we would not like. We could vote to oppose ‘B,’ but we would be all by ourselves.”

Former club president Doug Case added that if “B” failed, the likely result would be a permanent strong-mayor charter without the additional City Council seat — meaning that instead of it taking six of nine Council votes to override a Mayor’s veto (66.7 percent), it would take six of eight (75 percent). Eventually the club overwhelmingly went along with the compromise and voted 36 to 7, with five abstentions, to endorse “B.”

Finally, the club voted to make the Third District City Council campaign of its former president, Stephen Whitburn, and the Assembly primary campaign of Marty Block priority races, meaning candidacies where the club organizes extra volunteer and fundraising support from its members.