Supervisor John Moorlach never put out press releases during his term in office, rather he sends out what he calls “Moorlach Updates”.
Anytime he’s written about in the press, he sends one of these with a link to the column and his own take on the piece.
I don’t know how many peeps are on his email blast list, but I am, and more than a few times, these updates have included things I’ve written about him.
Needless to say we’ve had our good and bad days.
So when I got his blast on Nov. 7th I found it funny he commented on my new gig here at Voice of OC, saying he enjoyed my “acerbic, no-holds-barred writing style.”
And went on to write, “Sometimes Barbara and I agreed, sometimes we sparred, but we always did our best to maintain a healthy professional relationship. Thank you, Barbara, for being a documenter of history in the Newport-Mesa area. You were very productive.”
That was a nice compliment, but what really shocked me was all the links he included, about 40, to articles Id’ written about him- and he hinted there were more.
Now in my biz, politicians are pretty much low hanging fruit- but had I really picked at his tree that much?
Moorlach never shied away from the press or my tough questions, so I figured I’d call him this week. Seems only fitting I’d write one last column as he closes this chapter.
My relationship with him is complicated.
We met when I was serving as chair for the Project Advisory Committee of the Santa Ana Hts Redevelopment agency.
Frustrated dealing with outgoing Supervisor Jim Silva, I reached out to then candidate Moorlach.
He was eager to understand redevelopment issues, projects and stumbling blocks I’d encountered. I will say once he took office, he got projects underway.
I liked him then and I still do, though we’ve had to sometimes agree to disagree when it comes to his politics.
As expected, these days he’s in a reflective mood.
“I’m sprinting to the end and there is still l plenty to do. It’s an 80 hour a week commitment,” he said of his last days as a county supervisor.
In addition to packing his office, he likens this time to that of running the last lap of a race, and looking forward to raising his hands as he hits the finish line.
As he exits, he’s starting to get offers from non-profits, colleges, and CPA firms, though he’s made no decision on what road he’ll go down next.
I asked if the job of supervisor was what he’d thought it would be, and how he’s changed.
“It’s just a big job”, he said,” and I’ve gotten to know myself a little more.”
As an accountant he’s an analytical personality. As a CPA he was used to getting things to done and put to bed.
“I took that here. I found myself willing to take on big projects. Some of them were controversial and some of my counterparts were interested in being non- controversial,’ he said.
Moorlach’s had a long history with the county government.
He's largely credited with predicting the 1994 bankruptcy, which is now coming on its 20th anniversary.
In every job there are wins and regrets.
What are Moorlach’s?
He lists helping to engineer the structure of the early pre-payment to the pension system while still Treasurer-Tax Collector - which he says continues to save the county about $20 million a year in savings- in his win column.
And before he was sworn in as Supervisor, he worked on a committee with Orange County Employees Association General Manager Nick Berardino, to reduce the county’s retiree medical unfunded liability, which he estimates reduced the county’s liability by a billion dollars - another win.
Though Moorlach says he doesn’t have a lot of regrets, there’s one still on his mind.
“That we did not prevail in litigation to unwind the retroactive pension benefits. We were told from the get go that judges may not help you even if you are right,” He says.
The fact that judges get pensions from the state would make this a rough road and he knew it.
“For the Supreme Court to not even take the case, that was a disappointment. That’s where we expected the scholarship to be,” he says.
Moorlach still feels had he prevailed here bankruptcies in Stockton and San Beradino would have never occurred.
“There are some powers you can’t overcome. I guess that’s a regret.” He said.
And even though they’ve fought toe to toe on this and other issues, Moorlach said he believes he and Berardino share a “mutual respect”.
This past election season, Moorlach also made a short-lived run for Congress.
I asked him why he threw in the towel so early in his campaign.
He said two things happened that changed his focus.
His father-in-law passed away, and his son-in-law took a job in Milwaukee which meant his daughter and granddaughter would be moving away.
With his eye on family issues and off the race, Moorlach said State Senator Mimi Walters gained momentum for her congressional bid.
By the time he re-focused he’d lost too much ground. The smart move was to opt out.
So as his term as a county supervisor ends, is he over politics?
“I don’t have the answer to that - I think about it once or twice every second."
“Do I run for Mimi’s seat? In two years do I run for (Congressman) Dana Rohrabacher’s seat? Or do I watch (incoming County Supervisor) Michelle Steel do that and come back and run for Supervisor?” he questioned jokingly.
While we were having some fun playing “what if”, I suggested Moorlach ditch the political game, come over to the dark side and write political commentary- maybe even for the Voice of OC?
He chuckled and I got the feeling he might be crazy enough to actually take me up on it.
After all, writing about politics is a heck of a lot more fun than being in it.