This election year, instead of having local politicians and their media consultants tell Orange County voters what wedge issues should drive their voting habits – largely through, hit mail – Voice of OC will work to put resident in the drivers’ seat, publishing a quality-of-life survey that can offer side-by-side comparisons of candidates on real issues. 

The idea is to offer each politician vying for local office a chance to answer real-life questions and have their answers stand right next to their competitors for residents to review before they vote. 

A virtual car show of sorts for candidates, a stage where all challengers are welcome. 

Our aim is to pose about a dozen locally-focused, quality-of-life questions to every candidate vying for many of the main local offices up for election: District Attorney and Judges, county Board of Education and superintendent, along with three county supervisor seats. 

While our newsroom has drafted questions for these candidates, we also want to hear from readers this week before we send out a final version of questions next week.  

Readers are encouraged to email questions for candidates to our County Reporter Nick Gerda at ngerda@voiceofoc.org

We’ll give candidates a few days to fashion responses and expect to publish our election guide by May 18th, a full two weeks before the primary election on June 7. 

Sadly, these days finding side-by-side comparisons are much easier to find for refrigerators than for local political leaders.

The era of public debates for candidates seems to be vanishing with few civic groups hosting debates and more politicians – especially incumbents – finding that they can skip debates altogether with little political fallout.  

With such an assault on the public’s right to elect intelligent, ethical leaders, we are hoping our newsroom can help establish a different tradition in Orange County, one where our political leaders are asked serious questions about how they can improve our quality of life – before votes are cast. 

While national and state elections largely follow scripts right out of political and advertising capitals, this year there are a host of important local elections in Orange County that really impact our local quality of life.

[Click here for a link to all of our draft questions for candidates.]

Got a question you want asked of the candidates? Email Voice of OC reporter Nick Gerda at ngerda@voiceofoc.org 

Deciding Who Gets Prosecuted: The Local District Attorney

Few races directly impact local quality of life as much as the local district attorney. 

Here in Orange County, our incumbent Todd Spitzer finds himself in the midst of a series of swirling controversies raising serious questions about his judgment and win-at-all-costs approach to elective office, an ethos he campaigned against. 

So far, Spitzer has dominated fundraising and endorsements in the race.

His main challenger, Pete Hardin, brings a light resume and one that is already generating adverse headlines about alleged problems with how he views women in work settings. 

The two other challengers – Michael A. Jacobs and Bryan Chehock – have a very limited fundraising base and thus little ability to deliver a message to a large audience. 

Our questions for these candidates hover around what they’ll do to keep OC communities safe, how they’ll handle people arrested for crimes related to being homeless, mentally ill or addicted, and address a crisis of confidence in the criminal justice system.

Here’s a link to our draft questions for the four candidates vying to become Orange County’s next DA. 

Got a question you want asked of the candidates? Email Voice of OC reporter Nick Gerda at ngerda@voiceofoc.org 

Checking the Sheriff and DA: The Local Judge

Competing with the DA for the most direct impact on local quality of life is the local judiciary, the folks who call balls and strikes in the courtroom.

The judges also serve as a check to the local sheriff, prosecutors and defense attorneys – and enforce the rule of law when it comes to lawsuits, conservatorships, divorces and child custody disputes. 

Despite their high profile impact, few local offices are more shadowy in terms of their records or how they fundraise for office and seek endorsements.

This year, there are nearly 10 contested judicial races with eight open seats. 

Most candidates are current and former deputy DAs, which means this year many carry the stain of what looks to be systemic violations of their ethical duties in order to get successful prosecutions. 

Nowhere is the issue playing out – largely to a small audience – more than in the races for Superior Court Judge, Offices No. 22 and 11, where two senior DA officials are on the opposite sides of a brewing scandal regarding race-based decisions allegedly made about prosecutions

For Office 22, Senior DA prosecutor Brahim Baytieh is facing off against two challengers: Fred Fascenelli and Craig E. Kleffman.

For Office 11, Chief Assistant DA Shawn Nelson is vying for office against Marc Gibbons. 

Our questions for judge candidates hover around what they see as the biggest challenge facing the local justice system, what they see as their biggest mistakes in their professional career – and what they did to address them.

Here’s a link to our draft questions for the 24 candidates vying to become Orange County’s next judges. 

