GOP still losing ground in O.C., and Latinos, young voters are responsible

Thanks to young voters and the growing Latino electorate, Republicans’ once massive advantage in Orange County’s voter registration has fallen to 2.8 percentage points and is expected to continue to fade.

The GOP long billed Orange as “America’s Most Republican County,” peaking in 1990 when it had a 22-percentage point lead. By time Trump was elected, the edge had shrunken to 3.7 points and the county, overall, favored the Democratic presidential nominee for the first time since 1936.

Democrats have held steady over the past three decades with about a third of the county electorate, but Republicans have steadily lost market share as more voters register with “No Party Preference.” The latest statistics posted by the county Registrar of Voters finds the GOP at 36.9 percent, Democrats at 34.1 percent and No Party Preference at 24.7 percent.

Voters under 35 are a major reason for the shift away from the GOP

In 2002, 42 percent of that age group registered as Republican and 29 percent as Democrats. Today, just 22 percent sign up as Republicans while 38 percent favor the Democratic Party, according to Political Data Inc. That doesn’t bode well for the GOP’s future as voters tend to retain their original party affiliation, according to Political Data Vice President Paul Mitchell.

In fact, county Democrats also now outnumber Republicans among those ages 35-44. Democrats’ advantage among that group is 6 points.

In 2016, when I last analyzed the county’s voter registration demographics, Fullerton College political scientist Jodi Balma told me the change was due to Republican social policies falling out of favor with young people. Compared to their parents, younger voters today are far more likely to have grown up with friends who are openly gay or who are known to be in the country without proper documents — and that portion of the electorate continues to grow.

“Millennials in particular are socially liberal and one-third don’t have a religious affiliation,” Balma said.

Latino, Asian voters

Latinos in Orange County — and the rest of the state — have been overwhelmingly Democratic since the fallout of Proposition 187. The 1994 measure, pushed hard by the GOP and approved by a majority of state voters before it was thrown out by the courts, called for a ban on public services for those in the country illegally, including schooling.

The county breakdown of Latino voters is 53 percent Democrat and 18 percent Republican, according to Political Data Inc.The Democratic share of Latino voters has remained steady since 2002 but the GOP share has slid from 28 percent, with the balance shifting to No Party Preference.

But perhaps the bigger impact of Latinos on election results is their growing overall share of the county electorate. In 2002, they accounted for less than 13 percent of registered voters. They are now 20 percent and growing.

Also growing is the Asian share of voters, now at 15 percent. The Republican advantage in that group is shrinking dramatically and now is at a single percentage point, down from 6 points just two years ago, according to Political Data Inc. As with voters countywide, the shift is generational: Those under 45 favor Democrats while older ages prefer the Republican Party.

GOP advantages

It’s not all roses for Democrats. They’re still outnumbered in the county and the two groups they’re strongest with — young voters and Latinos — are also those least likely to vote.

Additionally, Republicans continue to dominate county and city offices as well as school and water district boards. That gives the GOP a disproportionate influence over local politics and provides the party with a farm team of seasoned candidates for higher office.

Democrats see opportunity in the county’s four Republican congressional offices. In 2016, a Democrat nearly upset Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, whose district includes part of south Orange County. And Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in all four districts.

But that GOP farm team could prove its worth. In the races for the seats of outgoing Reps. Issa and Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, just one of the 14 Democrats to take out candidacy papers has held elected office — a community college board member. Of the 13 Republican hopefuls, nine have held elected office — four state legislators, two county supervisors and three city council members.

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Partisan politicians break bread at CSU Fullerton dinner

The Buzz is the Register’s weekly political news column.

Dick Ackerman recounted spending $4 million, while he was state Senate Republican leader, trying to get Assemblywoman Lynn Daucher elected to the upper house in 2006. It was an intense campaign with plenty of negative campaign ads — including many targeting the eventual winner, Democrat Lou Correa.

“It didn’t matter. He still won,” Ackerman told the bipartisan crowd gathered Thursday for an awards dinner honoring icons of Orange County’s political history.

“But we’re still friends.”

From the audience, Correa — now a congressman — shouted his agreement, “Yes we are!”

Ackerman, one of the event’s honorees, and Correa have long been known for their across-the-aisle camaraderie and their ability to set aside political differences before they become personal. The refreshing display of congeniality characterized Thursday’s dinner from start to finish.

Sponsored by CSU Fullerton’s Center for Oral and Public History, the event attracted a broad range of political luminaries, including the heads of both county parties, past and present state legislators, mayors and council members, candidates, consultants and major donors.

“I like it because there isn’t any partisanship,” said emcee Rose Espinosa, a La Habra councilwoman. “Everybody is joking with everybody else.”

Another honoree, longtime former chairman of the Democratic Foundation of Orange County Wylie Aitken, regaled the Summit House crowd of about 150 with stories — and offered a particular tip of the hat to the former Senate leader.

“If there were more politicians like Dick Ackerman, we’d all be talking a lot more,” Aitken said.

Also honored was the late Tom Fuentes, longtime chairman of the county GOP.

Schipske leaves race

One week after former Assemblyman Tom Umberg announced he was joining two fellow Democrats challenging the reelection bid of state Sen. Janet Nguyen, R- Fountain Valley, Democrat Gerrie Schipske said she was dropping out.

Some consider Umberg the better known and better connected of the two. But Schipske — a former Long Beach councilwoman and former executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County — attributed her decision to a blod clot in her right eye.

“This medical condition has made campaigning difficult in recent weeks,” she told supporters in an email Wednesday. “I used to think I could do it all, but at this point, it’s best for me to end my campaign in order to devote more time to taking care of myself.”

Without naming Umberg, she noted “another Democratic candidate has entered the race and … will ensure Sen. Janet Nguyen has a challenger.”

Also running is a little-known Democratic activist, Jestin Samson.

GOP endorsements

Republican Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey, running for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, won the endorsement of Republican Party of Orange County Feb. 26 following a candidate forum. Party Chairman Fred Whitaker said a single dissenting vote was heard in the voice vote of the county GOP’s governing Central Committee.

However, Harkey may find it harder to win the state party endorsement, which would make her the party’s official candidate and would be noted on the sample ballots mailed to all candidates. The district straddles the Orange-San Diego countyline and the Dana Point resident would also have to win the San Diego GOP’s nod to be considered for a state endorsement.

But San Diego has two strong candidates of its own in the race, Assembly Rocky Chavez and San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar. There are five Democrats in the race, none of whom won their state party’s endorsements decided Feb. 25.

Also receiving the two-thirds vote required from the Orange County GOP Central Committee for an endorsement were state Senate candidate Ling Ling Chang and Assembly candidate Alexandria Coronado.

Chang is running in the recall election of Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton. Should Newman be recalled, the ballot will also ask who should replace him. Republican Bruce Whitaker, a Fullerton councilman, is also vying for the post.

Coronado is the only Republican so far challenging Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton.

 

 

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Umberg jumps into state Senate race, gets attacked by Republicans

The Buzz is the Register’s weekly political news column.

Former Assemblyman Tom Umberg has joined the Democratic field to challenge Republican state Sen. Janet Nguyen, bringing strong credentials — and immediately drawing a harsh attack from the California Republican Party.

The attorney served in Sacramento’s lower chamber twice, from 1990 to 1994 and again from 2004 to 2006. He is a retired Army colonel and former federal prosecutor who was deputy drug czar under President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2000.

“I’m running for state Senate because I believe that our community needs a strong fighter in Sacramento who will stand up to President Trump and his administration on important issues like health care, immigration, energy, the environment, civil rights, education and consumer issues,” Umberg said in a Wednesday statement announcing his candidacy.

But in addition to his accomplishments, Umberg has seen his share of setbacks. He’s lost four elections, including a third-place finish in a special election for county supervisor in 2007 (Nguyen won) and losing a 2006 state Senate race to fellow Democratic Lou Correa by nearly 20-percentage points.

The 2006 loss came a year after Umberg, who’s now been married 36 years, made headlines for acknowledging he’d had a four-year affair with a woman he said he met through Democratic Party activities.

The attack

Republicans seized on the losses, the affair and the fact that he just moved into the Nguyen’s district. Umberg changed his voter registration from his Villa Park house to a Santa Ana apartment Feb. 17, according to elections office records. He announced his candidacy four days later.

