Norberto Santana, Jr.

A pioneering leader in the nation’s rising nonprofit news movement and an award-winning journalist. Santana has established Voice of OC as Orange County’s civic news leader, uncovered the truths across Southern California governments for more than two decades and reported on Congress and Latin America.

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Amy Goodman is curious about Orange County.

The acclaimed journalist and nonprofit news leader, who produces the award winning, nightly television show Democracy Now from New York City, visits tonight with an audience at Soka University in Aliso Viejo as part of their Critical Conversations series with artists, instigators and thought leaders.

I reached out to Goodman this week to ask about her visit to Orange County as well the background behind the first broadcast for Democracy Now in Orange County – working with a host of talented media arts students at Valley High School in Santa Ana, to telecast live Thursday morning from the school studios.

Goodman has a fascinating background as an investigative journalist – nearly beaten to death in 1991 covering the movement for independence in East Timor, arrested during her coverage of anti-war protests at the 2008 Republican convention, even charged with inciting riots for her coverage of the North Dakota pipeline access protests. Charges against Goodman in both cases (convention and pipeline protests) were dropped.

She also became one of the pioneers of the nonprofit news movement by starting Democracy Now back in 2002, spinning off the enterprise from Pacifica Radio in New York City.

And yet when we connected by phone, Goodman never let me ask her one question about herself.

Instead, she grilled me on Orange County, reviewing the four congressional seats in play across our region as well as the looming Election Day reckoning in Anaheim, where Disney and the city’s resort industry are battling hard for corporate subsidies and against low-wage workers.

The question everyone wants to know is whether Orange County is really changing.

It is.

Just look at the recent survey done by Chapman University professors Fred Smoller and Mike Moodian – one that shows OC is an increasingly purple county, politically.

Yet the biggest question is whether those changing demographics will translate into different ballot box results.

That remains to be seen.

Republicans are hoping that a state gas tax repeal will offer them the same energy next month that it did back in June when they were able to recall State Senator Josh Newman in North Orange County over his vote on the issue.

Democrats are hoping that President Donald Trump’s rhetoric continues to present challenges for the GOP in California while they lay out very different visions on issues like immigration, health care and environmental protection.

At the same time, many residents across Orange County continue to mobilize around local issues – such as living wages in Anaheim, rent controls in Santa Ana, growth limits in Irvine.

Later this month on Oct. 30, I’ll join political reporters with the New York Times and Southern California Public Radio (KPCC) at Chapman University in the City of Orange to talk about these kinds of issues and implications for a variety of races across Orange County and the nation on Election Day.

In North Orange County, voters will decide between former Republican state assemblywoman Young Kim and her Democratic challenger, Gil Cisneros – a former Navy officer who won the lottery and got involved in children’s education – in the battle for an open seat in the 39th Congressional District. Kim’s former boss, Congressman Ed Royce abruptly announced his retirement earlier this year leaving the seat open.

Over on the coast, two seats will pack mailboxes with hit pieces over the next few weeks.

In the 48th Congressional District, 30-year incumbent Republican Dana Rohrabacher takes on his first serious challenger in recent memory in the form of Democrat Harley Rouda – a former Republican from Laguna Beach who switched parties and bested the Democratic-endorsed candidate this summer in the primary as a moderate.

Down in the 49th District, which straddles San Diego and Orange Counties, Democrat Mike Levin, an environmental lawyer who also formerly worked for the OC Democratic Party takes on former Republican State Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, who also served on the State Board of Equalization.

In South County, the 45th Congressional District features incumbent Republican Mimi Walters facing a hard challenge from UCI law professor and Democrat Katie Porter.

It’s not just Congress.

Virtually every countywide office has unprecedented challenges and city races are more contested than ever.

The race for district attorney has been bitter with County Supervisor Todd Spitzer running hard for the seat he should have captured back in 2006 against longtime incumbent Tony Rackauckas – who has faced a series of scandals this past year.

Both are Republicans. Both have baggage. Expect a lot of mail.

For the first time in decades, there’s actually a contested race for Sheriff with incumbent Under Sheriff Don Barnes running against Democrat Duke Nguyen, who is presenting a spirited challenge to a Sheriff’s agency mired in controversy around improper use of informants, taping of inmate conversations, even jail escapes.

While Nguyen is charismatic, presents a compelling case and has relevant experience as an investigator at the LA District Attorney’s office, it’s not clear whether he has amassed the kinds of resources needed to deliver that message to mailboxes across enough of Orange County.

The race for Fourth District Supervisor is super intense with La Habra’s Republican Mayor Tim Shaw taking on Fullerton’s Democratic Mayor Doug Chafee, who both arose from this summer’s top-two primary election.

Cities are also facing contested seats like never before.

Anaheim residents are witnessing a barrage of mailers fueled by millions in Disney and hotelier campaign contributions aimed at installing a pro-resort city council and mayor, which would open up new possibilities for lucrative subsidies that have now been declared dead. Meanwhile, union members are working to get out the vote on a ballot initiative that would force any corporation, like Disney, that accepts subsidies to pay living wages.

In Santa Ana, voters are looking at the first, head to head contested mayoral election in a long time with incumbent Mayor Miguel Pulido facing off against City Councilman Sal Tinajero. Meanwhile, police budget funding has dominated three other council seats up for election at local debates during the season.

In Irvine, voters are looking at a stark set of different candidates who are battling over whether to limit commercial development amidst stiffening city traffic woes. Development issues have dominated the election mail as well as candidate debates.

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