Politics Report: South Bay Beefs

National City Mayor Ron Morrison / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Competing ballot measures in National City have developed into another skirmish in the long-running feud between factions within organized labor.

The June ballot measures would impose new term limits on National City elected officials. The mayor is currently limited to three four-year terms. But there are no limits on City Council members.

Measure B: makes all officials subject to two four-year terms.

Measure C: maintains existing limits on the mayor and extends the same restriction to Council members. It would also keep any official from serving more than six lifetime terms across offices.

What’s really going on: Ron Morrison, a Republican, has been National City’s mayor since 2006. He first joined the City Council in 1992. Under the current law, he’s termed out and can’t run for re-election in November. If Measure B passes, it would reset his clock and he’d be eligible to run again. He voted to put both measures on the ballot and told the Union-Tribune he supports Measure B.

If Measure C passes with more votes than Measure B, Morrison will be done.

One side of labor: The United Food and Commercial Workers union, led by Mickey Kasparian, opened a PAC this month to support Measure B, and put $25,000 into it. Laborers’ International Union of North America threw in another $25,000.

“Two terms for both the mayor and Council members is the fairest process moving forward,” Kasparian told us in a written statement. “It’s the same term limits the president of the United States has. Why should National City be any different?”

On the other side: Measure C has support from a different faction. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher donated $7,000 from her ballot measure committee; Unite Here Local 30, the hotel workers union, donated $5,000; the San Diego County Building Trades Council, a coalition of construction unions, has made two $25,000 donations; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has donated $7,391 to date.

That’s the basic coalition that has been battling Kasparian for more than a year now and led to him and his union leaving the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council.

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The context: Kasparian was accused in late 2016 of sexual misconduct and gender discrimination. He has denied the accusations and reached confidential settlements in all of the lawsuits against him.

Aside from the accusations, there had been a series of disagreements between Kasparian and leaders of the Building Trades, IBEW and Unite Here and it’s only grown worse. Kasparian left the Labor Council last year, creating his own group, the Working Families Council.

That group has endorsed Lori Saldaña in her 4th District county supervisor race and opened up a PAC to support her.

Meanwhile, IBEW, Building Trades and the Labor Council all support Nathan Fletcher in the 4th District race. Gonzalez Fletcher also supports Fletcher – her husband.

That means between now and June, the two factions will be spending money and campaigning against each other in two major contests.

Carol Kim, Building Trades’ political director, said Measure B is misleading because voters will think it’s about putting strict term limits in place, but it’s really intended to protect Morrison from being termed out.

“Sexual abusers like Mickey fit right in with power-hungry politicians and corrupt figures who are supporting the most deceptive ballot measure in National City history,” she said.

Morrison did not respond to a request for comment.

What’s at stake: National City is not one of the largest cities in San Diego, but it has become increasingly pivotal in local politics.

That’s because AB 805 last year – passed by Gonzalez Fletcher – revamped the board at both the Metropolitan Transit System and the San Diego Association of Governments.

At SANDAG now, any three cities that account for over 50 percent of the county’s population can overrule the rest of the board. Although San Diego’s mayor is currently a Republican, Gonzalez Fletcher and other supporters of the bill had their eyes on a not-too-distant future in which Democratic mayors of San Diego, Chula Vista and any third city could move the regional transportation agency to the left.

That makes National City’s mayor a potentially powerful figure. But if Morrison gets to run again, it could push the seat out of Democratic hands another eight years.

And, of course, National City is a city of more than 60,000 people. Its mayor matters to everyone there, regardless of what it means to the political balance on SANDAG.

In Other Labor Dispute News …

David Garcias, center, takes part in a Labor Day march with SEIU Local 221 members. / Photo courtesy of SEIU Local 221

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