“Umberg is an admitted philanderer, carpetbagger and four-time campaign loser,” said Nguyen campaign consultant Dave Gilliard in a statement issued by the state GOP.

“You would think the powers in Sacramento could have found a better candidate, but instead it’s just business as usual.”

Voters will actually have three Democrats — plus Republican Nguyen — to choose from in June’s open primary, the current field remains constant through the March 9 filing deadline. The other two are Gerrie Schipske, a former Long Beach City Council member and former executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County, and activist Jestin Samson.

The district reaches from south Long Beach to Santa Ana, and includes virtually all of Little Saigon. Despite Democrats having a nearly 10-percentage point advantage in voter registration, Nguyen won election over Democratic former Assemblyman Jose Solario by 16-percentage points in 2014.

The rebuttal

Umberg defended himself against the attack of carpetbagging by saying he first moved into the district in 1989, that his children had attended school in the district and that he represented large swaths of the district while in the Assembly.

“No one has more experience in the district than me,” he told me.

As for his affair, he noted that the news was 13-years old.

“I admitted to a wrongful relationship,” he said. “I’m sorry for the pain I caused then. I love my wife and I’m grateful everyday for her.”

Appointments

Meanwhile, three Orange County Republicans have recently received appointments or reappointments from Gov. Jerry Brown.

Michael Mohler, 45, of Anaheim, has been tapped to be deputy director of communications at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. He had been the southern region public information officer since 2014 and has been with the department since 2004. The job pays $125,000.

Frances Inman, 71, of Santa Ana, has been reappointed to the California Transportation Commission, where she has served since 2010. Inman is the president of  Majestic Realty Foundation. The post requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $100 per diem.

John Carvelli, 55, of Newport Beach, has been reappointed to the California State Athletic Commission, where he has been chair since 2015 and has served as a member since 2013. He is executive vice president at LIBERTY Dental Plan. The post requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $100 per diem. Carvelli is a Republican.

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O.C. congressman waylaid by budget, misses Olympics

The Buzz is the Register’s weekly political news column.

If House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce had a message for North Korea when he saw Kim Yo-jong at the Olympic Games, he didn’t get the chance to relay it.

The Yorba Linda Republican had been named to the White House’s seven-member delegation to the Games, led by Vice President Mike Pence. Others included Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. and U.N. forces on the peninsula, and Marc Knapper, interim Charge d’Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.

Kim, sister and envoy of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, was seated behind Pence at the Feb. 9 opening ceremonies. But Royce, the only Congress member named to the U.S. delegation, was still in Washington, voting for the budget bill to boost military spending and keep the government from shutting down.

“To my friends in South Korea, let me say congratulations on a great Olympic games,” Royce says in a short Twitter video posted the evening of the vote, offering a greeting in Korean.

He also addressed U.S. athletes in two languages, encouraging them to “bring home the gold,” then thanking them in Korean.

Meanwhile at the opening ceremonies, Kim and Pence were sitting an arm’s length from one another but did not interact.

“I didn’t avoid the dictator’s sister, but I did ignore her,” Pence said in a video posted on Axios. “I didn’t believe it was proper for the USA to give her any attention in that forum.”

The White House said the decision not to talk was mutual between the two countries. Nonetheless, the apparent thaw between North and South that may be extending to the U.S.

With leaders of both Koreas making overtures about holding a summit, South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday said the U.S. had expressed a willingness to talk with North Korea — an apparent shift in the Trump Administration’s position.

“American officials were more guarded, saying they were open to talks but not a full-fledged negotiation,” according to The New York Times.

Royce, in his final year of Congress before retiring, has sounded open to talks but has expressed extreme caution.

“If the talks (between North and South) are going on during the Olympic Games in February, maybe that quiets the neighborhood there for a bit. But my main concern is that South Korea not give away anything such as resources or money to North Korea in any of these talks,” Royce told Fox News on Jan. 5. The following week, he told Fox News, “I am for increasing the sanctions and the pressure on them at this time… you have to have that sustained pressure that comes from sanctions and our diplomatic efforts.”

