County Democratic chair Will Rodriguez-Kennedy (left) and county Republican chair Tony Krvaric have different approaches to the pandemic and dealings with the media.
County Democratic chair Will Rodriguez-Kennedy (left) and county Republican chair Tony Krvaric have different approaches to the pandemic and dealings with the media. Photos by Chris Stone

When news broke March 21 that the chairman of the San Diego County Democratic Party was in the ICU with COVID-19, one of the first to offer well wishes was the chairman of the San Diego County Republican Party.

“Prayers for a full, speedy recovery for [Will Rodriguez-Kennedy],” tweeted the longtime GOP chair, Tony Krvaric.

Rodriguez-Kennedy is still recovering (he said Friday he has lingering difficulty breathing and some inflammation) after “literally fighting for my life.”

So is Krvaric, fighting for his president and party in a region smarting from Republican electoral losses.

The pandemic has overshadowed politics during the lockdown, but it’s also highlighted stark differences between liberals and conservatives over how to respond to state orders and health officials’ directives.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is moving to ease restrictions on certain businesses — amid heavy pressure from segments of the state including Krvaric and his allies. (See the GOP resolution.)

But Times of San Diego was curious: How are the county Republican and Democratic parties dealing with the COVID crisis in their own offices? How do party leaders rate state action on the pandemic?

On April 29, Krvaric and Rodriguez-Kennedy were emailed the same set of questions. The 32-year-old Democrat replied April 30. The 49-year-old Republican hasn’t responded.

Both parties maintain local offices — the GOP in Rancho Bernardo and the Dems in Kearny Mesa. They also post event calendars for member clubs and party meetings. But many of the Democratic events are listed as canceled or held via Zoom.

The GOP events aren’t so denoted (but individual clubs, like the San Diego chapter of the Republican Women of California note cancellations.)

Why the contrasts?

The answer is politics, says Carl Luna, the longtime San Diego observer and San Diego Mesa College political scientist.

“On a national scale, the COVID crisis is disproportionately affecting urban, blue-state population centers (and nonwhites more than whites) — the Democratic base,” Luna said via email. “Meanwhile, the rural Republican base isn’t as affected (currently, though they are only being spared because of the quarantine restrictions in the urban areas) so don’t see the immediacy for the need of urban restrictions in their communities (yet).”

Luna said COVID also pits science and experts against red state and national political leaders who want to downplay the severity of the crisis to justify reopening businesses to get the economy back on track — “both to help constituents but also with an eye towards the November election.”

The professor said that if GOP leaders endorse the “science view of COVID,” they undercut their opposition to scientific stances on global climate change and a host of issues, including the theory of evolution.

“On the flip side, GOP leaders have to be careful [that] they don’t appear too opposed to reasonable health restrictions in case the virus continues to spread [or] really flares up again,” he said.

He noted polls showing that large majorities of Americans support the restrictions — “including a not negligible share of Republicans.”

“So it’s not surprising that the local GOP leadership is simply keeping mum on the whole thing,” Luna said. “Which may be politically smart but is also somewhat ethically smarmy.”

By calling for “state reopening” — and not endorsing stay-at-home orders — the GOP and its leadership has to “man up” and accept that if things go south they will bear responsibility for the resulting human toll, Luna said.

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, a veteran San Diego public relations consultant, is expert at crisis communications. She has an explanation for why Krvaric rarely responds to questions from media outlets other than conservative ones such as KUSI or One America News.

She notes that organizations and individuals can take the means of communication into their own hands thanks to online technology. Krvaric is very active on Twitter.

“There is less reason to rely on news media gatekeepers who in their view might skew or filter their messages,” she said via email. “Factor in political polarization causing audiences to consume sources reinforcing their beliefs and ignore the rest.”

Conservative and liberal voices target receptive audiences through their own channels, whether websites and email, social media or paid media, plus friendly news media, she said. (In fact, Krvaric launched a “news” website devoted to Republican causes and celebrating GOP officials.)

“They have little concern for audiences who are unlikely to give them a hearing anyway,” Falkenthal said. “It’s not healthy for our democracy to limit your range of news to a single viewpoint, but it’s reality.”

(We also reached out to Republican strategists, commentators and public relations professionals, who either declined to comment or didn’t respond.)

In any case, here is our interview with the county Democratic Party chair.

Times of San Diego: How long will your respective party headquarters be closed? What will determine when offices should be open?

Will Rodriguez-Kennedy: In compliance with the governor’s “Stay At Home” order, the San Diego County Democratic Party’s headquarters is closed indefinitely. But our phone lines remain open and our staff are hard at work planning and organizing for the general election where we expect to win in November!

How are you meeting with your Central Committees and/or executive staff? Do you ever meet in person? When will you next meet in person?

The San Diego County Democratic Party uses Zoom meetings to conduct business and will not be meeting in person until it is deemed allowable by the appropriate authorities.

Have you laid off or furloughed any full-time employees of the county party? If so, how many? Have you or will you seek PPP money from the feds or seek SBA loans for your own personal work or businesses?

The San Diego County Democratic Party maintains its full staff who are working hard, from home, every day planning and organizing for the general election. Our staff has also been organizing a volunteer army to do wellness checks on Democrats throughout the county. The Democratic Party is adaptable and pushing forward to elect Democrats across the County.

No to the last question about PPP / SBA.

What guidance are you giving your county clubs — such as when they should have in-person meetings? Are any of your clubs planning any in-person meetings before July?

We are advising our clubs to make use of technology that supports electronic and telephonic means and the party is providing training on how to conduct those meetings. We are advising that clubs not have in-person meetings and I have heard of no club planning such a meeting before the “Stay At Home” order has been lifted.

How do you grade Gov. Newsom’s COVID-19 orders and approaches?

A+, Gov. Newsom’s prudent actions have not only held down the infection rate in California but he has been helpful to other states as well. Gov. Newsom provides a capable, successful alternative to the irresponsible, incompetent, and ill prepared Trump Administration. A supermajority of Californians grade Gov. Newsom’s leadership in this crisis while the majority of Americans do not have that same faith in President Trump.

How do you grade Mayor Faulconer’s response?

Incomplete. While Mayor Faulconer has done some positive things, the jury is still out on the disproportionate enforcement of the “Stay At Home” order and his approach to dealing with the most vulnerable, our homeless fellow San Diegans. When he turns in his assignment, maybe I can grade his results.

How do you grade the county Board of Supervisors’ response?

A. It appears that in no small part do to the leadership of Democratic Supervisor Nathan Fletcher that San Diego County is taking state guidance seriously and is taking proactive steps to flatten the curve.

What would you recommend they do as far as reopening businesses?

Follow the advice of medical professionals.

Have you or any of your Central Committee members attended any local protests — such as the ones organized by Naomi Soria downtown and in Pacific Beach? Do you support or oppose her protests? Why or why not?

(I am not aware of this / would have to look into it.)

Anything else readers should know about your personal or party responses to the pandemic?

As one who fought for my life because of a COVID19 infection, my response and the party’s response is the same: Take this seriously, follow the advice of medical professionals and do not panic. We will get through this together.