La prensa

Local Dems & GOP Faced Endorsement Controversies

Voters
Author: La Prensa
Created: 11 April, 2024
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10 min read

(story updated April 11, 2024 @ 7:01 p.m.)

By Alberto Garcia
Investigative Reporter

The two major political parties in San Diego both held meetings this Monday to deal with internal endorsements that led to uncomfortable confrontations and controversies for very different reasons.

A move to strip the San Diego County Republican Party endorsement from Andrew Hayes for the 75th Assembly District in favor of former San Diego City Councilman and radio show personality Carl DeMaio for the upcoming November election failed among the entire Central Committee membership Monday after two attempts last week at their Executive Board.

Andrew Hayes
Andrew Hayes
 

Just hours before the meeting, Party Chairwoman Paula Whitsell resigned under a brokered agreement where the Party would agree to keep its endorsement of Hayes but not raise or spend money to assist him, effectively neutering the Party’s influence in the race. 

The Party had voted to endorse Hayes back in June 2023 before the deadline for candidates to file to run for the open seat being vacated by termed-out Assemblywoman Marie Waldron. 

Hayes, a current member of the Lakeside Union School District, received more than two-thirds of the vote to clinch the endorsement.

During the endorsement process, DeMaio supported giving the endorsement to another Republican running against Hayes; Jack Fernandes.

But just days before the candidate filing deadline in December, DeMaio jumped into the race himself, immediately becoming the frontrunner given his high name identification and fundraising ability.

Article - Uber

Carl DeMaio
Carl DeMaio

 

During the campaign leading up to the March 5th Primary Election, DeMaio not only promoted himself, but also spent money to promote the endorsed Democrat, Kevin Juza, in an attempt to boost him into the runoff and force a more favorable matchup in the November General Election.

On election night, DeMaio ended up in first place, followed by Juza, with Hayes in third.

But as more outstanding ballots were counted over the following week, Hayes gained on Juza until he ultimately passed him to end up in the runoff with DeMaio.

After all votes were counted, DeMaio garnered 41.9% of the vote to 18.3% for Hayes.

During the election cycle, DeMaio also spent money to promote a slate of candidates for the Republican Party’s Central Committee, the Party’s main governing body. Central Committee members are elected on every presidential primary election, with nine members elected from each of the County’s six Assembly Districts.

It is unusual to see an organized campaign to elect a majority of the Party’s Central Committee members. 

In the end, a majority of DeMaio’s candidates won seats on the Central Committee, and, when they are sworn into office in January, the will presumably control the decisions of the Republican Party.

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But DeMaio does not have a controlling majority of the Party’s members now, so the move to switch the endorsement away from Hayes after the Primary Election seems to have rubbed members the wrong way.

Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey sent out a letter to members of the Party’s Central Committee on Saturday criticizing Whitsell’s move to pull the endorsement of Hayes through the Executive Committee, writing that her actions “undermine the integrity of the Party and threatens the future of the Party as a force for advancing good governance.”

Bailey charged that Whitsell had engaged in “unethical behavior by coordinating via text, email, and phone with Carl DeMaio to remove the Party's endorsement of Andrew Hayes in direct violation of Party Bylaws immediately prior to the Special Executive Committee Meeting on April 4, 2024.”

“We are either a party of rules and process or we are not,” Bailey wrote.

On Tuesday, the full Central Committee voted unanimously to select Corey Gustafson as the new Chair, and approved keeping the endorsement of Hayes through the General Election.

Hayes and DeMaio will face off in the November General Election in the Republican-leaning district that includes a large area of Eastern San Diego County, basically from Jamul north to Poway and Escondido, and all of the areas to the East.

DEMOCRATIC PARTY

At the same time that Republicans were meeting in person to decide on their endorsement, members of the San Diego County Democratic Party’s south region met remotely to decide endorsements of candidates in the November elections.

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The most controversial issue was the early incumbent endorsement of Kate Bishop, a member of the Chula Vista Elementary School District Board of Trustees who is running for re-election in November.

Kate Bishop
Kate Bishop

 

Bishop is being challenged by first-time candidate Dr. Alexis Avina, a nonprofit executive and community advocate. Local elected officials have split their support between the two candidates, with Bishop having the endorsement of Congressman Juan Vargas, State Senator Steve Padilla, Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre, and National City Councilman Marcus Bush, among others.

Alexis Avina
Alexis Avina

 

Avina has the support of County Supervisor Nora Vargas, Chula Vista Councilmembers Jose Preciado, Carolina Chavez, and Alonso Gonzalez, and former Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas, and several other local elected officials.

During the online debate, two controversial figures joined in the meeting; former Chula Vista Councilwoman Andrea Cardenas and her brother, Jesus Cardenas.

