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Orange County’s lone Democrat in Congress, Lou Correa, is making waves by backing a Republican in the hotly contested battle for an open supervisors’ seat in the northern end of the county, near the same voting lines where Democrat Gil Cisneros is trying to defeat Republican former state Assemblywoman Young Kim for a vacant seat in the 39th Congressional District.
“This is a really important seat for us,” said OC Democratic Party Chairwoman Fran Sdao. “This is a Democratic district by a lot. We should have an elected Democratic representative in that (supervisorial) district.”
Sdao acknowledges the supervisor’s race overlaps the 39th Congressional District, but doesn’t think Correa’s endorsement will cause too much harm because the 39th contest is itself driving an unprecedented amount of activity and energy.
The Cisneros-Kim battle is one of four congressional races across the county this year that are making national headlines for their potential to turn over the House of Representatives to a Democratic majority.
In South County’s 45th Congressional District, UCI Law Professor Katie Porter is challenging incumbent Republican congresswoman Mimi Walters. Meanwhile, along the coastal 48th Congressional District, Laguna Beach businessman Harley Rouda is challenging Republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher. And in the far south, 49th Congressional District, Democrat Mike Levin and former Republican state assemblywoman Diane Harkey are battling for an open seat.
In some of these congressional battlefronts, there’s a chance that local, down ballot races like county supervisor, district attorney or state offices could impact voter turnout, even results.
Last month, I wrote how Republicans could have their own ballot complication for the 48th Congressional District, with two prominent Vietnamese elected officials battling each other in the down ballot, 34th State Senate District.
Republican County Supervisor Andrew Do is making his own waves on local Vietnamese radio by supporting Democrat Tom Umberg, who is challenging Do’s former political mentor, Republican State Senator Janet Nguyen in her re-election bid to the 34th State Senate District. Nguyen opposed Do in his 2016 re-election bid against Democrat Michelle Martinez, a Santa Ana city councilwoman.
Correa acknowledges getting blowback on his endorsement of La Habra City Councilman Tim Shaw, a Republican who supports President Donald Trump, for Fourth District County Supervisor. County Supervisors officially are non-partisan offices.
Democratic Supervisors’ Candidate Doug Chafee, who is currently the mayor of Fullerton, told me at a candidate’s debate earlier this month that the endorsement for Shaw from Correa was “all about the money.”
Chafee was alluding to independent expenditure campaigns in recent years by the Pacific West Association of Realtors, where Shaw is a governmental affairs representative.
Chafee argues Correa is just paying back old campaign debts by endorsing Shaw.
Indeed, on most bread and butter county budget issues – like outsourcing vs. using county workers – Chafee is easily more in line with Democratic values and Correa’s own voting record as a county supervisor.
Especially on immigration – where Correa supports the state’s sanctuary law and voted against a board majority that expanded cooperation with ICE at the county jail – Chafee stands much closer to his views.
But Correa says the Shaw endorsement says much more about the candidate than party or Trump.
“I’m not the person people usually call,” said Correa about how endorsements inside the Democratic establishment are handled without his input despite his senior role as highest ranking elected Democrat.
“Now Tim Shaw, I’ve known quite awhile. He called me for an endorsement way back, right after the primary where I endorsed (Democratic challenger) Joe Kerr.”
After the primary, Correa said Shaw resumed contact, they talked through their differences on issues like immigration and he decided Shaw sounded like a moderate on the issue.
“We agreed if people are here in the country to work and follow the laws then they should have the right to citizenship and the right to work hard. His positions were reasonable to me,” Correa said, adding that Shaw is the mayor of La Habra, “which has substantial demographic and ethnic diversity.”
To be clear on what they agreed on immigration, I specifically reached out to Shaw.
“I told him I wouldn’t make it (immigration) a central part of my candidacy,” Shaw said, such as campaign mail around the border wall theme.
“I don’t think it’s practical to deport 10 million,” Shaw said.
“I’m acutely aware my district is very Hispanic and the issue would hit hard with many constituents,” said Shaw who grew up in the area. “So no, I’m not taking a hardline approach. I favor a common sense approach,” he said.
Yet Shaw said he does support jail cooperation with ICE by local authorities and does not support sanctuary actions by local jurisdictions against federal law.
Shaw is unclear on whether he would have voted to join county supervisors in their vote earlier this year to oppose SB54.
What is clear is that after Correa agreed to endorse Shaw, Democrats put the pressure on.
“I was puzzled,” Correa said,
“Chafee? I don’t know him,” Correa said. “Maybe if he wanted my support, he would have introduced himself. This guy (Shaw) has been calling me for a year. Chafee never called me. What does that tell you?
“It‘s not payback, it’s basic human respect.
“Why don’t you introduce yourself?
“When I ran for office, I called everybody.
“If you don’t call, what does that tell you?”
Now, Correa, as a business-friendly Democrat, isn’t very popular at the OC Democratic Central Committee.
OC Democratic Chairwoman Sdao acknowledged Correa’s strained relationship with the party historically but said “Lou has been incredibly supportive of me as party chair and even helpful. I know his heart is with Democrats. This may be an anomaly.”
Yet Correa isn’t the only Democrat that Shaw shows as an endorsement – with Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido and Buena Park Mayor Pro Tem Art Brown, who worked with him on the Orange County Transportation Authority – also backing Shaw.
OC Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker said the Democratic defections show Shaw’s strength as a candidate as well as his ability to work across the aisle.
Sdao said Democrats in Orange County are used to defections. While a central committee member would be removed for endorsing a Republican, elected officials are exempt.
“This is OC,” Sdao said. “We go with the flow.”
While Correa still sees himself as a staunch Democrat, he said he sees a strong need to reach across the aisle, especially on local issues – even if that means throwing endorsements in the other direction.
Correa said he’s often had his own go against him in elections.
“I have endorsed many Republicans and Republicans have endorsed me. And I’ve had Democrats endorse against me,” he said, adding that he still resents when back in 2006, his colleague Lorrie Galloway, who is now running for Mayor of Anaheim, endorsed Republican Lynn Daucher against him in a hotly contested State Senate seat.
“I have friends on both sides of the aisle,” Correa said. “Anybody who believes you only cut deals with Democrats is not being the best legislator they can be.”