Monday, April 4, 2011 | Residents who live in Orange County’s Third District already have two high-profile Republican politicians who want to be their county supervisor next summer when incumbent Bill Campbell is termed out.
Yet the biggest challenge already facing both Todd Spitzer and Chuck DeVore is convincing voters that they’ll stick around.
Spitzer was en route to become Orange County’s next District Attorney in 2014 until incumbent DA Tony Rackauckas fired him last August after asking questions about an investigation being conducted by Public Administrator John Williams.
Spitzer was redeemed this month when county supervisors stripped Williams of his duties after an investigation concluded he was in over his head and mismanaging his office.
Devore, a darling of the Tea Party movement, was termed out of the state Legislature last year. He placed third in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate last June getting a little more than 450,000 votes or 19 percent of statewide Republicans.
After his primary loss, Devore told his supporters, “I expect to run for office in 2012 – what office remains a question.”
The district — which runs from Anaheim Hills through Brea, Tustin, Orange, Irvine, Yorba Linda and the canyons — experienced the most growth in population over the last decade, according to the U.S. Census.
Two Political Veterans
Spitzer’s history in the district offers him an early advantage. He often tells people he’s been elected to office eight different times since 1992 inside the boundaries of the third district.
He was a school board member in Brea, served as supervisor from 1996 to 2002 and represented the area as a state assemblyman from 2002 to 2008. He’s also won several Republican Central Committee elections to represent the area.
DeVore, 49, stresses his own local credentials in the district, noting that he’s lived in Irvine since coming back home in 1989 after a short stint in the Reagan Adminstration as a foreign policy political appointee.
He also points to his early days as a student in Fullerton and his work for former Congressman Chris Cox (whose district mirrored the third district). DeVore lost a bid in 2002 for the Irvine City Council but points out that he was an appointed city park commissioner there for six years while also working locally as an aerospace executive.
DeVore represented part of the area as well during his own Assembly term from 2004 to 2010.
The Game Plans
This race was shaping up to have a very different character until Spitzer’s high-profile controversial firing from the DA’s office.
Despite his long resume as a political office holder, Spitzer, now 50, is preparing to run as an outsider. Some critics say that will be difficult given that he’s been a part of the ruling party for the better part of two decades.
But Spitzer’s overall message is simple. When he sees an issue, he pounces, no matter what party or personal interest is in play.
“I get excited about getting up everyday and solving problems on behalf of the county and constituents,” said Spitzer, who was known during his first term as supervisor — at age 35 — for sending out emails to staff at 4:30 a.m. on most workdays.
“When something comes to my attention that isn’t right in government, I will see it through,” he said.
Spitzer brings up a host of battles he’s fought on behalf of the public over the years. They include grade-tampering scandals when he was a school board member in Brea, and, as a supervisor, challenging the airport in South County. As a prosecutor he questioned the practices of Orange County’s public administrator on probate matters.
DeVore, meanwhile, is promising to poke Spitzer on his own record — most notably his 2001 vote as supervisor that increased Sheriff’s Deputies pension benefits.
With his Tea Party credentials, DeVore is aiming to make the race about government spending and pensions.
“On public employee unions and their benefits, Todd consistently voted with the public unions time and time again,” DeVore said. “His vote in 2001 was not just at one-time vote, it was part of a pattern that continued during his six years in the assembly.”
Spitzer replied to DeVore’s critique by saying he’s had many support groups over the years but is a prisoner of none. “You could also say I’m the darling of the building and engineering community,” he said pointing to lots of developer money and support over the years.
Yet its clear from DeVore’s statement and his campaign website that the rising costs of public sector pensions is his big issue.
Spitzer criticizes DeVore’s recent emphasis on pensions saying he’s not historically focused on local government.
DeVore, who many see observers have historically seen as more interested in foreign policy than potholes, says he’s serious about wanting to work at the local level.
“I would vigorously dispute the notion that I’ve ignored or not been part of the local scene,” DeVore said while on assignment in Israel earlier this month.
“What I have is a zeal for is government that maximizes liberty and is the most efficient possible,” he said. “As a result, I have a passion for public policy, whether it’s Irvine and saving money on parks or running for the U.S. Senate and ideas about improving our tax code or national security.”
So far, the endorsement game favors Spitzer.
In addition to a long list of locally elected officials from the Third District, he’s also got the backing of Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and three colleagues on the board of supervisors – Bill Campbell, Janet Nguyen and Pat Bates.
In his message to voters announcing his endorsement, Campbell said Spitzer brought “a wealth of experience” to the job noting that he could hit the ground running and produce real results for the residents of the Third District.
DeVore in turn seems to have secured the support of County Supervisor John Moorlach, and judging from his attacks on Spitzer regarding pension votes, Moorlach makes a good fit.
Spitzer counters that when public safety pensions were being expanded, it was done across the state. Others, like State Assemblyman Chris Norby voted for the pension expansion when he was a city councilman in Fullerton. Even Moorlach, Spitzer argues, approved actuarial studies for the deputy pension enhancements in 2001.
Spitzer also has a large campaign war chest — estimated at over $1 million — left over from his state Assembly days. That size of that warchest essentially cleared the field of potential candidates like Orange Mayor Carolyn Cavecche and City Councilman Denis Bilodeau.
DeVore said he plans to challenge whether that money can be legally transferred from those state accounts as well as Spitzer’s accounting of the funds.
He also says he’s his own vibrant donor list from his statewide campaign for U.S. Senate.
The question is whether he can convince those donors to get interested in a county race in Orange County.
Clarification: A previous version of this story stated that Todd Spitzer was fired for asking questions about how Public Administrator John Williams was handling a case. District Attorney spokesperson Susan Kang Schroeder said he as fired for a variety of reasons. Spitzer says he was only given that reason.