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It’s the Orange County sex scandal that few wanted to talk about.
This past week at the OC GOP Central Committee monthly meeting, County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett lit the fuse, publicly challenging a proposed central committee endorsement of Republican State Assemblyman Bill Brough – who was apparently the subject of intense rumors last year when the state legislature was gripped by a series of sexual harassment allegations against several legislators.
OC GOP Party Chairman Fred Whitaker reportedly acknowledged and discounted those rumors last week to the central committee annual election endorsement meeting in Costa Mesa for the 73rd State Assembly District race, arguing Brough deserved an endorsement for re-election given his reliable conservative votes in the state legislature.
Then, according to those at the meeting, Bartlett stood up in front of the central committee audience and after taking public issue with Brough’s positions on the local Toll Road Authority, said that the harassment rumors about Brough were more than just rumors.
Bartlett stunned the audience, saying Brough had previously victimized her back when both served on the Dana Point city council, adding that she still suffered nightmares from the experience.
OC GOP central committee members then agreed to hold up Brough’s endorsement for further review.
According to several sources, Brough has since withdrawn his request for an endorsement.
Is it the beginning of the end for Brough?
Or – given that we are in the Age of Trump and Brough is reportedly calling this a set-up – are we all in for a long, uncomfortably hot, look this summer at the dark underbelly of Orange County politics?
I first heard about the issue mid-week, after the central committee meeting, getting tipped off to an interesting statewide Republican blog, RightOnDaily.com, that took direct aim at Brough as a hard-drinking, partier with aggressive hands around women.
“Bill Brough’s life is starting to unravel as is this budding scandal with multiple alleged victims. Add AD73 to the list of GOP seats that could be imperiled by the coming election,” concluded the blog’s author, Aaron F. Park.
“The OCGOP appears to be a dumpster fire and Fred Whitaker, the OCGOP Chairman is being forced to exert leadership contrary to his record for being a weak conflict avoider. The decisions the OCGOP make in the next year could very well determine if Orange County will turn Red Again or become a democrat stronghold.”
Most troubling is the comment that Park’s conclusion about how the OC GOP operates, saying, “it is clear to this blogger that Brough has had enablers covering for him for years.”
I immediately reached out to Brough and his professional staff in Sacramento for a comment last week and they declined to engage.
That’s never a good sign.
In an interview with the Orange County Register that was published Friday afternoon, which highlighted two other women with complaints about Brough, the state assemblyman from Dana Point denied Bartlett’s allegations calling them politically motivated saying she was just trying to get him out of the picture.
Bartlett, who is running for the 36th State Senate District seat now held by Sen. Pat Bates, is also not talking to Voice of OC.
California Speaker Anthony Rendon, whose office oversees harassment investigations into lawmakers, also did not return calls last week seeking comment on whether his office has any knowledge of investigations into Brough.
And just to round out the hush parade, OC GOP Chair Whitaker is also not talking.
That’s a real shame because the one thing we were supposed to have all learned from the Carlos Bustamante scandal at the county Hall of Administration back in 2012 – where a rising star of the OC GOP was destroyed by sexual harassment allegations – was that this kind of harassment by elected officials – usually targeting women – should always be exposed and confronted.
Indeed, at the county government, the entire affair triggered the establishment of an investigation process, an immediate outside review involving contract attorneys to immediately investigate any allegations of harassment against elected officials or top public sector executives.
Just last year, the Orange County Labor Federation itself had to publicly confront similar issues, ultimately taking action after a similar legal investigation and firing Executive Director Julio Perez.
This past week, Central Committee member and former Villa Park city council member Deb Pauly herself attempted to take action on the Brough issue, sending out an email notice before Monday night’s central committee meeting, where she argued forcefully for a thorough look at the state assemblyman for the 73rd district before any move to endorse.
“I cannot be at tonight’s meeting, but I understand that our party chairman has dug in his heals with regard to the endorsement of Assemblyman Bill Brough for his reelection bid,” Pauly wrote.
“This particular endorsement MUST be sent to the Ethics Committee for investigation. If the party endorses, it will blow up in our faces.
“Please, remember what happened to our party’s image when we endorsed Mike Carona. Let’s not go down that path again.
“I was relieved when we broke ranks from the chairman as he pushed for the endorsement of his friend, Judge Scott Steiner for re-election, even after he had been caught in extramarital sexual relations with interns and his former law students in his judge’s chambers during the work day.
“I’m begging you to send this matter to Ethics, if no one else has the common sense to remove it from tonight’s agenda.”
OC GOP leaders ultimately ignored Pauly.
And paid a price.
Now, it’s up to Brough and the OC GOP to immediately address what’s going on here.
Voters have a right to know the details of what’s been alleged against Brough as well as his defense.
If he is being set up, it’s important that we all understand how this has played out and why.
And if the story is different, then Brough needs to start thinking about a different career path.