Upcoming

CSU Fullerton’s Center for Oral Public History will honor three of the county politicos from years past at its annual dinner celebrating the county’s political history. Honorees at the March gala will be former state Senate GOP Leader Dick Ackerman, former Democratic Foundation of Orange County Chairman Wylie Aitken and the late Tom Fuentes, longtime former chairman of the county GOP. Tickets for the event, to be held at Fullerton’s Summit House, start at $100. For more information, visit fullerton.edu/ocpolitics.

Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley’s Election Academy, held every election year since 2010, will be on six successive Wednesday evenings beginning March 28. It covers every thing from candidate filing to ballot processing to voter outreach to security and tallying votes. The class is free and the deadline to apply is March 14. For more information, visit ocvote.com/community/orange-county-election-academy.

The California Democratic Party will hold its statewide convention Feb. 23-25 in San Diego. Among the orders of business is considering endorsements for Democratic candidates in the districts of Congress members Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Beach; Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa; and Darrell Issa, R-Vista. For more information, visit cadem.org/convention.

 

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Many GOP House candidates wary of embracing Trump

If you want to know what Republican congressional candidates think about President Donald Trump, you might be out of luck.

Mid-term House elections are often considered a referendum on a first-term president, a dynamic that’s especially true this year. But political veterans say it’s a no-win situation for GOP hopefuls in Southern California to stake out a clear position in support of or opposition to Trump — and many candidates seem to be taking that sentiment to heart.

Of the 11 GOP candidates running for the seats being vacated by retiring Reps. Ed Royce, R-Yorba Linda, and Darrell Issa, R-Vista, only four agreed to rank Trump’s performance on a scale of 1-5. Four others did not respond to any of six Trump-related questions about Trump emailed several times by the Southern California Newspaper Group.

“They aren’t going to come out and denounce him because they don’t want to alienate his supporters. And they don’t want to wholly embrace him because they want to win in November,” said Claremont McKenna University political scientist Jack Pitney, a former GOP congressional aide. “Trump is toxic in the suburbs and he’s probably less popular now than two years ago.”

Royce and Issa won reelection in 2016 and Republicans have the edge in voter registration in those districts. But Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by more than 7-percentage points in both places. While Trump outperformed expectations in some blue-collar areas that often vote Democratic, Pitney and political consultant Mike Madrid both noted that the districts of Royce and Issa feature more college-educated, white-collar voters.

“These are quality-of-life Republicans who have concerns with environmental issues; women’s issues,” said Madrid, who works mostly with Republican candidates. “Additionally, Trump is not a traditional Republican. If you buy into him today, you have no idea what position he’s going to take tomorrow.

“It’s a precarious position for Republican candidates to put themselves in.”

The best-known and most-accomplished GOP candidates in the Royce and Issa districts all declined an invitation to rank Trump’s performance to date. Former state Senate GOP Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, and San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar did not respond inquiries. Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson of Fullerton, former Assemblywoman Young Kim of Fullerton and Board of Equalization Member Diane Harkey of Dana Point answered other questions about Trump, but declined to give him a score.

Political consultant Dave Gilliard is working with Kim and Harkey.

“Neither felt comfortable giving a score like that so early in his term,” Gilliard said. Kim, Harkey and Nelson all praised regulatory reforms of the president, with Kim and Nelson also applauding the tax-reform package. When prompted, all three also expressed reservations with some aspects of the presidency.

The four candidates who did offer a score were all strongly supportive of the president.

Two of those running for Royce’s seat, Brea Councilman Steven Vargas and accountant John Cullum, were the only respondents who said they supported Trump from the outset of the 2016 presidential campaigns. Cullum gave Trump the highest score of “5” and Vargas offered a “4,” saying, “There is always room for improvement.”

La Mirada Councilman Andrew Sarega, who initially supported Ted Cruz, and San Juan Capistrano Councilman Brian Maryott, who initially backed Marco Rubio, also gave Trump a “4.” Joshua Schoonover, an attorney who’s never held elected office and is running for Issa’s seat, declined to participate.

House control

Democrats are targeting all four Orange County seats held by Republican Congress members, making the region ground-zero for the effort to flip the 24 GOP seats necessary to take control of the House.

