Aug 7, 2023 - Politics

Inside law enforcement attacks in the San Diego supe race

Monica Montgomery Steppe

Monica Montgomery Steppe at a press conference. Photo: Courtesy of Montgomery Steppe for Supervisor 2023

The special election for San Diego County Supervisor has been dominated by law enforcement attack ads against Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe.

Yes, but: The union for the Sheriff's Department, the law enforcement group with the largest stake in the race, has been absent from those attacks.

Driving the news: Axios obtained late June internal polling testing the very messages now filling the mailboxes of District 4 voters in attack ads.

  • "Support for Montgomery Steppe must be isolated with negative messaging," reads a summary of the poll, which pegged her starting the race in the lead.
  • "However, negative messaging against Montgomery Steppe will likely backfire if delivered by law enforcement," says the summary sent to the political consultant for the Deputy Sheriff's Association.
  • Deputy Sheriff's Association "endorsement is relatively weak and actually makes more Democratic voters … become LESS likely to vote for a candidate."

Between the lines: Indeed, DSA hasn't endorsed anyone in the race, but the attacks were still delivered from law enforcement, as the unions for SDPD officers and county prosecutors paid for the mail pieces.

Why it matters: With just over a week left in the special election to replace former Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, the attack ads against Montgomery Steppe have dominated campaign season messaging.

  • The polling underscores how those race-defining attacks came together.

Catch up quick: The ads have hit Montgomery Steppe for supporting defunding police, increased homicides in her district, and backing a policy to restrict police searches during traffic stops.

  • The poll found those were the top three hits against her and each made more than 60% of voters less likely to support her.

Reality check: Montgomery Steppe has voted for every police budget since she's been on the Council, and each of those budgets increased police spending, as Voice of San Diego outlined.

  • She also in 2021 requested cuts to police overtime spending, and asked the city's independent budget analyst in 2020 to study the department budget to find places where funding could be reallocated. That effort fizzled.

Yes, but: Montgomery Steppe's candidate statement initially claimed she "helped reduce homicides by 50% in her district." The Registrar removed that statement from the ballot following a complaint from the San Diego Police Officers Association.

  • In the 10 years before Montgomery Steppe's election, there were an average of 7.7 homicides per year in her district. In the four full years since she took office, the district has averaged 10.7 homicides annually.

By the numbers: Most of the spending in the supervisors race is coming from outside groups, not the candidates' campaigns, inewsource reported.

  • Montgomery Steppe has received nearly $400,000 in spending on her behalf, mostly from labor groups who support her. Her campaign has spent just $84,000.
  • Janessa Goldbeck, another Democrat in the race, has received $250,000 in support from outside groups, the largest chunk from an LGBTQ-affiliated group. Her campaign has spent $73,000.
  • Amy Reichert, the leading Republican candidate, has received $117,000 in outside support, and her campaign has spent $26,000.

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