Who Will Represent Orange County’s Coast on the Board of Supervisors?

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Huntington Beach on Jun. 30, 2020.

As Orange County’s coastal communities gear up for a special election that’s just a few months away, the field of candidates is coming further into view for replacing Michelle Steel as the 2nd District county supervisor.

Three Republicans are now officially running for the seat: John Moorlach, a former state senator and county supervisor for the 2nd District; Huntington Beach Councilman Mike Posey; and Newport Beach Councilman Kevin Muldoon.

No Democrats are known to have announced runs as of Monday for the district – where Republicans outnumber Democrats in voter registration. Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley, a Democrat, has been strongly considering jumping in but hasn’t yet decided.

Moorlach, who previously represented the district for eight years on the Board of Supervisors, officially announced his run last week and has earned several endorsements from prominent conservative groups.

“We’ve already gotten the endorsement of the New Majority and the Lincoln Club of Orange County and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association,” Moorlach told Voice of OC in an interview Monday. “They’re amazing endorsements.”

“That’s my former seat, so you don’t have to send a novice in. You know, you can send in someone who fully appreciates and understands the job,” he added, pointing to his expertise in municipal finance.

“I want to make sure we can have a sustainable budget and address the future concerns that still linger, like the increasing pension contributions and trying to figure out what happens to the budget thanks to the economic lockdown due to Covid-19.”

Posey points to his fiscal experience in finding a way to fully fund the Huntington Beach Police Department budget this year, including raises for officers, by deferring plans to add positions at the department.

In an interview Monday, Posey said he’s continuing to run for the 2nd District seat, and that he’s ready to commit his own money for his bid.

“I’m prepared to put $100,000 of my own money” into the campaign, Posey said.

Muldoon, who reportedly will be attending a fundraiser this week for his run, didn’t return a message seeking comment.

The Republican field of candidates narrowed after Moorlach expressed interest in running, with Huntington Beach Councilman Erik Peterson and Newport Beach Councilman Will O’Neill deciding not to run.

“We’re trying to clear the field,” Moorlach said. “Erik Peterson and I had a good conversation and he’s backing out for me. Will O’Neill and I had the same. I know that others have been talking to Michael Posey and Kevin Muldoon.”

Peterson, a Republican who had been running and fundraising for the seat, said he bowed out because Moorlach is a strong candidate, and that coalescing around him will help the GOP hold on to the 2nd District seat. Peterson also called on the other Republican candidates to drop their runs.

“He has the experience and everything we need,” Peterson said of Moorlach. “And I think he’s really a big enough name that my fellow Republicans should get out of the race, and then it will be just him and whoever the Dems run. And I just think it’s our best chance for keeping the seat.”

“It’s not about me, it’s about the best thing for the county and the way to keep the seat, and I think John can do that,” he added.

“With this whole Covid thing and how it’s just decimated businesses and tax revenue streams and everything coming into the county and municipalities, I think [Moorlach] can be an asset to us at the county in the next couple of years as we come out of this.”

O’Neill also is backing Moorlach.

“John Moorlach is a solid conservative whose ability to pull together coalitions is well known and well demonstrated in the past couple of weeks,” O’Neill told Voice of OC on Monday.

“This special election just wasn’t the right timing for my family or me, especially while I remain focused leading our city through the current crises.”

Katrina Foley, a Democrat who was just re-elected as mayor of Costa Mesa, said she’s been focused on swearing in the new City Council and the Thanksgiving holiday and is still weighing whether to jump into the 2nd District race.

“I’m still trying to navigate whether it’s the right decision and whether or not there’s an appetite [among] my supporters for funding it,” Foley told Voice of OC on Monday. “That’s a big part of it.”

With OC Supervisor Michelle Steel heading to Congress, a special election for her seat will be held in the first few months of the new year – likely March – though a date hasn’t officially been set by county supervisors.

Republicans have a 5 percentage-point advantage in voter registration in the 2nd District, which includes the cities of Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Cypress, Seal Beach, Stanton, Buena Park, Los Alamitos, and La Palma, and unincorporated Rossmoor.

The voter registration breakdown is 38% Republican, 33% Democrat and 29% with no party preference or members of smaller parties.

The stakes are high for both political parties, with county supervisors deciding next year how their district lines will be drawn for the next decade, on top of their yearly choices for how to prioritize billions of dollars in taxpayer funds.

The redistricting process is expected to get underway in the coming months, culminating with supervisors approving a final map of new districts by a mid-December 2021 deadline.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at [email protected].