When he wrote on CalCoastNews — a right-wing conspiracy theory blog — that he was vowing to “stay above the fray,” I laughed.
Gurnee is running for mayor of San Luis Obispo, but you wouldn’t know that if you read several of his incendiary columns he’s penned for CalCoastNews as one of their listed contributors. His columns read like Trump tweets, but longer with a larger vocabulary. He’s been so prolific about progressives bringing the end times and his peculiar obsession with one county supervisor, it’s difficult for me to take him seriously — even if he occasionally makes salient points about his opponent and incumbent Heidi Harmon.
Unlike most rich, white conservatives with an orange complexion, blonde-dyed fox toupée and a fiery temper, Gurnee is articulate but his rhetoric appears counter-intuitive to his current goals. He’s referred to half of Californian voters as “halfwits,” though he needs to court the votes of some of those so-called “halfwits” to get elected. He’s referred to the political left, the same voting bloc he recently sought an endorsement from as a born-again Democrat, as “schizophrenic” political hacks. Before he became mayor, Gurnee made headlines over his increasingly petty feud with SLO County Supervisor Adam Hill, though he’s now branding himself as a cooperative force, not a combative online troll.
Pick a column. Any one of his columns. Odds are, after reading one, you’ll wonder, “How can this guy serve as mayor for any city?”
It appears Gurnee’s supporters are reluctant to talk about his erratic, cantankerous past, though it’s still clearly visible from most SLO voters’ rear-view mirror. Instead, they pivot to discussions about Gurnee’s platform.
For a moment, let’s humor them.
On his website, Gurnee talks about the need to protect and enhance the city’s heritage and character “while engaging and listening to neighborhood residents about any city proposals that might alter their livability.” Gurnee is referring to the controversy surrounding the City Council’s aggressive stance on advancing large-scale development projects without carefully considering public output. But Gurnee is unable to explain how he would stymie residential and commercial development that’s out of compliance with the city’s character while satisfying state law that deters municipalities from enacting NIMBY (“Not in My Backyard”) policies.
You may not like development, but no development-prohibitive local ordinances trump state law.
What about Gurnee’s experience?
“We need a Mayor who will bring an extensive body of experience in local government, who will pursue a vision to protect what is special about San Luis Obispo, and who understands the forces of change that are at work both in our community and in our society as a whole,” his website proclaims.
Gurnee served on the SLO City Council from 1971 to 1977. Though he’s acquired decades of experience in the private sector as a professional planner over the last four decades, he’s been absent from deliberating, voting and enacting public policy. He loosely conflates his experiences working with local government with his limited experiences as an elected official.
Having read his campaign statements and watched his recent appearance at the League of Women Voters’ Candidates Forum, I can summarize his policy platforms with one word: “No.” And being a “no” to Harmon is simply not good enough to credibly challenge Harmon.
Underneath layers of grandiosity and childish rancor, T. Keith Gurnee is unremarkably shallow and unable to tap into populist concerns about San Luis Obispo with credibility and gravitas normally reserved for mayoral candidates.
Yes, I have my concerns about Harmon and made them perfectly clear. But objectively speaking, Harmon has a clear vision of how to move the city forward. She helped repeal the controversial rental inspection program and has taken proactive measures on affordable housing. Though Harmon has her share of issues worthy of concern, there’s no evidence Gurnee can competently improve in policy areas where she’s lacking.
And in the absence of policy, all we really have to go on is Gurnee’s temperament.
Full disclosure: I’ve never met Gurnee, but I was the recipient of threatening statements he made on CalCoastNews not long ago under his initials “TKG.” His comments was based on the false presumption that I was somehow colluding with County Supervisor Hill to “cripple” and shut down a website he actively contributes to. He also falsely accused me of being one of the “self-appointed” figureheads of the SLO County Progressives. His comments, which also spurred threatening remarks to me from his supporters, led to conversations I had with law enforcement. Though he promises to “stay above the fray,” he’s never acknowledged or apologized for his past behavior.
There is one thing I can give Gurnee credit for: he’s challenged Harmon to perform a risk-assessment analysis of her own policies and face criticism head-on. This caused Harmon to appear a little more shell-shocked at the SLO County Progressives’ endorsement meeting and at the Candidates Forum, but that is healthy. If anything, Gurnee’s candidacy will help Harmon be a better, more pragmatic leader who is more cognizant of community concerns.
But in a city undergoing a sea change — with public policy finally shifting to 21st century standards and needs — Gurnee lacks the bearings to traverse their still-uncharted waters. And he won’t ever change.