The non-partisan Cook Political Report has handicapped the Royce and Issa districts as “leaning Democrat” in this year’s races. Royce’s district reaches from Orange County into Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties’ while Issa’s straddles the Orange-San Diego county line.

The reelection bid of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa, is rated a “toss up” by Cook and that of Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Beach, is “leaning Republican.”

With more than three dozen Democrats mounting bids in the four races, an early approach to sizing up the field was to look at who each supported in the 2016 presidential primary. Ten of the 11 Democrats in the Royce and Issa districts agreed to answer the query by the Southern California News Group. They were evenly divided between Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

But the 2016 primary has largely been left behind in voters’ minds, while Democratic candidates continue to focus attacks on Trump.

In the Royce and Issa districts, Democrats had been tying the incumbents to the president by pointing to votes in support of Trump measures — until those incumbents’ January announcements that they would not seek reelection. Faced with no incumbents in those races, and a subsequent surge of new GOP candidates, the Democratic challengers have continued to attack the president directly but have also increasingly sought to define their own candidacies.

According to Madrid, the large primary field of Republicans will come down to the same sort of candidate identity, not the degree to which they support Trump.

“If there were only two Republicans in a race, with one tied closely to Trump, it could make a difference,” said Madrid. “But in a large field, it’s not going to make any difference what they think. It’s going to come down to their experience in the district, where they stand on local issues and their personal connections. I would recommend candidates campaign on local issues.”

Republican Nelson, hoping win Royce’s post, seems to be embracing that approach.

“It’s intellectually lazy to label a person simply by whether you equate them to another person,” said the second-term county supervisor. “Every one of these races and every one of these districts is unique. I can only be me.

“How about you give me the issue and I’ll tell you where I stand?”

Trump vs. Pelosi

November’s general election presents a broad range of scenarios depending on what happens in June. The top-two style of open primary means voters can cast a ballot for any candidate, regardless of party affiliation, and that the two top finishers advance to November even if they’re from the same party.

Both parties have large primary fields right now — at least six Republican and seven Democrats are running for Royce’s seat, with five from each party vying for Issa’s post. The filing deadline is March 9, meaning two weeks remain for the candidate field to shrink or grow.

If both sides have similar-sized fields, it increases the likelihood of a Republican and Democrat advancing. If one party has just two strong candidates and the other has a large field with support spread somewhat equally, it increases the possibility of a general election with two candidates from the same party.

Currently, the most likely scenario for November is a Republican and a Democrat in both races. GOP consultant Madrid doesn’t see Republicans or GOP-leaning independents voting against the Republican candidate, regardless of their support for Trump. By backing a Democrat, they’d be voting to help Democrats and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi take control of the House — and possibly launch impeachment proceedings.

“If this is a referendum on Donald Trump, it’s a referendum on whether your prefer Donald Trump to Nancy Pelosi,” Madrid said.

Madrid himself left the presidential ballot blank in 2016 and is supporting Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa for governor. “As a Latino, I can’t support anybody who supports Donald Trump,” he said of his aversion to the GOP governor candidates. But he doesn’t see many other Republicans taking that posture.

A key factor come November will be which party sends the most voters to the polls.

With the current fields for statewide offices, Democrats could wind up with two candidates on the state’s general election ballot for both governor and U.S. Senate, similar to 2016 when two Democrats faced off for U.S. Senate. That would dilute Republican motivation to vote while Democrats could be particularly motivated by those races and a broad dislike of Trump, Pitney said.

“It’s very likely Republican turnout will crater in November,” he said. “Democrats have reason to be optimistic.”

 

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Jay Chen surges in Democratic congressional field

Five Democratic candidates had been working relentlessly since last summer to build the campaigns to unseat GOP Rep. Ed Royce of Yorba Linda, holding dozens of meetings and fundraisers, collecting $1.5 million in contributions and loaning their efforts another $5.4 million.

Then Jay Chen walked onto the scene and appears to have become the instant favorite.

Two days after Royce’s Jan. 8 announcement that he would not seek reelection, Democrat Chen declared his candidacy and immediately began attracting a wave of supporters. When Democratic central committee and club members gathered for a Jan. 27 straw poll, Chen received 47 percent of the vote. That was short of the 50-percent threshold required to be considered for the state Democratic Party endorsement, but well ahead of the 28 percent received by second place finisher Phil Janowicz.

