The hottest sparks so far in this year’s election cycle are coming from a coastal congressional race seemingly way off on the horizon, out in 2018.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher last Friday reached out to me and other reporters like Orange County Register Political Columnist Martin Wisckol, taking direct aim at longtime friend and former OC GOP Chairman Scott Baugh – who was vying to succeed – now maybe challenge in 2018 – Rohrabacher in Congress for the 48th Congressional District.

Rohrabacher didn’t waste any time swinging for Baugh’s political head, going after his campaign donations.

He wants his donors back.

“I am disappointed to hear that Scott Baugh has been raising money for a 2018 campaign against me,” Rohrabacher said. “Scott Baugh represented to me and many of my supporters/donors that he would never run against me and was only raising money for when I retire. Baugh now seems to be evolving out of that commitment. I hope that he would return contributions from those who were assured it would never be used against me.”

The rift cuts to the heart of the OC GOP and features a marquee list of high level insiders – once close friends – now cast as foes.

I reached out to Baugh, who emailed me back to me saying he was out of the country with sporadic cell coverage but would try to reach out Monday.

Mike Schroeder, a former state GOP Chairman who lives in Newport Beach and is  close to both Rohrabacher and Baugh, stood with Rohrabacher on Friday when I spoke with him, calling out Baugh’s tactics.

In contrast, Jon Fleischman – an Anaheim Hills resident and former California GOP executive director under Schroeder’s term – stood with Baugh in his publisher’s column Thursday on the Flash Report, saying Rohrabacher told Baugh in front of him that he was done and wouldn’t seek re-election in 2018.

Rohrabacher, in a press statement Friday, lashed out at that contention.

“I very much enjoy and am honored to represent my constituents in the 48th Congressional District,” Rohrabacher stated. “My only plans are to continue to do so in 2016, 2018, and beyond. There has been some recent speculation as to appointments if there is a new Republican administration, they are simply speculation at this point and not part of my plans. I can think of nothing more important than serving my constituents and my country in the United States Congress. It’s an honor and a privilege.”

On Monday, Schroeder emailed me to add an even more interesting twist to this race: Supervisor Michelle Steel. Her husband, Shawn Steel, is super close to Schroeder and is himself a former past state GOP Chair and current Republican National Committeeman from California.

“If there is a race, I will be with Michelle (way awkward, but is what it is),” wrote Schroeder.

He also underscored his position on Baugh hasn’t changed.

“Anyone who gave money to Scott being told that Scott would never run against Dana should get there money back unless Scott reverses course and says he wont run against Dana ever,” Schroeder wrote.

Now, in contrast, the race for an open slot in the 46th Congressional District this November is one big snoozer so far, with candidates seemingly focused more on insider endorsements and fundraising rather than engaging each other.

Last week, the two top candidates – former State Senators Lou Correa and Joe Dunn – skipped altogether one of the first debates of the year – sponsored by Santa Ana-based group Connect-to-Council, the chambers of commerce of Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Fountain Valley, and Anaheim, as well as the Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce, and Santa Ana College.

It’s vitally important that other community groups follow up these valiant efforts to get our elected leaders talking.

And keep them talking.

Voice of OC is working with a diverse coalition of community groups as a media sponsor for an upcoming forum on the 46th Congressional District race next month.

Our hope will be to help structure a dialogue that’s actually useful to voters and residents in terms of offering real insights into the leading candidates in time to make important decisions in June.

Yet despite the importance of debates, town halls and forums, we’re also realizing that it’s even more important to get you talking.

Thanks to a competitive grant sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Voice of OC is launching a year long Involvement Initiative.

We’ve already significantly expanded our community Op-ed content bringing in a host of new voices to ongoing public policy debates throughout our communities.

Later today, we’ll also be launching a civic calendar function, which allows interested readers to really be able to track public meetings on a weekly basis.

In addition, we’ve also launched a press release section – where government agencies, community groups and political campaigns can tell their own stories.

Lastly, we’re committed to hearing directly from you and have launched a monthly open house during downtown Santa Ana’s popular Arts Walk (the first Saturday of each month) where we invite the public and readers to stop by our offices and also check out all the cool artists who open their studios at the Santora Arts Building (also our HQ).

We’re also working on launching a robust paid membership program later this year that will packaging unique content aimed at civically active residents and also offer special opportunities to interact with the newsroom.

In the meantime, if you haven’t already, sign up for your free membership, while it’s still free…

And let me offer one last word on involvement.

Often times, government agencies are able to kill debates and discussion long before elections happen.

We find that government agencies are increasingly holding back key public documents from reporters so that when elections come, there’s not much to hold these elected officials accountable.

That’s why we’ve established the Voice of OC Litigation Fund.

We’re in the midst of our second major lawsuit in the last five years – seeking to unearth some critical emails and a public statement written by County Supervisor Todd Spitzer about his confrontation at a local restaurant that county officials have kept secret.

We want you to get to see it.

And we believe the law is on your side.

If you agree and want to ensure a robust defense of access to local documents, feel free to invest in our effort directly.

It isn’t just during elections or wartime that we have to stand up and defend our democratic rights.

It’s a full-time job.

And it requires all of us to work together.

Correction: In an earlier draft of this story, Jon Fleischman was misidentified as a Rancho Santa Margarita resident. We regret the error.

Since you've made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *