As California’s political season heats up, the county government’s legislative platform is at risk of getting politicized and Orange County supervisors are fighting back.
On Tuesday, Supervisor Janet Nguyen, who is running for State Senate in one of the state’s hottest races, attempted to get her Republican colleagues to take positions against one state bill seeking to expand affirmative action protections for students (Senate Constitutional Amendment 5) and federal legislation blocking Vietnamese officials from visiting the United States (House Res. 4254).
Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk Silva also drew protests from county supervisors for attempting to move a bill authorizing a veterans’ cemetery in Orange County.
Supervisors’ Chairman Shawn Nelson called out Quirk Silva’s efforts as political, given that he had already received political mail at this house regarding her veterans’ cemetery effort.
While these issues would seem like an easy vote for an all-Republican board of supervisors in one of America’s most Republican counties, board members balked on Tuesday.
In resisting Nguyen’s call for support of legislation on Tuesday, supervisors instead moved to place on the agenda a policy keeping the county’s official legislative platform separate from individual political campaigns.
The vote on affirmative action was delayed until Apr. 29. Meanwhile, the House resolution regarding Vietnamese official visits was endorsed 4-0, with Nelson abstaining.
Regarding Quirk Silva’s bill, supervisors voted 3-1 to support the bill, with Nelson refusing to register a vote. Supervisor John Moorlach voted no, saying he wanted to amend the bill to have the county’s ongoing $73-million tax dispute with the state resolved, which would provide stable funding for such a cemetery.
But the debates, especially on Nguyen’s request as part of the official county legislative platform, drew concerns.
“Why do I have to vote on this as a county supervisor?” asked Supervisor Todd Spitzer Tuesday from the dais about the affirmative action bill.
While Spitzer said he has consistently voted against the specific expansion of affirmative action being proposed nearly a dozen times, he doesn’t see why he had to consider that bill as a county supervisor in Orange County.
“What does this have to do with our legislative platform and county business?” Spizter said, warning his colleagues that, “if we’re going to get in the legislative review business, it’s very complicated.”
Nguyen fired back at Spitzer saying, “I don’t bring issues to the platform quite often” in reference to the two issues she put in front of supervisors this week.
“These are very important to the constituency that not only I represent but the county represents,” Nguyen said, reminding Spitzer that he himself has involved the county in victims’ rights, one of his key issues.
Fighting any kind of preferential treatment based on race or gender is very important to Nguyen, she said. “All children in Orange County should be treated equally.”
Nguyen said supervisors’ vote does matter.
“When we take a position on a bill like this, it does send a strong message: Everybody should be treated equally,” Nguyen said. “That’s why this is before us today.”
Ironically, the bill in question has been declared dead for this legislative year.
Yet Nelson, who has made timely meetings a public goal, backed Spitzer, saying “this has nothing to do with the county.”
Nelson said he does not want to see county supervisors “get dragged into everybody’s backyard fight,” saying “I was not elected to run the school system.”
That prompted Supervisor Moorlach to note, “maybe we need some kind of policy on what we cover.”
At present, the county’s legislative staff simply responds to supervisors’ desires when putting together the public legislative agenda for each public meeting.
Given Tuesday’s motions by Nguyen, Nelson responded, “We probably should get one, starting tomorrow” about separating the county legislative platform from individual supervisor’s campaigns.
Yet others see things differently.
Supervisor Pat Bates, who is running unopposed for a State Senate seat, backed Nguyen’s request.
“I don’t mind getting dragged into debates” that cut to “the core of the Constitution,” Bates said
“We have the bully pulpit,” Bates said about such debates, adding, “We can lend our voice.”
Her sense was simple: “Bring it to the board, it’s fine with me.”
Nguyen said she could support a new policy.
“If there is a new process, you want legislative items that each board member here wants to ask the board to support … I can go with that process,” she said.