As the only elected official in a field of mostly first-time candidates — including three who didn’t live in the district when they entered the contest — Chen’s experience in the district is paying dividends.

Chen, 39, has lived in Hacienda Heights for most of three decades and has developed a particularly strong base in the north part of the district, which straddles the Orange-Los Angeles-San Bernardino county lines. He was on the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District board from 2007 to 2015. He was then elected as a trustee to the Mt. San Antonio College board, where he continues to serve.

He also mounted an ultimately futile challenge against Royce in 2012, losing by 16 percentage points despite raising nearly $600,000 and pitching in $200,000 of his own.

Fran Sdao, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Orange County, hasn’t claimed a favorite in the race but acknowledged that Chen has learned the ropes in ways the others haven’t.

“He’s got name recognition, he’s been around, he knows the drill and he knows people who know the drill,” Sdao said of Chen’s surge to the front of the field.

Chen also got the attention of GOP political consultant Dave Gilliard, who worked for Royce on the 2012 campaign and is on board this time with former Assemblywoman Young Kim, who Royce has endorsed to take over his seat.

“My take is that (Gil) Cisneros and Chen are the leading Dems at this point,” said Gilliard.

Over the years, philanthropist and lottery winner Cisneros has built a strong network in the region and in Washington, D.C., with his foundation to help kids from underprivileged communities go to college. He’s shown the ability to both raise money and to self-fund, and his endorsements include one of Chen’s fellow college board members, seven members of Congress and actors Eva Longoria and George Lopez.

Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, has endorsed both Chen and Cisneros.

Two questions

The first of the two big questions for Chen is why he waited so long to get into the race.

Beside family concerns — his wife was working full time and his youngest child wasn’t yet in day care — Chen said the dynamics of the race against Royce left him with little reason to join the pack of candidates that entered early.

“The field was crowded,” said the Harvard graduate, Navy reservist and owner of a real estate investment and management business. “I wouldn’t stand a better chance against Royce than anybody else. Royce would lose if there was a wave against (Donald) Trump.

“But now you have a field of Republican elected officials who don’t have ties to Trump, who haven’t cast votes in Congress supporting Trump. Democrats can no longer simply run against Trump. You’re running against Republicans who have their own history and record in the county.

“You have first-time Democratic candidates, most of whom haven’t lived in the district long. I didn’t think it was a strong field. And I have name recognition for my years of service in the community.”

The second question is why Chen expects a different outcome than his double-digit loss in 2012.

He pointed out that there will be no incumbent advantage this time, that the Republican edge in voter registration has shrunken from 8 percentage points to less than 2 points, and that Royce’s $4.5 million in spending outpaced him to a degree unlikely to occur in this race. Chen, a Bernie Sanders delegate to the national convention in 2016, also said he’s a more experienced politician now.

Chen is the son of Taiwanese immigrants, and speaks Mandarin and Spanish. The district is 30 percent Asian/Pacific Islander and 33 percent Latino, and Chen sees ethnic voters as holding the key to victory.

“(Democrats) are only going to win if we can attract people who usually don’t vote,” he said.

At least nine Democrats have taken out candidacy papers in the race. Royce had been the only Republican until his retirement announcement, which opened the GOP floodgates. Brea Councilman Steve Vargas took out papers Jan. 30, joining five fellow Republicans who’d declared candidacies soon after Royce bowed out: Kim, former state Senate GOP Leader Bob Huff, Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, La Mirada Councilman Andrew Sarega and accountant John Cullum.

By March 9, the filing deadline, we’ll know who’s in for good.

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Democrat House candidate likes some Trump policies

The Buzz is the Register’s weekly political news column.

Ted Rusk is probably not going to get lost in the crowd.

With 25 Democrats running against Orange County’s four incumbent Republican Congress members, it’s easy to lose track.

Rusk? He may be one of six Democrats challenging Rep. Ed Royce, R-Yorba Linda, but he’s the only candidate who promises — as a protest — to not to vote on any bill, instead using media interviews to promote his views that Congress is dysfunctional and overly influenced by special interests. His criticism includes Democrats on Capitol Hill.

