By Alberto Garcia
The union of San Diego County Sheriff Deputies is poised to spend $25,000 to “whip” votes in an attempt to influence the local Democratic Party’s endorsement of a candidate for Sheriff, even though the Party has banned itself and Democratic candidates from accepting any contributions from law enforcement unions.
Four deputies who attended a December 9th meeting of the powerful law enforcement union, known as the Deputy Sheriffs Association (DSA), say the membership was informed of the proposal and that it was approved by the union’s board of directors.
“The DSA will be giving $25,000 to hire democratic whips,” reads a social media post by a deputy who attended the union meeting. “According to [union President David] Leonhardi, the DSA is spending the money to hire these whips to encourage the Democratic Party to not endorse Dave Myers but to endorse Kelly Martinez,” the post reads.
The DSA recently voted to endorse Undersheriff Kelly Martinez over former Sheriff’s Commander Dave Myers in the race for Sheriff in next year’s elections.
Union President Leonhardi did not respond to an email asking to confirm or deny that his board took the action to spend money to influence the Party’s endorsement.
Social media posts and text messages between DSA members show disagreement over whether they believe the union should be spending money within the Democratic Party, and whether such a tactic would even end up helping their cause in the end.
“That thought behind it from the board is spend $25k to keep Dave from getting an endorsement so it didn’t cost $125k in the future if he gets endorsed,” he wrote in a text message to other deputies.
Another deputy who also attended the meeting argued that spending any amount of money on the endorsement would be useless in actually helping deputies.
“We do not need to endorse anybody. Our DSA has tried this before and it does not work,” one deputy posted. “I can guarantee you the $25k today or the $125k tomorrow will not make an iota of difference in any outcome that will positively benefit deputies.”
A December 21st meeting of the local Democratic Party is scheduled to consider endorsing a candidate in the race to replace retiring Sheriff Bill Gore who will end his third four-year term next year.
The endorsement of the San Diego County Democratic Party is decided by the Party’s Central Committee comprised of 70 members. A minimum vote threshold of 60% of members present at the meeting is required to secure an endorsement. The minimum quorum to conduct a meeting is 36 members. If no member reaches the 60% vote minimum, no endorsement will be made for the Primary Election in June 2022.
The Party’s Chairman, Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, pictured above, was already aware of the union’s plan when contacted by La Prensa San Diego.
“It is abnormal to see that campaigns are committing such large sums for the specific purpose of swaying our committee, but make no mistake, our Party has the strongest in disclosure and conflict of interests rules of any County Party in the country and we will make our decision on the merits,” Rodriguez-Kennedy told La Prensa San Diego. “Democrats who do not abide by our rules or fail to operate transparently and with integrity may be subject to sanction by the Party.”
The union’s plan to spend money to influence the Party’s endorsement comes even after the Party banned receiving any contributions from police unions, and even demanded that Democratic politicians refuse such money, too.
In June 2020, the San Diego Democratic Party approved a resolution stating that it “shall refuse all donations from Law Enforcement Unions and Associations and demands that all San Diego Democratic elected officials refuse such contributions as well and reject the endorsement of such associations“, finding that “San Diego citizens have struggled for decades to ensure that San Diego law enforcement departments and officers are held accountable to all communities they serve” and that “the local police unions and the San Diego County Deputy Sheriff’s Association have been major obstacles to such accountability.”
The Party’s resolution also demands that Democratic elected officials and candidates “reject the endorsement of such associations”, putting Martinez in a vice between the two groups after the union already endorsed her. Martinez lists the DSA’s endorsement on her official campaign website.
The campaign to replace retiring Sheriff Bill Gore is between Martinez, Myers, Deputy San Diego City Attorney John Hemmerling, and current Sheriff’s Deputy Ken Newsom.
The only two who are registered as Democrats and eligible for the Party’s endorsement are Martinez and Myers.
Although they are both registered Democrats now, Martinez changed her party affiliation from Republican two days after the November 2020 election and Myers changed from Republican in 2016.
Martinez is the first woman to ever serve as the second-in-command of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department and would be the first female Sheriff in San Diego history if elected. She listed her ethnicity as “White, Not of Hispanic Origin” on her official voter registration form used to change parties in November 2020. Her husband is District Attorney’s Office Investigator Robert Martinez who previously served as a Deputy Sheriff earlier in his career.
Myers, who retired from the Department in 2018 as a Commander after 33 years of service, would become only the second openly-gay Sheriff in the United States if elected. Myers has been an outspoken critic of the current Sheriff’s Department leadership, including Martinez, over excessive deaths in county jails, reports of disproportionate enforcement against minorities, and low morale among patrol deputies.
The two candidates each have several endorsements from elected officials, including many Democrats, but the endorsement of the Party could bring additional funding and support during the election.
The DSA union endorses candidates and donates money to political campaigns, especially those running for County offices, including Sheriff, District Attorney, and County Board of Supervisors.
The DSA website features their 2020 campaign endorsements, which lists Martinez at the top of 10 candidates running in next year’s elections.
Their 2020 endorsements also includes District Attorney Summer Stephan who is running for re-election, but not County Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher who is also up for a new term. Fletcher has endorsed Martinez, as has his wife, State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher.
Although Fletcher, who was elected in 2018, was not up for election last year, he accepted a $10,000 contribution from the DSA to help fund his campaign for his election to the Democratic Party’s Central Committee which votes on candidate endorsements. Supervisors are only allowed to accept up to $500 for their Board of Supervisors’ races, and only from individuals, so the DSA’s $10,000 check would not have been allowable to that campaign fund.
Gonzalez-Fletcher received two $4,900 contributions from the DSA in June 2021.
In the 2020 election cycle, the DSA endorsed in the three County Board of Supervisor races which were on the ballot, but all the of their endorsed candidates lost.
The union endorsed State Senator Ben Hueso who lost to Southwestern College Trustee Nora Vargas, Poway Mayor Steve Vaus who lost to State Senator Joel Anderson, and incumbent County Supervisor Kristen Gaspar who was unseated by first-time candidate Terra Lawson-Remer.
In 2018, the DSA endorsed incumbent Sheriff Bill Gore over Dave Myers. Gore went on to his third term in November 2018.