Primary Election Offers Residents a Glimpse into OC’s Political Future

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Editor's note: Voice of OC is hosting a series of podcasts on today's election.  Click here to check them out.

While today's primary election is considered a preview for the November general election, three local races also offer a referendum of sorts on law enforcement pay and the role of government in Orange County's economy.

The local Republican establishment – losing its electoral grip but still firmly in power – will get a sense of its own future as core arguments over corporate subsidies in Anaheim, Dana Point’s harbor revitalization project and public employee compensation are put to the test.

At the county level, former Board of Equalization board member Michelle Steel, aided recently by the county sheriffs union in an independent mail campaign, squares off against state Assemblyman Allan Mansoor – a staunch opponent of salary raises for sheriffs -- for the 2nd Supervisorial District.

In the race for the 5th District, the libertarian-oriented Lincoln Club has gotten behind Laguna Niguel Councilman Robert Ming, while the Orange County Business Council is supporting Mission Viejo Councilman Frank Ury. Issues distinguishing these two include pay for deputy sheriffs and the county’s level of involvement in the redevelopment of Dana Point Harbor.

And in Anaheim, Mayor Tom Tait – who has angered the city’s elite business establishment by opposing tax subsidies for politically-connected businesses -- is fighting Measure D, which would shorten the mayor’s term length.

County's 2nd District Supervisor

For much of the campaign, the main critique of Steel was that she knew little about the dozen cities – including Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa – that make up the 2nd District because she only recently moved to Surfside from Palos Verdes.

Mansoor, in turn, has touted his service on the Costa Mesa City Council, but downplayed his immigration stance during that time, as well as the fiscal crisis that gripped the city upon his exit to Sacramento.

Yet the biggest policy difference between Mansoor and Steel comes down to an issue they are likely to have a direct impact on: deputy sheriff labor negotiations.

Steel avoided direct answers when questioned about her position on salary negotiations during a recent Feet to the Fire forum, saying she needed to see numbers before giving any opinions.

Mansoor was direct.

He did not support offering deputies a raise to coincide with their increase in pension payment responsibilities.

Yet Steel, 58, may have the strongest chance of any candidate in Tuesday’s contests to avoid a runoff.

As a Board of Equalization elected member since 2006, Steel is California’s highest-ranking Republican officeholder and has amassed the most impressive campaign finance war chest of any local candidate in this year’s field. That, in turn, offers her the best budget to generate lots of campaign mail to potential voters.

In addition, Steel is benefiting from a supportive independent mailer campaign by the county’s main law enforcement union, the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.

Mansoor, 50, chose not to run for reelection this year to represent the 74th Assembly district and instead jumped in the fray against Steel.

A former Costa Mesa mayor who attracted national headlines for his city’s tough stance on undocumented residents during his term, Mansoor has attracted some of the county’s more conservative names as endorsements – such as incumbent Supervisor John Moorlach and Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer.

Two other candidates, Huntington Beach Mayor Joe Carchio and Orange Coast Community College District Trustee Jim Moreno, are also vying for the county supervisor seat but have fundraised considerably less, making it a tough shot for either one to make it to November.

County's 5th District Supervisor

In many ways, there aren’t that many differences between Ury, 50, and Ming, 43.

Both men are founding members of the Association of Orange County Cities – a break-off from the League of California Cities that is more business-friendly.

Ury favors outsourcing of government services, pointing to Mission Viejo as a good example of how it can be done and monitored correctly. Ming also isn’t afraid of using the outsourcing word, noting that Laguna Niguel doesn’t have a big staff and uses contracts efficiently.

Based on interviews, some of the biggest differences between the two may be found on the Dana Point Harbor revitalization effort and negotiating the deputy sheriff’s labor contract – which could impact the budgets of South County cities that contract with the Sheriff’s department.

Ming seems to favor a more limited county role toward revitalizing the harbor, while Ury appears more comfortable with the county’s current approach to redeveloping the area.

Ming also has taken a very hard-line position on the county’s pension issues – which could impact sheriff salary talks – while Ury talks about managing pension liabilities over the long term, which could make it easier for South County cities to keep current services without major cost hikes.

