One of the hottest local election battles of 2020, the 1st District Orange County supervisor race, pits incumbent Republican Andrew Do against Democrat Sergio Contreras, a Westminster councilman, for a seat on the county’s powerful Board of Supervisors.
County supervisors have enormous influence over public health policy, such as during the coronavirus pandemic, and decide how to prioritize $7 billion in annual spending between law enforcement, homelessness, mental health, social services and health care.
The outcome will decide whether Republicans keep their 4-to-1 supermajority on the Board of Supervisors, or Democrats pick up a seat, which would craft a 3-to-2 Republican majority. That could change the power dynamics on key issues, with some types of actions require yes votes from four of the five supervisors.
The 1st District seat encompasses Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Westminster, the northern part of Fountain Valley, and unincorporated Midway City.
Do is facing a highly competitive re-election in a seat where Democrats now hold a 17 percentage-point advantage in voter registration, an even wider margin than the 14 percent when Do narrowly won re-election in 2016 by 0.4 percent of the vote.
Do’s biggest financial backer, by far, is the union representing OC sheriff’s deputies, which has spent more than $855,000 promoting him this year – the most any group or individual has spent supporting any candidate for the 1st District seat in years.
Do voted last year for $151 million in raises for sheriff’s deputies, and moved $24 million from departments like the Health Care Agency to pay for sheriff cost overruns.
Contreras is backed largely by trade unions, the Orange County Labor Federation and individual donors, with most of his support coming in contributions of $2,100 or less.
Do has run on a campaign that he’s led the county towards safely reopening businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, while Contreras says Do and the other supervisors have failed in responding to the crisis by undermining public health experts.
Homelessness has been another major campaign issue. Do says he’s been solving homelessness and wants to continue doing so, while Contreras says the county has failed to move fast enough to create affordable housing to get people off the streets.
Do is currently under investigation for money laundering over campaign cash transfers last month involving the county Republican Party. The party’s chairman has declined to comment about it, and Do has declined the allegations while declining interview requests.
Do also has declined to comment on longstanding allegations he’s been illegally living outside the 1st District, in a larger home he and his wife own in North Tustin.
Contreras has also been accused of wrongdoing that he’s denied. In 2016, the then-police chief of Westminster filed a legal claim leveling a host of corruption claims against top city officials, including allegations Contreras pushed city staff to fix a water leak on a private residential property to benefit a friend.
The city paid $500,000 to the former chief, Kevin Baker, to settle the claim. Contreras called allegations about him “absurd half-truths” and “a ransom note,” by someone “looking for a payday.”
In the heavily Democrat-leaning district, both Do and Contreras’ campaigns have sought to link their opponent with President Trump. Do’s campaign has claimed Contreras appointed a “dangerous far right Trump Republican to City Council,” while Contreras’ campaign alleges “Trump Republican Andrew Do is failing Orange County.”
Democrats have been outpacing Republicans 2-to-1 in early ballots cast as of Oct. 20, with about 24,000 Democrats voting so far, 11,000 Republicans and 10,000 voters with no party preference.
About 80 percent of voters in the 1st District had yet to cast a ballot, according to county election officials.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at [email protected].