A Question of Strategy

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Monday, May 23, 2010 | On March 16, the day before the city of Costa Mesa officially issued six-month layoff notices to more than 200 employees, Orange County Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh sent out an email congratulating the newly installed City Council majority on its pending action.

“A team of conservatives on the City Council led by our endorsed candidate, Jim Righeimer, is fixing the problem in Costa Mesa,” Baugh wrote.

Baugh’s email was an acknowledgment that Mayor Pro Tem Righeimer and his council colleagues were rushing to the front lines of the GOP’s nationwide ideological war against public sector unions.

It also carried an underlying message that the local Republican establishment had their backs.

The layoff notices went out the next day, and with them came the suicide of city maintenance worker Huy Pham. Local labor leaders have since unleashed a counterattack with an intensity and sophistication rarely seen at the local level.

Union groups have attended public meetings en masse, staged rallies, run television and Internet campaigns, and funded the operations of Repair Costa Mesa, an anti-outsourcing community group.

The effects of these sustained attacks on the City Council have become apparent at public meetings, with council members clashing with one another and with members of the public. Councilman Stephen Mensinger has gone as far as calling for a review of decorum rules for the meetings.

Last Tuesday, two months to the day since the city issued its layoff notices, Righeimer used his comment period after another hours-long council meeting to tell the still-packed crowd that a recall campaign is coming.

“If you haven’t figured it out, all the craziness, a recall will happen in the city,” he said. “That’s why it’s getting crazy.”

Righeimer noted that both Nick Berardino of the Orange County Employees Association and Art Pulaski of the California Labor Federation stirred thousands of party activists at the state Democratic Convention earlier in the month with the battle cry that Costa Mesa was a West Coast Wisconsin.

“This city council is going to be attacked and attacked,” he said.

Righeimer’s underlying message to GOP honchos seems straightforward: The fighting at the front is only going to get more intense. So if you’re behind us, now is the time to start sending reinforcements.

One GOP insider who was in the audience at last week’s meeting wondered aloud whether Baugh and leaders of the deep-pocketed Lincoln Club are doing enough in response to the union efforts.

Others say the drumbeat for a coordinated response to the union efforts continues to get louder.

“Just based on personal interactions, the business community is not amused at all with the ads Nick is running, and they get it,” said Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, a fellow Republican who often crosses swords with labor.

Moorlach thinks counterpunches are on the way.

“In a short amount of time, you might see a counter response. It just takes time to get organized and get it done,” he said. “I get a sense there’s people who believe in Righeimer and Mensinger and are getting tired of this.”

When confronted with this question, Baugh said the council majority’s back is covered, but he and other GOP bigwigs won’t waste bullets.

“You don’t want to start spending money, chasing a target that is difficult to identify,” Baugh said. “But when the issue comes into clear focus, you can rest asurred that Costa Mesa Republicans and Orange County Republicans will marshal the resources to defend him. Just as we did with [County Supervisor] Shawn Nelson, we’ll be engaged in a meaningful way if there’s any efforts to recall him.”

Baugh referred to the 2010 primary election when OCEA and the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs spent more than $1 million on attack mail against Nelson. In the waning days of the campaign, Baugh and the state party raised $65,000 for a series of member communication mailers to Republicans in the area.

Nelson went on to trounch his nearest competitor, Anaheim City Councilman Harry Sidhu.

Baugh sees similarities in Costa Mesa and says the poll results are on the council majority’s side.

Which is the reason he feels confident that until the word “recall” is mentioned, Republicans don’t need to spend money to combat the labor campaign.

“When the issue is on your side, it doesn’t matter if the opposition outspends you three-to-one,” Baugh said. “What matters is if you have enough to get your message out. That’s what happened in the Nelson race.”

Yet despite Righeimer’s prediction, labor leaders don’t seem to be using the recall language that might trigger more funding to defend the council majority.

OCEA Communications Director Jennifer Muir confirmed there is talk of recalls but not from labor.

“I’ve heard a lot of people in the community talking about it,” she said.

She noted, however, that OCEA’s focus is not on a recall. “Our focus is getting these layoff notices rescinded.”

“Ultimately, a recall has to come from the residents. We’re focused on the layoffs and educating the public on the harm that will come to the community as a result of this politically motivated outsourcing scheme.”

Please contact Norberto Santana, Jr. directly at nsantana@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/norbertosantana. And add your voice with a letter to the editor.


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