If you like Donald Trump as president, you’d probably love T. Keith Gurnee as mayor of San Luis Obispo.
Both Trump and Gurnee have adversarial relationships with the press. Both personally attack people with whom they disagree.
Both mix deception, distortion, dishonesty and distemper as essential ingredients in pursuit of political power.
Trump’s lies are well documented. See “Fear,” by Bob Woodward, for chapter and verse.
Gurnee’s Trumpian opportunism is coming into focus as he tries to unseat first-term incumbent Heidi Harmon for the city’s highest elective office.
He’d been a registered Republican for decades. Just before joining the race in deep-blue SLO — capping his tenure as an online blogger specializing in bashing anyone of a liberal to progressive bent — Gurnee switched his affiliation to Democrat.
Like a chameleon warming in the sun, Gurnee today casts himself as an odd sort of progressive: a populist defender of “our way of life,” friend of the old ways, enemy of the new.
The dissonance is jarring. Having spent a career as a developers’ front man, he’s admitted that, win or lose, he’ll continue pushing his client’s rock quarry project in Santa Margarita — despite near unanimous opposition in that community. Apparently, to Gurnee, NIMBYism is legitimate in SLO, but not elsewhere.
“To quarry or not to quarry? That is the question,” he posits online. “With the … County Planning Commission’s recent 3-2 denial of permits for the proposed Las Pilitas Quarry, what are we supposed to do? Deny all quarries and cave into this latest example of ‘nimbyism’?”
Gurnee’s metamorphosis is Kafkaesque in its duplicity, though Kafka’s fever dream involved a cockroach rather than a fulminating potato bug.
Gurnee’s online trail betrays him:
- “Democrats’ supermajority is turning California into the ‘State of Insanity’.”
- “For a candidate for public office to embrace the Progressives is a frightening prospect.”·
- “The Women’s March and Progressive movements are about “an ideological dictatorship determined to force its will upon the rest of us.”
- “Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill are a disingenuous duo in need of baby pacifiers.”
Former Mayor Jan Marx, who lost to Harmon by a handful of votes in 2016 and differs with her on many issues, isn’t fooled by Gurnee’s born-again liberalism.
“He’s a glib, shape-shifting trickster,” Marx says on Facebook. “He’s attempting to snooker SLO residents with magical thinking, preaching that he, as mayor, could overturn state housing law, stop all development and turn back the clock to the … good old times.
“In fact he’s built his career around facilitating excessive development, despite its negative impact on the community. And of course he’ll be glad to encourage a parade of gravel trucks through Santa Margarita. In addition, he actively advises and supports the Tea Party majority on the county Board of Supervisors.”
Folks in the traditionally conservative business community are also weighing in on Gurnee’s Trump-like modus operandi.
Dave Garth, retired after four decades as CEO of the SLO Chamber of Commerce, wrote on his Facebook page:
“In my 39-year career as CEO of the SLO Chamber … I interacted professionally with literally dozens of members of the city council. Even though we sometimes differed politically or philosophically, I found all of them to have high integrity, and to genuinely have our citizens’ best interests at heart.
“All, that is, except for one – T. Keith Gurnee. Even though it was 40-plus years ago, I still vividly remember his showboating and grandstanding, his gross exaggerations to sow fear and distrust, and his use of ‘alternative facts’ to cause divisions among our citizens.
“Fast forward to today. In his campaign for mayor, he’s using exactly those same tactics, called ‘Trumpian’ by some, to spread dissension. He’s clever enough to know that his unrealistic pie-in-the-sky, turn-the-clock-back solutions to real problems could never actually work, but it’s all just a political game to him.”
Garth went on to endorse Harmon, “who’s genuinely trying to solve problems and adapt our city to the new realities – even if it’s sometimes politically inconvenient.”
Gurnee seems to believe SLO voters are too stupid or gullible to know the difference between a conman and a forward-looking public servant who shares their values.
Some voters may be. Most? Probably not.
Liberal columnist Tom Fulks serves on the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Central Committee. His column runs every other week, in rotation with conservative columnist Andrea Seastrand.