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Next year’s competition is already underway for powerful Orange County supervisor seats that shape billions of dollars in spending on law enforcement, homelessness, and mental health services.
The 2022 election has the potential to shape the Board of Supervisors’ balance of power for years to come, since a majority of the five supervisor seats are up for grabs.
So far, seven candidates have announced plans to run for the three supervisor posts up for election in next June’s primary.
Supervisors Doug Chaffee and Katrina Foley are up for reelection next year, while Supervisor Lisa Bartlett will be termed out.
Each district’s voting demographics is up in the air, with the district lines set to be redrawn before the election.
Regardless, the county Republican and Democratic parties are gearing up for a tough fight as local elections have become increasingly competitive – and they’re preparing to marshall money and door-knocking for the candidates they eventually endorse.
“We are gearing up for 2022, which will be our most competitive election to date,” Orange County Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker said in a recent message to party members.
“Already the Democrats are recruiting some of the most far left candidates to bring the national Democrat agenda to Orange County,” Whitaker said. “We must defeat them and we must defeat them soundly.”
Local Democrats say their goal is to gain a majority on the Board of Supervisors – by flipping the south county 5th District seat and holding on to the two supervisors seats held by Democrats, both of which are up for re-election next year.
“We are focusing on taking a majority of the Board of Supervisors, protecting our current seats, and looking at pushing the 5th District forward,” said Ada Briceño, chairwoman of Democratic Party of Orange County.
“We are laser focused on that…pushing forward for victors in those seats,” she added.
A Big X Factor: Redistricting
There’s also an element of uncertainty hanging over the election: the upcoming redrawing of district lines by the current county supervisors – that likely will affect which political party and candidates have the voter registration advantage in individual districts.
“The big elephant in the room is redistricting and how that goes,” said Tim Shaw, a Republican member of the county Board of Education who ran for the 4th District supervisor seat the last time it was up in 2018.
In effect, the supervisors will be reshaping which voters will be casting ballots in their districts for the next 10 years. That redistricting process that will pay out after detailed U.S. Census data is released in August or September.
“It’s not my current plan to seek another office next year. Things [can] change of course,” Shaw said.
“I guess we’ll have to see how that [4th] district turns out.”
Who’s Running So Far?
The two supervisor seats generating competition so far are the south county 5th District seat – currently held by Republican Lisa Bartlet – and the coastal 2nd District seat held by Democrat Katrina Foley.
The 5th District race so far has drawn two Republicans – former state Assemblywoman Diane Harkey and Mission Viejo Councilman Greg Raths – as well as one Democrat, former firefighter union president Joe Kerr.
Among Harkey’s endorsements is the largest spender on county supervisor elections – the deputy sheriff’s union.
Bartlett is termed out.
Although a proposed ballot measure would change that law and let her run for re-election next year, if placed on the ballot by supervisors and approved by voters during the upcoming governor recall election.
Supervisors are scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to put it on the recall ballot.
The 2nd District race has drawn two Republican challengers to Foley so far: Huntington Beach Councilman Mike Posey and Newport Beach Councilwoman Diane Dixon.
And in the north county 4th District, whose voters have increasingly shifted to Democrat, no one has opened a fundraising committee so far besides the incumbent, Democrat Doug Chaffee.
But that could change depending on how the district lines are redrawn – and whether that makes the district more competitive.
Will Hot-Button DA’s Race Play a Role?
Also in the background of next year’s election is a heated District Attorney race between the Republican incumbent Todd Spitzer and his Democrat challenger Pete Hardin in a race that’s drawing national attention as local DA races become battlegrounds for what the criminal justice system should look like.
“I do believe we’ll see a lot of candidates align with one [DA] candidate or the other. It’s going to be a hot-ticket race in the coming year,” said Mike Moodian, a Chapman University public policy researcher who closely follows local politics.
“Orange County in the coming year is going to be a microcosm, it’s going to be the latest example of what we’re seeing across the nation of a closer focus on DA races … an ideological debate that’s playing out across the country right now about the role of DAs, the role of the court system, and who we’re incarcerating, and whether this is a society that is a just society.”
Already, there’s signs that other candidates are looking to publicly support a particular DA candidate, with Sheriff Don Barnes – also up for election next year – joining Spitzer for an event focused on the DA’s campaign theme of “Don’t L.A. My O.C.”
What the Candidates Have to Say
Voice of OC contacted all of the declared supervisor candidates for comment.
In the 2nd District, Posey said he would offer a smart approach of being pro-police while also handling county finances conservatively.
“I think that the biggest strength that I have is that I’m a pro-public safety candidate that’s also a fiscal conservative,” Posey told Voice of OC.
“My vote to give the Huntington Beach Police Department a raise last year was based on sound economic principles … And I think that’s what the county needs, is a strong advocate for public safety and a strong conservative voice.”
Foley said she’s been delivering for her district – including with making sure vaccines are accessible – and addressing ground-level issues like street sweeping and parking in unincorporated Rossmoor.
“We’re working harder than anybody’s worked in this office for years,” Foley said.
“We’re serving the district in a way it hasn’t been served in more than a decade, solving community problems, putting forth initiatives to revive our economy, caring for our most vulnerable residents. And there’s no reason to make a change.”
In the 5th District, Kerr said he would focus on bringing more funding to OC from Sacramento after decades of the county not getting its fair share back in tax dollars.
“I think we have an opportunity to bring more resources back from Sacramento” for the Sheriff’s Department, OC Fire Authority, parks and “overcrowded roads,” Kerr said, adding that he’d “like to be a little more employee-centric.”
“They’re the experts at what they do…they know the efficiencies of their job,” he said of county employees.
Efforts to interview Dixon, Harkey, Raths and Chaffee were unsuccessful.
If history’s any indication, winning a supervisor election isn’t be cheap – with successful campaigns sometimes costing north of $1 million.
The candidates’ fundraising for the first half of this year is scheduled to come out late July when disclosure reports are due.
“These candidates have to raise tremendous amounts of money to be competitive in these races,” said Moodian.
Next year’s primary election is scheduled for June 7, with runoffs in November for any supervisor seats where no candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.