Candidates for Sanchez’s U.S. House Seat Play Nice in First Debate

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

The candidates at Saturday's forum. From left: former state senators Joe Dunn and Lou Correa, Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen, and Anaheim Councilman Jordan Brandman.

Candidates in the wide-open race for Loretta Sanchez’s U.S. House seat gathered Saturday for their first debate, with all four Democrats working to establish their progressive credentials in one of the county’s few decidedly blue congressional districts.

There were few disagreements among the participants vying for the 46th District seat, who are: former state senators Lou Correa and Joe Dunn, Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen and Anaheim Councilman Jordan Brandman.

The district covers Santa Ana, Anaheim, and parts of Garden Grove and Orange, and is up for grabs because Sanchez is forfeiting her seat to run for the U.S. Senate. No Republicans are in the race as Democrats have a 20-point voter registration advantage.

Dunn, who is considered a front-runner along with Correa, touted his claim to fame as the state senator who led the fight against corporate energy behemoths during the state’s energy crisis in the early 2000s.

When every other Democratic legislator voted to use “your tax dollars to buy our way out of the energy crisis, I said no.” Dunn said. “Which candidates have the experiences and have proven time and time again that they are always on the line for you? I have done that.”

Correa, meanwhile, pointed to his record of supporting minimum wage increases, among other stances, during his 14 years in the state Legislature.

And he said he fought for “our fair share [of state tax dollars] for Central Orange County,” leading to him being shunned and punished in Sacramento.

“I’m just a kid from the hood who got lucky,” he said, adding that he’s “trying to show that new generation that folks like me can move out of the neighborhoods” and “live the American Dream.”

Nguyen, who works as a union organizer, spoke energetically about the need to rein in corporate influence over the American political system.

A handful of people are getting “filthy rich while families work two, three maybe four jobs just to get by. It’s not right,” he said in advocating for a minimum wage hike with automatic increases tied to inflation.

The people “need a government that listens and puts their interests” ahead of “big corporations,” Nguyen said.

And Brandman promised to be a “constant advocate” for progressive policies and work with Republicans.

“It is tragic that the Republican majority will not let us take a vote on” a minimum wage increase, he said. “I will do my very best as your Congress member to work across the aisle” to convince Republicans that this is the right thing to do.

There was largely unanimous agreement on several high-profile policy issues that resonate locally. For example, all said they support birthright citizenship for children of immigrants, and better mental health and drug treatment support for at-risk youth and recently-released prisoners.

There was also agreement on national issues, including: the need to address climate change; supporting a federal minimum wage increase; supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; tighter regulation of Wall Street; and the creation of a universal publicly-funded health system.

One of the few areas of disagreement was on legalizing medical marijuana, with Nguyen and Brandman quickly endorsing legalization and Correa and Dunn taking a more cautious approach.

“The time has come” for legalization, Brandman said.  “How much longer are we going to deal with this issue and have people go to jail for possession of marijuana?”

But Correa said he grew up in a neighborhood with lots of alcoholism and heroin use, which has made him concerned about how to keep kids “out of harm’s way.”

“I have serious concerns with the full legalization of marijuana,” he said.

Dunn said he has a similar view. Legalization is “coming, there’s no question about that,” he said, but the California has to make sure it’s done “the right way.”

Nguyen, meanwhile, said he’s for legalization, and that revenue generated through marijuana taxes should be invested in the neighborhoods where people have been “fed into the prison system.”

Correa raised eyebrows by joining the other candidates in supporting universal health care, with some Democratic activists noting that Correa’s position appeared to stand in contrast to his time in Sacramento, where he voted against universal healthcare, citing the cost and the need for a federal solution.

Correa has picked up endorsements from several state-level elected officials, as well as Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-Norwalk), Santa Ana Councilwoman Michele Martinez and Santa Ana Unified school board members John Palacio and Valerie Amezcua.

Brandman is endorsed by former state Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton), former county Democratic Party Chair Frank Barbaro, and a host of local school board members.

Brandman was also endorsed by major local Republican elected officials and conservative political groups in his bid for his current City Council seat in 2012.  His campaign sent out a mailer touting the endorsements and quoting one of Brandman’s chief political mentors, Republican Anaheim former-mayor-turned-lobbyist Curt Pringle.

Dunn and Nguyen’s websites don’t have any endorsements listed.

