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It’s been an unusual election for Orange County supervisor, which is now in its final week.
A prime example comes from following the money.
A Voice of OC review of spending in the coastal 2nd District race shows spending is dominated by union-funded ads against John Moorlach, the Republican Party-endorsed candidate.
For the first time in recent memory, Orange County sheriff deputies are trying to block the Republican-endorsed candidate from winning an OC supervisor race.
And they’re spending big. Bigger than anyone else.
The deputies’ union, which is the largest county-level campaign spender in OC’s recent history, has spent about $240,000 so far against Moorlach. When he previously served as supervisor from late 2006 to early 2015, Moorlach unsuccessfully tried to overturn deputies’ pension increases and opposed raises.
A host of other labor groups are also spending against Moorlach – including the county general employees’ union, which has spent nearly $200,000 on ads opposing him.
The only other significant spending on another candidate is around $65,000 supporting Katrina Foley, the Democratic Party-endorsed candidate, and another $58,000 against her.
The supportive spending for Foley coming from unions representing OC Fire Authority firefighters and hotel and restaurant workers.
The opposition to Foley is mainly funded by conservative and GOP groups like the Lincoln Club of Orange County and former California GOP Chairman Mike Schroeder.
But the union spending against Moorlach is dominating independent expenditures on the election.
About 80 percent of the $670,000 that’s been reported so far is going against Moorlach.
Voice of OC reached out to several union leaders, Moorlach, Foley and candidate Janet Rappaport for comment about how the campaign contributions played out.
The deputies’ union president, Juan Viramontes, didn’t return a request for comment, nor did Foley.
Moorlach said he’s long faced heavy spending from public employee unions over his efforts to protect taxpayer finances from unsustainable pension benefits.
“Public safety unions can be very antagonistic when you are not in their pocket,” said Moorlach, who is battling a coronavirus infection and said he could not be interviewed on the phone, but emailed a detailed statement to Voice of OC.
“The stories of Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger come to mind,” he added, referring to two former Costa Mesa councilmen who were placed under surveillance by a private investigator working for the city police union’s law firm.
“The voters have a clear choice of which way Orange County should go. With someone who will be fair to employees when it fits within the budget with me,” Moorlach wrote. “Or with someone who will give them anything they want, regardless of the budget implications.”
The general employees’ union – which represents about two-thirds of workers at the county government – said Moorlach “represents Orange County going backwards.”
“This is a critical time in our County’s history. This requires a vision for the future, not a retread from the past,” said Charles Barfield, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
“From his votes against vaccines, his hypocritical positions on pensions or his failure to lead during COVID John Moorlach is not the man for this moment,” he added. “Mayor Foley on the other hand, is not only looking towards the future, she has the track record to prove it.”
Meanwhile, a leading GOP donor group has been spending to support a little-known Democrat in the election – and reported expenses in a way where it doesn’t show up in the county disclosures for the race.
The Lincoln Club of Orange County – one of the most prominent Republican campaign organizations in the county – spent $2,000 supporting Janet Rappaport, an attorney and registered Democrat who has never held elected office before.
Rappaport is the only Democrat running against Foley, the mayor of Costa Mesa who’s been endorsed by the Democratic Party of Orange County.
The Lincoln Club also spent $8,000 opposing Foley.
John Warner, president of the Lincoln Club of Orange County, didn’t return phone messages for comment.
Rappaport, who has raised about $30,000 for her campaign, said the GOP group’s $2,000 of support for her was “tiny” and “inconsequential.”
“I can’t tell you the particular motivation for the very tiny Lincoln Club contribution,” Rappaport told Voice of OC on Monday, adding that she would like to think it’s because they support her messaging.
“They’re clearly backing a Republican candidate. And I don’t really know any more than you know. I just – I see the reports,” Rappaport added.
“It is a travesty of democracy to allege that a candidate running for an office is splitting a vote,” she said, nothing that one-third of voters in the 2nd District have chosen not to register as Democrat or Republican.
“I don’t see it that way and I don’t think the voters of the 2nd District see it that way.”
That’s prompted concerns among GOP leaders that their candidates will split the vote and hand the seat to Foley.
“If we don’t come together, we risk losing this long held Republican seat to a disastrous far-left alternative, Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley. We cannot let this happen,” GOP Chairman Fred Whitaker said in a recent message to party members.
“If we are to defeat Katrina Foley, John Moorlach is the clear choice,” he added.
Meanwhile, there’s frustration within the local GOP over Whitaker’s quick moves in November for an early endorsement of Moorlach, right after Moorlach had lost his state Senate re-election.
A major split has emerged among OC’s Republican leaders over who should win the hotly contested seat.
Most Republicans on the county Board of Supervisors broke with their county party and endorsed Muldoon, despite GOP efforts to coalesce around Moorlach.
Muldoon and Vo are among those who have said the party failed to give other candidates a true opportunity to seek the party’s backing.
So far, early voting has tilted Democrat, despite there being more GOP voters in the district. As of Monday, Democrats had cast 24,921 ballots, to Republicans’ 24,100.
Republican and Democratic Party leaders have each declared the race a massive priority heading into 2021.
At stake in the election is whether Republicans can maintain their 4-1 supermajority on the board, or if Democrats can craft a more competitive 3-2 dynamic on the dais.
The election outcome will have a big impact on the board’s debates this year around the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing the maps that decide which voters are in each supervisor’s district. Supervisors have a mid-December deadline to approve the final maps.
The 2nd District vacancy was expected ever since Michelle Steel succeeded in flipping the 48th Congressional District from Democrat Harley Rouda in the November election.
While Election Day is scheduled for next Tuesday, March 9, it will be the final day of about a month of voting.
Under the official schedule, voters could cast mail-in ballots as soon as Feb. 8.
Some in-person vote centers are opened Feb. 27, with the rest scheduled to join starting this Saturday and running through Election Day next Tuesday.
Click here for more information from the OC Registrar of Voters about the election, including options for casting your ballot if you’re legally eligible to vote in the district.
Database: Major Spending in the 2nd District Race
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.