Both Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas have endorsed Ury.

Dana Point Mayor Lisa Bartlett, 54, and Deputy District Attorney Joe Williams, 52, also are running for the seat but have less fundraising and endorsements.

Anaheim's Mayoral Term Length

In Anaheim, many eyes will focus on Measure D, which would shorten mayoral terms from four years to two, something supporters say will make the mayor more accountable to voters.

Current Mayor Tom Tait and his supporters argue the measure, which would alter the city charter, is actually the latest in a series of retaliations against him and would make future mayors more beholden to the influence of special interests and campaign money.

Tait was considered an establishment candidate when he ran for mayor in 2010, with many of the city’s elite business interests backing his candidacy.

But his staunch opposition to corporate subsidies has alienated him from many of his former supporters.

Tait also had a falling out with his one-time close friend former Mayor Curt Pringle, who has become the city’s most influential lobbyist since stepping down in 2010.

The mayor argues that the city has awarded corporate subsidies to politically connected interests on an unprecedented scale. He has pointed out that two recent City Council actions — $158 million tax subsidy for or a single hotel developer and a convention center expansion — will drain more than $20 million annually from the general fund for the next generation.

Having been the City Council’s lone voice of opposition on such decisions, Tait said that the council majority has launched retaliations against him. They cut his policy aide’s salary by 40 percent and diminished his ability to place items on council meeting agendas.

Members of the council majority deny that the actions were retaliatory and have said they were merely intended to provide equal powers between council members and the mayor. Measure D’s supporters, meanwhile, say the charter change is about giving the voters a chance to elect the mayor more often, and not about Tait.

The Anaheim Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee has spent thousands of dollars promoting Measure D.

According to the most recent campaign finance filings, which disclose contributions through the end of last year, the Irvine Company donated $25,000 total to the committee in November and December, dwarfing all other contributions to the committee for that period.

Two committees against Measure D, including Tait’s election campaign, have also been spending thousands of dollars to defeat the charter amendment.

Other Races

There are a few offices – sheriff, district attorney, treasurer-tax collector, 4th district county supervisor and clerk recorder - where it looks as if the incumbent could avoid a general election run because they could surpass the 50-percent mark during Tuesday’s primary.

Hutchens and Treasurer-Tax Collector Shari Freidenrich are both running unopposed.

County Supervisor Pat Bates was facing an unopposed run for the 36th State Senate until recently when Ladera Ranch Town Council Member Gary Kephardt announced a write-in candidacy.

County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, 47, drew one challenger without many financial resources and while Clerk Recorder Hugh Nguyen, 46, faces three challengers, none has drawn much financial or political support.

Rackauckas also faces an underfunded candidate, Greg Diamond, who is endorsed by the Democratic Party but was ousted from a leadership position recently because of his own opposition to subsidies in Anaheim, among other issues.

Two county offices that don’t usually see much election activity in Orange County in recent years – Assessor and Auditor-Controller – this year have a packed candidates’ roster seeking to fill the largely technocratic slots that also come with an electoral mandate.

County Assessor

The race for Assessor has been complicated with an ongoing DA investigation looking into whether incumbent Assessor Webster Guillory, 70, improperly gathered his nomination signatures from employees during work hours.

There, two candidates – longtime equalization board member Claude Parrish, 66, and Democrat Jorge Lopez – are challenging Guillory. Parrish came very close to Guillory during the last election cycle and has fundraised considerably more than Lopez, 57.


The election for Auditor-Controller also features a packed field with four candidates but there are two top candidates who have both institutional and political advantages going into Tuesday.

While Deputy Auditor Controller Frank Davies, 58, is a newcomer to politics, he is an agency insider and gets to run with a solid title that is proven to make a difference to voters.

Orange City Treasurer Eric Woolery, 48, has garnered the endorsement of the Orange County GOP – which also could offer him a significant boost.

The one countywide ballot measure is sponsored by the county Board of Supervisors and would force them to pay into their own pensions. Measure A would prohibit the county from paying for the employee’s share of supervisors’ pensions.

Editor's note: Voice of OC is hosting a series of podcasts on today's election.  Click here to check them out.

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