Saturday’s debate was hosted by the Orange County chapters of two of the nation’s oldest civil rights groups: the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Brandman was endorsed by the county Republican Party.  We regret the error.

You can contact Nick Gerda at, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

  • Greg Diamond

    Nick — if you don’t want this link here, please feel free to delete it, but I think that it may be of broader interest. These are my notes (with added and segregated commentary) of each of the four candidates’ answers to each of the 16 questions. (I’d say that I got more than half of what they said and far more than half of what was important.) A lot comes through that wasn’t part of the immediate headlines. You’re welcome to incorporate it into your story if you’d like.

    • @Dan Chmielewski

      Your notes and all your biases. But please add it to your story Nick. Don’t forget the co-byline

      • Greg Diamond

        I have no idea what you are even trying to say. I’m suggesting that Nick may want to add the link to his post, not the entire story. And “co-byline”? What?

        • RyanCantor

          He’s just chiming in to be himself.

  • Paul Lucas

    JOe Dunn is the only one who responded that has a track record that supports his statements. Lou Correa and Jordan Brandman gave answers that run completely counter to their voting records.

  • David Zenger

    A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Brandman
    was endorsed by the county Republican Party. We regret the error.

    I don’t regret your “error.” It’s hilarious, and PringleCorp is no doubt working that tacit support hard. It won’t help.

    The repuglicans supported Democrat Tom Daly, too – the same miscreant who gave Brandman $25,000 of our money to do a useless, footling report that was grossly plagiarized and had to be completed AFTER “Jordie” cashed all of his checks.

    • @Dan Chmielewski

      Didn’t you want one million dollars of our money and an apology from the board of supervisors for being fired from your county job? But you deserved it, right?

      • David Zenger

        I never took any money for doing nothing. That’s the hallmark of your little boyfriend Brandman. Maybe you didn’t read his “report.” He stole it from Wikipedia. I guess that makes him a double thief. And it makes you a double idiot.

        • @Dan Chmielewski

          You never got your million or your apology because the county wasn’t playing games. You tried to fleece taxpayers for a million — for nothing. Don’t you have another painting to finish?

          • David Zenger

            And don’t you have another appendage to affix your chapped lips to?

          • David Zenger

            Sorry. I should have said “male appendage.”

          • @Dan Chmielewski

            I believe that’s a violation of this site’s terms of service…and evidence you lack imagination. Is your job with Tony full time or are you dependent on your wife’s earnings?

          • Greg Diamond

            This sort of challenge is much more objectionable than telling someone like you to sod off.

          • Greg Diamond

            I read Zenger’s complaint and I don’t think it was an attempt to “fleece” anyone. When you bring a case against a wealthy defendant (especially one spending other people’s money), sometimes you lose. If it had been frivolous, the county would have sought sanctions — and I doubt that they even tried. Your antagonism towards employment law plaintiffs marks you once again as Republican-minded.

            Meanwhile, you didn’t even successfully change the topic from what Brandman did, which — in a county with a living and fair District Attorney — would have led to serious consequences. But you have no real opinion on that because you come up with the conclusion first and then shoehorn in your preferred facts to fit it.

          • Jacki Livingston

            Here, here, Mr. Diamond. When you consider how the County, especially under Todd Spitzer, has stacked the legal deck against any employee seeking justice, it is no surprise that Mr. Zenger got screwed over. Just another case bought and paid for by the lying County “leaders”.

          • Jacki Livingston

            You are joking…right? I have disagreed with Mr. Zenger on a few topics, but are you seriously, and with a straight face, defending the County regarding employee complaints or suits? “…the county wasn’t playing games.”???????? That is all the corrupt politicos of this County do, is play games. They certainly don’t represent the taxpayers with anything that resembles ethics or decency, and they don’t give a rat’s posterior about the taxpayers. Your little snit is a bit disingenuous, especially to employees of the County who have been ground up and spit out by the corrupt “leaders” and their minions. Spare us all the false indignation for the County “leadership”.

      • RyanCantor

        Related exactly how to Mr. Zenger’s critique?

        Thanks for providing yet another example of how to take the low road in politics, Dan.

    • RyanCantor

      Anyone bring that up during this debate?

      I can’t believe ANYONE would vote for someone who plagiarized from Wikipedia to cash a $25,000 check from tax payers.