Ask an engaged Orange County resident about what is on their mind this Election Day and you’ll likely hear something similar to what you’d hear in San Diego, Kern, Alameda or any other California county — refrains on the jobless rate, the cratered state budget and unfunded pension costs.
But beneath those larger issues are less obvious, more intensely local themes that have also served to frame this election season in Orange County — and make it different from what is happening elsewhere and different from what has happened before.
We’ve delved into those somewhat hidden aspects and themes and attempted to bring them to the fore. We hope our reporting gave you a more clear-eyed look at some of the candidates and issues you’ll be voting on. And as always, we thank you for reading.
Without further ado, here is our rundown on the 2010 election.
The 47th District Cage Match
Seven-term Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez is in a battle against Assemblyman Van Tran that has taken on national importance as the Republicans threaten a House takeover reminiscent of the drubbing they gave the Democrats in 1994.
The race has drawn luminaries to Orange County from national GOP Chairman Michael Steele to former President Bill Clinton.
And it has drawn at least one awkward press conference, with Tran and his rival, Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen making nice in order to show a unified front against the Democrats.
The beginnings of Nguyen’s political career can be traced back to Tran appointing her to the Garden Grove Planning Commission. But over the past four years, the two have consistently crossed swords — battering each other on Vietnamese language radio and in print news outlets and supporting competing candidates in local council races.
When Nguyen vied for county supervisor in 2006, she directly challenged Tran — her elder by 12 years — who supported a different candidate and waged an all-out campaign against her. She eventually won a tight recount.
The race has also caused discord within the Vietnamese community, with one longtime Little Saigon radio host alleging that Tran orchestrated his removal.
For more than 20 years, Long Vo has been one of the local stalwarts in this arena. His “Vietnamese in California” show has received commendations from the Republican Party of Orange County as well as Democratic lawmakers.
But on Sept. 29, his show was yanked off the air. The reason given by the station is that Vo was taken off 1190-AM because he refused to sign the station’s newly constituted pledge regarding what can and can’t be said on air about politicians.
A Sea Change in the 68th
The race for the 68th District state Assembly seat features to well-funded candidates, Republican Alan Mansoor and Democrat Phu Nguyen.
But more interesting than the candidates are the dynamics behind the race, dynamics that could portent a tectonic plate shift of who funds whom in Orange County elections.
Mansoor, like so many other Republicans this year, has based his campaign around the bashing of public sector unions. To say the least, the former sherif’s deputy’s rhetoric has not sat well with the public safety unions that have historically backed GOP candidates.
Which led us to the scene at Tewinkle Park in Costa Mesa last month. The county’s two main public safety unions gathered behind Nguyen.
As the media gathered, Wayne Quint, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, went after former sheriff’s deputy Mansoor hard, calling him a political hack and an opportunist.
Tony Bedolla, political director for the Orange County Professional Firefighters, made clear the prevailing attitude in law enforcement union circles: “You can’t say you support public safety without supporting public safety employees,” Bedolla said.
And it was Nguyen who got to stand by the deliverers of law and order and call them heroes.
The Bell Strategy in Santa Ana
In Santa Ana, Mayor Miguel Pulido is favored to win a ninth term, but he is facing one of his stiffest challenges in years.
Local attorney Alfredo Amezcua has campaigned hard against the incumbent, hoping that in the year of the Bell scandal, the people of Santa Ana will take a more skeptical view of the Pulido machine.
Among other things, Amezcua has hit upon how often Santa Ana council members run afoul of the city’s admittedly tough campaign finance ordinance, which forbids council members from accepting campaign donations from any interest doing business with the city.
But Amezcua is running against a Santa Ana institution.
Pulido is the longest-serving mayor in Orange County, having first been elected to the Santa Ana City Council in 1986. And his is a uniquely American story: a Mexican-American muffler shop owner who fought City Hall over their redevelopment plans — and won.
Few would argue with the statement that there’s not a business or political move in town that doesn’t have Pulido’s imprint.
Irksome Republicans in Irvine
Three council seats, and possibly four, are up in Irvine. Outspoken Republican Christina Shea is leaving the dais, and seats held by two incumbents, Councilman Larry Agran and Mayor Sukhee Kang, are also up. Another seat will open if Councilwoman Beth Krom wins her congressional race. But losses by Agran — and a Krom win — are considered long shots.
So that leaves Shea’s seat as the main battleground. One frontrunner is Jeff Lalloway, a Republican lawyer who promises to take the baton from Shea and carry on her high-profile fights against the council majority on issues including the Great Park and the city’s public transportation. The other is Shiva Farivar, a Democrat who has generally applauded the direction the majority is taking the city.