“These Dems from NYC and SF suck!” he said via email. “They ain’t got a lick of sense! They are old. They are sell-outs and they need to retire so we can close the border, bring our jobs back, end the war and get some real, honest-to-god socialized medicine!”

And from his campaign website: “I joined this party of ‘love and inclusion’ but for the last few years I have seen nothing but hatred and division.”

He thinks D.C. Democrats should help give President Donald Trump the border wall he wants in exchange for amnesty for those in the country illegally, provided they haven’t been convicted of crimes. He agrees with Trump that U.S. trade policies have cost the country well-paying factory jobs.

“Now we hate the president so much that we won’t even consider any of his ideas are any good because his personality sucks and he belongs to the other party,” he says on his website.

While he may not vote on bills, he plans to introduce a few, which would variously call for a massive increase in the size of Congress to as many as 10,000 members, the sale of Amtrak to Carnival Cruises, removal of federal laws against marijuana and allowing “Viagra-like” drugs to be sold over the counter for $1 per pill.

Rusk, 54, was born and raised in Indiana. Like most of his neighbors there, he initially registered as a Republican. He changed parties and voted for Al Gore in 2000, and said the GOP was “too old fashioned; racist; (had) too much religion in it, (and was too pro-) business.” He voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 California primary but sat out the presidential race because of his dissatisfaction with the candidates.

“This is certainly the low point in American history in my adult lifetime,” he writes on his campaign website. “We have allowed politicians and special interests to form us into sad, pathetic, neurotic, paranoid, unhealthy and unhappy citizens.”

The Cerritos construction contractor’s frustration with the political system led him to self-publish a book, “We, the People,” in 2011, encouraging everyday people to take a more active role in politics in order to change the system and promoting a direct democracy in which voters cast ballots on issues before Congress.

Other Democratic candidates in the tri-county race include lottery winner and education philanthropist Gil Cisneros, former congressional aide Sam Jammal, former chemistry professor Phil Janowicz, businessman Andy Thorburn and pediatrician Mai Khanh Tran. Also running are two independents, business systems analyst Julio Castaneda and freelance journalist Stephan Cox.

Governor’s picks

Gov. Jerry Brown has appointed two new judges, both Democrats, to the Orange County Superior Court.

Jeremy Dolnick, 45, of Ladera Ranch, had been a senior deputy alternate defender at the Orange County Alternate Defender’s Office since 2013 and as a deputy alternate defender there from 2004 to 2013. Dolnick has a law degree from Pepperdine University School of Law. He’s filling the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Jamoa A. Moberly.

David J. Hesseltine, 47, of Tustin, had been a senior appellate attorney at the Fourth District Court of Appeal since 2010 and was a senior legal research attorney at the Orange County Superior Court from 2004 to 2010. His law degree is from the University of San Diego School of Law. Hesseltine fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Andrew P. Banks.

 

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Political spotlight will shine on O.C. in 2018

The Buzz is the Register’s weekly political news column.

The new year could redefine the political reputation of Orange County, long known as “America’s Most Republican County.” Here are the big stories to watch.

Battle for the House

Orange County is at the heart of Democrats’ effort to take control of the House of Representatives. Twenty-four seats would need to be flipped and the county is home to four of the targeted districts, thanks to the county’s shifting demographics and to Hillary Clinton winning all four of those GOP-held congressional districts in 2016.

So far, there were 32 challengers for those four seats — including 25 Democrats who backed up their aspirations with several million dollars of early fundraising last year.

Several prominent handicappers have tagged the races of Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa, as tossups. Tougher for Democrats will be incumbent Reps. Ed Royce, R-Yorba Linda, and Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Beach, who won by broad margins in 2016, have largely steered clear of controversy and have identities distinct from President Donald Trump.

The growing legion of anti-Trump activists, meanwhile, are largely motivated by a passionate dislike for the president and pounce on every opportunity to link GOP incumbents to the commander in chief.

Republicans traditionally vote in higher proportions than Democrats in mid-term elections. Democrats’ fortunes will depend heavily on whether millennials, minorities and women turn out in large numbers, as all three groups now favor Democrats in the county. Additionally, if current polling holds, two Democrats — and no Republicans — will be vying for governor in November, which wouldn’t help GOP turnout.

