County Supervisor Candidates Short on Specifics at ‘Feet to Fire’ Forum

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Candidates for a coastal county supervisor’s district were short on details Monday on what exactly they would do if elected.

At a “Feet to the Fire” forum in Costa Mesa, contenders for the 2nd District were peppered with questions from local journalists about how they would lead a county government for 3.1 million people.

But when it came to some of the more pressing regional issues facing county supervisors — such as a troubled county health plan for 510,000 people, a county fire authority in turmoil and a transportation agency faced with ever growing traffic congestion — candidates had trouble detailing their plans.

Voice of OC Editor-in-Chief Norberto Santana Jr. noted the development era of county government has largely wound down, meaning supervisors now serve as leaders for other regional policy issues.

He asked how candidates see their role as a county supervisor.

In response, Coast Community College District trustee Jim Moreno simply recited the county’s role as an “arm of the state” in charge of local health, welfare and public safety issues.

Santana sought specifics.

“How are you going to approach that?” he asked.

“There’s a lot of things. Public health, and health, is one of the big deals, and a lot of people don’t understand that,” said Moreno. “As a supervisor you have got to put the experts in place to take care of these various roles.”

Santana again pointed out a lack of specifics.

Candidate and state Board of Equalization member Michelle Steel was questioned about her endorsement of Assemblywoman Diane Harkey for Steel’s seat on the tax board.

Harkey’s husband was recently found by a jury to have violated his duty to investors and engaged in elder abuse and was ordered to pay $10 million in damages.

“What do you say … to people who have lost their life savings in that scandal, that you now support her for your job, which is basically taking care of taxpayer money?” asked Orange County Register and Daily Pilot columnist Barbara Venezia.

Steel replied that the court ruled that Diane Harkey wasn’t involved in her husband’s investment firm.

“I’m proud that I endorsed her,” Steel said.

Assemblyman Allan Mansoor was questioned about his claims that he will lead by example on pension reform while also planning to have the county contribute toward his pension if he becomes a supervisor.

“If you want to lead by example, can’t you just turn down the pension then?” asked Register columnist Jack Wu.

“I’m not independently wealthy, Jack,” Mansoor replied.

Mansoor had trouble explaining why he’s looking to leave his two-year Assembly post during his first term.

“You’re not telling me why you’re jumping ship,” Venezia said.

Mansoor replied that he had supported former Huntington Beach Mayor Don Hansen for the supervisor post and that Hansen later dropped out of the race.

Wu pressed further on why he started looking at the supervisors’ seat less than four months after winning his Assembly seat.

“I want someone who knows the issues,” Mansoor replied.

Huntington Beach Councilman Joe Carchio, who describes himself as a fiscal conservative, was quizzed on his support for bringing back taxpayer-funded redevelopment programs.

“Do you think that’s consistent with Republican principles”, asked Santana.

“It’s not Republican money, and it’s not Democratic money,” said Carchio, adding there’s too much focus on party affiliation.

On the issue of pensions, Venezia noted that all of the candidates’ websites (other than Carchio, who doesn’t have one) state they support pension reform but don’t explain how that would work.

“On none of them did it say what exactly you would do to reform” pensions, Venezia said.

Mansoor didn’t have a pension reform plan but said he opposed pay raises for sheriff deputies, who now are being asked to pay their full pension share.

Carchio called for a policy — having all employees pay their full share of retirement contributions — that’s expected to largely already be in place by the time he would take office.

Steel, meanwhile, declined to say how much of a raise she would give sheriff’s deputies to offset their extra pension payments, a hot issue now in negotiations.

“I don’t know what the raise [would be] at this point,” said Steel.

Steel estimated she’s raised about $550,000 so far for her campaign, giving her a huge funding advantage over the other candidates.

Without personal loans, Carchio said he’s raised about $75,000, with Mansoor citing $100,000 and Moreno about $40,000.

The 2nd Supervisorial District covers Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Stanton, Seal Beach, La Palma, Los Alamitos and portions of Cypress and Buena Park. It’s currently represented by termed-out Supervisor John Moorlach, who has endorsed Mansoor.

Monday’s event was part of a four-part series of “Feet to the Fire” forums aimed at getting human moments out of political candidates in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.

A forum earlier this month featured plenty of feisty moments by contenders for the 74th Assembly District.

Two more events are scheduled for later in the election season.

On Sept. 18, panelists will interview candidates running for the Costa Mesa City Council, and on Oct. 1, candidates for Newport Beach City Council come under the microscope.

Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated incorrectly that Alan Mansoor did not have a campaign website.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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