Andrea Cardenas was elected to the Central Committee during the 2020 Primary Election and Jesus serves as her alternate. During regional meetings, both a member and their alternate are allowed to vote.

The siblings were indicted in November 2023 on 12 felony charges for their part in filing a fraudulent application for a COVID-era federal business loan by using the name of employees of a local marijuana dispensary that is the client of the sibling’s consulting business, Grassroots Resources, and miss using the funds to pay down their personal credits cards and pay off $33,000 of outstanding debts from her 2020 election.

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After their indictment, the Democratic Party rescinded its endorsement of Andrea Cardenas in her re-election campaign where she faced five challengers.

Cardenas resigned her City Council seat on February 19th, just one day before the District Attorney’s office added another felony count to each sibling for claiming unemployment insurance benefits in 2020 while they were both making money working on campaigns.  

The following week, the pair pleaded guilty to two felony counts each of grand theft of federal and state funds in a plea deal that guaranteed they would not face more than one year in county jail instead of multiple years in state prison.

Cardenas ended up in fifth place among the six candidates in the Primary Election.

On March 13, Jesus Cardenas was sentenced to 45 days in a halfway house and 135 days in alternative sentencing through the County Parole and Alternative Custody (CPAC) program that provides alternative custody programs, including County Parole, Fire Camp, Home Detention, and Residential Reentry Center and Work Furlough with electronic monitoring.

Andrea Cardenas will be sentenced in late August.

During the meeting on Monday, the Party’s Vice-Chair for the South region, Sara Ochoa, called on voting members who did not have their online cameras on to confirm their identities, including both Cardenas siblings. Both responded verbally that they were online.

Avina’s campaign is being run by Brenda Aguirre, a local political consultant who had previously worked on campaigns with Jesus Cardenas. Aguirre confirmed to La Prensa San Diego that she did not contact or lobby either one of the siblings to support Avina. 

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When the motion was put up for a vote, both Jesus and Andrea Cardenas cast votes to not endorse Bishop.

The Party requires a candidate to receive at least 60% of the vote to secure an endorsement.

Bishop received 60.61% of the vote, the bare minimum to become the Party’s endorsed candidate.

But since the meeting, some of the votes cast in the decision have been challenged, leaving the final outcome up in the air.

Some credentialing issues have come up where members who voted on behalf of Democratic clubs may not have submitted their clubs' actions properly or in time before the vote, and others have complained that the Cardenas sibling were allowed to vote given their felony convictions.

The Party’s By-Laws include a clause that allows the Party to remove members after being convicted of crimes of “moral turpitude” which includes theft and fraud.

On Thursday, the County Party Chair, Rebecca Taylor, confirmed that both of the Cardenas sibling have been removed from the Party’s Central Committee for having missed three meetings before the Monday meeting, triggering an automatic removal under the Party’s By-Laws, but their votes were still counted during the endorsement meeting.

After removing their votes, Bishop's vote today went to 64.52%.

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Had the Party moved to remove them for cause related to their convictions, the issue would have first gone to the Party’s Executive Committee then would have required a super-majority vote of the entire Central Committee.

PARTY TAKEOVER

Much like DeMaio’s campaign for Republican Party members, a local labor union ran an organized plan to help elect members to the Democratic Party’s Central Committee.

The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) Local 89 spent more than $600,000 to help elect 36 members in all six Assembly Districts, including the local union’s top leader and his son, also a union official, as well as San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, and Councilmembers Sean Elo-Rivera, Raul Campillo, Stephen Whitburn, and Vivian Moreno.

In total, 29 of LiUNA’s 36 endorsed candidates won election to the Party’s Central Committee. As new members, they will be sworn in to four-year terms in January 2025, giving the Laborers' union an outsized influence in the operations of the Party, endorsements, and campaign expenditures to registered Democrats throughout the County.

Elo-Rivera, who is the President of the San Diego City Council, was the only one of the elected officials supported by LiUNA who did not win election to the Party’s Central Committee. 

Gloria came in first place among five candidates in the Primary Election with 49.9% of the vote with San Diego Police Officer and retired US Marine Lt. Colonel Larry Turner ended in  second place with 23.07%.

Elo-Rivera will face off against retired US Marine Sergeant Major and retired SDPD officer Dr. Terry Hoskins in the General Election, and Whitburn will run against local attorney Colleen Cusack.

Article - Uber

Campillo ran unopposed and will automatically win re-election in November. Moreno was elected to her second term in November 2022.

Correction: an earlier version of this story did not clarify that both Cardenas siblings voted against Bishop's endorsement. The story has been updated.

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