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Voice of San Diego: San Diego's other embarrassing leader

(This column originally appeared HERE on Voice of San Diego.)

Bob Filner’s loss is Ernie Dronenburg’s gain.

The incredibly disturbing allegations against the mayor – which reached new heights Monday with a sensational Gloria Allred press conference – have effectively sucked all the oxygen out of the room, sparing another San Diego elected official national embarrassment.

Dronenburg filed a petition Friday that would allow him to continue denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in spite of a recent Supreme Court ruling that spurred the state to allow them again. He defended his actions in a Tuesday press conference, even after the attorney general’s office urged the court to reject his bid.

Here are a few reasons we should make some room for Dronenburg in the shame spotlight.

He is going back on his word.

Dronenburg is a conservative Republican. But he earned an endorsement from CityBeat in 2010 in large part because “he’s promised us that if Prop. 8 is ultimately negated, his office will treat same-sex couples with respect and dignity.”

Now, Dronenburg is seizing on what he sees as a legal loophole in order to avoid doing precisely what he promised. Dronenburg is arguing that the Supreme Court’s decision last month only cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in the jurisdiction where the original suit was filed. That means he believes gay marriage should only move forward in Los Angeles and Alameda counties, the two counties named in the injunction and the suit against Prop. 8.

Here’s how the group representing Dronenberg described the argument to San Diego Rostra:

Because the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry vacated the Ninth Circuit’s decision only, there is no appellate decision holding that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. As a result, Proposition 8 is still good law, and the District Court injunction against should apply only to the parties in that case.

Dronenburg and the group representing him, the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, have said the petition merely seeks clarity on the issue. But that doesn’t add up: If he was simply seeking guidance, why did he enlist an “expert on countering the gay agenda,” Charles Limandri, to file the petition on his behalf?

Dronenburg also promised throughout his campaign to eliminate red tape for those who came through his office by making more documents available online, and bringing more uniformity to the assessment process. Now, instead of streamlining, he’s throwing the ultimate roadblock in front of gay couples by possibly refusing to perform a key function of his office.

It’s rare that assessors’ campaign promises receive much press, and rarer still that such promises are ever revisited.

The state attorney general’s office quickly swatted down Dronenburg’s issue – “The filing offers no new arguments that could deny same-sex couples their constitutionally protected civil rights. The federal injunction is still in effect, and it requires all 58 counties to perform same-sex marriages. No exceptions,” Kamala Harris said in a statement. (Disclosure: My husband works for the attorney general’s office.)

Dronenburg’s actions cloud San Diego’s history of bipartisan support for same-sex couples.

For all the ridicule that San Diego’s pension scandal, and now the Filner crisis, has wrought upon the city, San Diego has a proud tradition of leaders from both parties who have spoken up on behalf of equality.

Republicans Jerry Sanders, Carl DeMaio, Bonnie Dumanis, Kevin Faulconer and others have all expressed support for same-sex marriage over the years. Sanders’ leadership, especially, drew the eyes of the nation to San Diego for all the right reasons.

When the Filner scandal first emerged, many pointed to the San Diego Pride Festival as a reason to maintain, well, pride in the city.

 

Dronenburg’s actions don’t erase all that, but they do complicate the picture.

He’s a fiscal conservative who’s throwing away money.

In this May 2010 Q-and-A, Dronenburg offers up some pretty basic conservative orthodoxy: “I think that taxes are a drag on the economy. That means the more taxes you give the government, the less that money is going into the economy.”

But when it comes to same-sex marriage, that assessment flies in the face of what researchers say will be a boon for the state economy. KPCC reported last month:

The state of California could gain $46 million in tax and fee revenue from same-sex weddings and there will be a boost of $492 million to the state’s economy over the next three years, according to the Williams Institute, a research center at UCLA School of Law.

The county isn’t really in a position to be turning down more revenue at the moment. Indeed, Supervisor Greg Cox tried to distance the supervisors from Dronenburg’s decision in a statement Friday: “No one else from the county was consulted or had any part of this court action, including the Board of Supervisors. The county’s position is and always has been that we, the county, will follow applicable law with regards to same-sex marriage.”

The county clerk’s mission statement includes this line: “to provide prompt and courteous service to the public.” Nothing says prompt and courteous like holding up people’s marriages because you disapprove of their lifestyle.

In the end, both Filner and Dronenburg’s actions come down to stripping people of dignity.

But what separates them is that if the allegations against Filner are true, they’d violate his own stated commitment to equality. Dronenburg, on the other hand, believes his actions are part of his duty as an elected official. He said so at his Tuesday press conference, though he also admitted that the petition was “all done on my own dollars,” which contradicts his insistence that it was part of his official duties.

Filner’s damage is being contained and investigated. But Dronenburg seems free and determined to pursue more.

Sara Libby is VOSD’s managing editor. She oversees VOSD’s newsroom and its content. You can reach her at sara.libby@voiceofsandiego.org or 619-325-0526.