Got a question you want asked of the candidates? Email Voice of OC reporter Nick Gerda at ngerda@voiceofoc.org 

Enhancing Regional Quality of Life: Meet Your Local County Supervisor 

When it comes to enhancing residents’ quality of life, there’s few local elected offices that can have a more direct impact than county supervisors, who oversee homeless and public health services in their districts.

Collectively overseeing an $8 billion county budget, the five supervisors exert vast influence in their districts as unofficial mayors of sorts working through the county CEO’s office to get the most services and infrastructure for residents in their districts. 

In recent years, county supervisors have been challenged on their handling of the pandemic response across Orange County as well as spending of federal relief dollars

This year, there are three seats up at the same time, with only one incumbent running for re-election in the same district, offering voters a real opportunity to direct change on the board dais.

It’s also the first year county supervisors are running for office under the newly drawn districts. 

The outcome will determine whether Republicans hold on to a majority of supervisor seats, or if Democrats take a majority for the first time since the 1970s.

Central OC’s 2nd District Supervisor

In central OC’s heavily Democrat 2nd District – centered on Anaheim and Santa Ana – two Democrats are facing off against two Republican challengers and an independent.

The Democrats are Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento and Garden Grove Councilwoman Kim Bernice Nguyen.

The Republicans are Orange Councilman Jon Dumitru and former Santa Ana City Council members Cecilia “Ceci” Iglesias.

Also in the race is former Santa Ana Councilman Juan Villegas, a former Republican who switched to no party preference starting in 2016.

Our questions for these candidates hover around handling homelessness, what they’d do about other parts of the county “dumping” homeless people onto the streets of Santa Ana through the county jail, and how they’d address the shortage of open space for local residents.

Here’s a link to our draft questions for the five candidates vying to become the next county 2nd District County Supervisor. 

Got a question you want asked of the candidates? Email Voice of OC reporter Nick Gerda at ngerda@voiceofoc.org 

North County’s 4th District Supervisor

This race for a heavily Democrat district features an intra-party battle among Democrats, whose county party opted to endorse against their own incumbent, Supervisor Doug Chaffee.

Instead, the OC Democratic Party is backing Buena Park Mayor Sunny Park, taking issue with Chaffee’s record of voting frequently with his Republican supervisor colleagues on key issues.

Republicans, in contrast, have coalesced around Brea Councilman Steven Vargas.

Our questions for these candidates hover around what they’d do to address traffic and road conditions, and whether they support more development in the hills of unincorporated north county.

Here’s a link to our draft questions for the three candidates vying to become the next county 4th District Supervisor.

Got a question you want asked of the candidates? Email Voice of OC reporter Nick Gerda at ngerda@voiceofoc.org 

South and Coastal OC’s 5th District Supervisor

This newly redrawn seat is seen as the lynchpin for whether Democrats or Republicans have the majority of supervisor seats come next January.

Incumbent Supervisor Katrina Foley – backed by the county Democratic Party – is facing off against three Republicans in the primary: former state Assemblywoman Diane Harkey (backed by the county GOP), state Sen. Pat Bates (backed by the major GOP fundraising group Lincoln Club) and Newport Beach Councilman Kevin Muldoon.

Our questions for these candidates hover around toll road extensions, skyrocketing rents for working class boaters at the county-run Dana Point Harbor and the handling of nuclear waste at San Onofre.

Here’s a link to our draft questions for the four candidates vying to become the next 5th District County Supervisor. 

Got a question you want asked of the candidates? Email Voice of OC reporter Nick Gerda at ngerda@voiceofoc.org 

Local Control, Charter Schools & Future of OC Board of Education

While many other elections will eventually set up two-person contests for November, county school board races will be decided in June. 

In the past, the board traditionally stayed out of the limelight, but board members’ outspoken opinions on a series of issues including masking in schools, COVID-19 restrictions and multiple legal battles with the superintendent over control of the budget have pushed them into center stage as one of the most controversial races that will be decided on the June ballot. 

The board does not have the power to dictate local school curriculum, but does approve charter school applications, transfers between school districts, and approves the annual budget for the county department of education. 

OC Board of Education, Area 2

In the board’s 2nd District, Mari Barke is running with the OC Republican Party’s endorsement to keep her seat, against two challengers who don’t have backing from either of Orange County’s major political parties. 

On the board, Barke has been a strong supporter of expanding charter schools – a position she has pledged to continue supporting if re-elected. Her husband Jeff Barke is also the board chair of the Orange County Classical Academy, a charter school in Orange he helped create. 