If Lalloway wins the Democrats will retain their 3-2 majority, a Farivar victory would mean a 4-1 supermajority.
But more interesting than the battle between Lalloway and Farivar has been the battle within the Republican Party as it pertains to the Irvine election. It started with the Republicans being without a unified slate of candidates less than two months before Election Day.
That was just the beginning.
First, local GOP committee members Allan Bartlett and Tim Whitacre called out Chairman Scott Baugh and other leaders for killing an endorsement of fellow committee member and Irvine council candidate Lynn Schott.
Then, just after the party decided to endorse Schott in an act of reconciliation, Shea removed Lalloway from the city’s finance commission in an act of retribution against Lalloway for his claiming in a mailer that he was the only endorsed Republican candidate.
Pringle Rides Off Into the Sunset, Sort Of…
The future of Anaheim for the past eight years has depended in large part on Mayor Curt Pringle.
From the creation of the Platinum Triangle business and enteratainment district, to setting the city up as a transportation hub, to trying to get City Hall staffers to think and move at the incessant pace he does, Pringle seemingly has pushed for change everywhere.
Now, with Pringle termed out, the city is contemplating a change at the top, and the leading candidates are Tom Tait and Shirley McCracken.
A pro-business attitude by city officials and reform of some regulations are a top concern of Tom Tait, the candidate with the biggest budget and the backing of Pringle and the city’s most influential business interests.
But Tait, a former member of the Anaheim City Council, said he’s really running on “kindness.”
“Kindness isn’t a political term,” he said. “I think people, when you say it, maybe think it’s a little naive, but why not?”
McCracken’s major concerns, she said, are the stuff of ordinary life: parks, graffiti, tree trimming, police staffing and libraries.
She says major development projects, like the planned Platinum Triangle entertainment center, may have to wait a few more years until the economy improves.
“I think we’re going to have to pick and choose” among the big projects, she said, based on what services, like policing, the city can afford to provide to go along with them.
The biggest challenge facing the super-sized field of 14 candidates running for two city council seats in Anaheim is simply making sure voters remember their name.
A Long Ballot in Huntington Beach
The dizzying array of signs is a good illustration of this election season in Huntington Beach. In addition to four ballot measures and a race for city attorney, there are 21 candidates vying for four open seats.
Making things somewhat easier on voters, several top candidates can be divided into one official — and one unofficial — slate.
The official slate, backed by former Mayor Debbie Cook, calls itself Team Huntington Beach and says a heavily pro-development council is ignoring the city’s neighborhoods.
The unofficial slate, backed by sitting Councilman Don Hansen, is commonly called the Hansenites and consists of pro-development candidates who want to preserve property rights and align themselves with Hansen’s vision on public employee union influence.
Other top candidates, both Republicans, are incumbent Joe Carchio and Planning Commissioner Fred Speaker. Each is well-funded and has been endorsed by the city’s police and fire unions as well as the Orange County Republican Central Committee. Neither returned a reporter’s phone calls.
Also on the ballot is Measure O, which would lock in 15 percent of the general fund for infrastructure maintenance by clarifying a 2002 voter-approved amendment to the city charter that created an infrastructure fund.
A city attorney’s interpretation allowed funds from that allocation to be used to pay for debt service. The measure would bar that use beginning in 2017.
Proponents of the measure say it will fulfill the original intent voters had when they approved the city charter amendment, while opponents say it hamstrings future councils’ fiscal decisions and will force painful budget cuts and possible layoffs.
The Pot Measure
And finally, there is Proposition 19, the statewide ballot measure that would make marijuana even more legal than it already is in California.
Statewide polling on the measure has been all over the map. But a very informal Voice of OC poll of local elected officials indicated that even if the proposition passes, it won’t mean that the streets of OC will resemble those of Amsterdam.
If voters pass Proposition 19, it will be legal under state law for people to carry up to an ounce of marijuana, and individual jurisdictions will have the opportunity to loosen laws on the sale of the drug.
Yet interviews with a sampling of elected officials in the county reveal apprehension over the prospect of relaxed marijuana laws. In fact, several officials — especially those running for this year’s election — don’t even want to talk about it.
“I don’t think, frankly, elected officials have taken a good look at the law,” Tustin Mayor Jerry Amante said. “I don’t think you’re going to find many cities that are going to encourage the sale of marijuana.”
Well, now you know what we know. Please, go out and vote!