Martha Fluor, one of Barke’s opponents, is running on the promise to end a series of lawsuits between the board and the county superintendent, advertising her decades of experience on the Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board for why she was a better pick.  

Christopher R. Ganiere, an architect from Costa Mesa and member of the county’s Libertarian Party, is also running for the seat. 

Here’s a link to our draft questions for the nine candidates vying to control Orange County’s Board of Education. 

OC Board of Education District, Area 4

The seat is currently held by Tim Shaw, who was elected in 2020 as a strong advocate for charter schools with backing from the county Republican Party. But instead of serving a four year term, Shaw resigned at the end of 2021 to avoid a lawsuit. 

His colleagues on the board then re-appointed him to the seat after his resignation, a move an Orange County Superior Court Judge recently ruled may have broken state laws, resulting in a temporary suspension from the board for Shaw, but his name will remain on the ballot. 

Read: Tim Shaw Temporarily Removed From the Orange County Board of Education

Because Shaw resigned, this election will determine who gets the remaining two years on his seat. 

Shaw’s most prominent opponent is the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate Paulette Chaffee, wife of county supervisor Doug Chaffee, who used to work as a public school teacher and as a lawyer. 

She called off her previous bid for a Fullerton City Council seat in 2018 after she was caught on video stealing her opponent’s campaign signs and the city’s police department referred the case to the district attorney. 

Business owner Ellisa Kim is also running for the seat, and while she doesn’t have a campaign website she published a ballot statement that can be read here

Accountant David Choi is also running, but hasn’t published anything about his campaign.

OC Board of Education District, Area 5

Lisa Sparks is running to hang onto her seat on the board for what would be her second term, and while she doesn’t have a campaign website she pledged to fight for parental rights on curriculum and health decisions in her ballot statement, which can be read here

Her opponent is Sherine Smith, a longtime local school administrator who served as Laguna Beach Unified School District’s superintendent from 2010 to 2016. 

Smith received endorsements from the local Democratic Party and says she’s running to block “career politicians (using) our schools as tools for their corrupt political agendas,” on her website.  

Got a question you want asked of the candidates? Email Voice of OC reporter Nick Gerda at ngerda@voiceofoc.org 

OC Superintendent of Schools 

For the first time in over 20 years, Orange County voters will have a vote on the county superintendent, who manages the local department of education and its $300 million budget. 

Al Mijares, the current superintendent vs. Stefan Bean, a former charter school superintendent.

Read: OC Voters Asked To Pick Their County Schools Superintendent For First Time In Over Two Decades

Our questions for these candidates hover around their positions on charter schools, 

Here’s a link to our draft questions for the two candidates vying to control Orange County’s Department of Education. 

Got a question you want asked of the candidates? Email Voice of OC reporter Nick Gerda at ngerda@voiceofoc.org 

Countywide Elected Leaders Who Aren’t Being Challenged for Re-Election

Sheriff-Coroner Don Barnes and county Treasurer-Tax Collector Shari Friendenrich are incumbents who didn’t draw any challengers this year.

Joining them in the no-challenge club are all 37 judges who were up for re-election this year. Not a single one drew a challenger, meaning they won re-election automatically and do not appear on the ballot.

The candidates who do appear on the ballot are all running for open judge seats, where the incumbent is not running for re-election.

And the recalled Lake Forest Councilman Andrew N. Hamilton is headed for election as the next auditor-controller as his only challenger, former State Senator John Moorlach, did not file to run for office amid doubts about his eligibility.

Hamilton will be deciding whether to take back the auditing functions of his elective office, something county supervisors took away from his political mentor, former Auditor-Controller Eric Woolery. 

Incumbent Assessor Claude Parrish has drawn two challengers with limited budgets to campaign across a county of 3 million people, a population that Parrish gets visibility with every time he sends out a tax bill, which is twice a year.

Despite those long odds, local residents Larry Bales and Richard “Rick” Foster are taking on Parrish. 

Incumbent Clerk Recorder Hugh Nguyen is another local independent elected official who gets a chance to have high name identification with voters because local taxpayers see their names regularly.

He has drawn two different challengers – Steve Rocco and Sandy Kimble – who face similar challenges getting out a countywide message on limited budgets.

Voice of OC reporters Nick Gerda and Noah Biesiada contributed reporting.

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Since you've made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

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