A wild card will be whether strong GOP challengers emerge in any of the four districts. The large Democratic fields could open the door for two Republicans to advance out of the top-two open primary, shutting out Democrats’ hopes for November.

Rohrabacher’s run

Rohrabacher’s district has the biggest GOP lead in voter registration of any county House seat, 41-percent Republican to 30-percent Democrat. But the 15-term incumbent, who’s long marched to his own drummer, has been attracting headlines that have led many activists and handicappers to consider him a ripe target.

The venerable Roll Call news outlet listed him as the fifth most vulnerable House member, largely because of those headlines. Among them:

Rohrabacher downplayed Trump’s lewd Access Hollywood comments, has met with people linked to the Kremlin and advocated friendlier relations with Russia, met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, had his aide to a Foreign Affairs subcommittee fired and has seen his travel and hearing requests get greater scrutiny from the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Republican leadership.

More headlines in 2018 are possible: News reports in December said the FBI as well as the House and Senate Intelligence Committees wanted to talk to him about his meeting with Assange.

Orange turning blue

Republicans’ advantage in the county’s voter registration peaked in 1990 at 22 percentage points. By 2010, it was half that and shrinking fast.

By the 2016 election — in which the county voted for the Democratic presidential nominee for the first time since 1936 — the margin was 3.8 points. It’s now 3.3 points with a myriad of Democratic clubs and resistance groups launching voter drives.

While Democrats may not surpass Republicans in voter registration this year, it appears to be only a matter of time.

Latinos are 34 percent of the county’s population and 18 percent of registered voters, with the electoral growth trend expected to continue as more become citizens and more reach voting age. Of those Latino voters, 53 percent are Democrats, 21 percent are Republicans and 26 percent are independents or third party members, according to a Political Data Inc. analysis in 2016.

In 2002, voters under 35 were 42 percent Republican and 29 percent Democrat. By 2016, they were 36 percent Democrat and 26 percent Republican, with the rest independent or third party.

Newman recall

County Republicans are largely playing defense so far this election cycle, particularly in terms of their four House seats and their voter registration advantage. But a key GOP offensive is their effort to recall freshman state Sen. Josh Newman, R-Fullerton, which has attracted Republican support from throughout the state.

Newman upset Republican Ling Ling Chang in 2016, helping give Democrats a two-thirds majority in both statehouse chambers. That enabled the party to pass new taxes without a single GOP vote.

In 2017, they raised the gas tax and vehicle-license fee to fund a 10-year, $52-billion roads and transportation improvement package, getting the bare minimum of votes for passage with one Democrat opposed and one Republican in favor.

Newman voted with the majority and was quickly targeted for a recall based solely on the new tax. The effort qualified and is expected to go before voters on the June ballot.

Newman was chosen because he is considered the legislative Democrat most vulnerable to being replaced by a Republican, thereby breaking the supermajority in the Senate.

“Lions don’t attack every gazelle,” said activist and San Diego talk radio host Carl DeMaio, who has helped lead the recall. “They attack the one that’s slowest and weakest and they work together, as a team, and share the meal.”

A new sheriff

In each of the last two decades, the county has elected a new sheriff — and it will do so once again in 2018 when Sandra Hutchens steps down after 10 years in the post.

Hutchens’ tenure has not been quite as troubled as that of predecessor Mike Carona, who spent 4 years in federal prison for corruption. But while she was initially embraced as a stabilizing force, the past couple years have seen rough waters.

Both the state and federal justice departments are investigating alleged misuse of jailhouse informants by the Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s Offices. There’s been criticism of the lax protocols that may have contributed to the escape of three inmates in 2016. And early this year the ACLU issued a scathing report on the county jails, citing excessive violence and unhealthy living conditions while calling for Hutchens to resign.

The top contenders for the job are Hutchens’ second in command, Undersheriff Don Barnes, and Aliso Viejo Mayor Dave Harrington, a retired county Sheriff’s Department sergeant.

Barnes, who represents a continuation of Hutchens’ policies, has endorsements from Hutchens, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, three of the five county supervisors, former county GOP Chairman Scott Baugh, four Republican Congress members, five Republican state legislators and 19 local mayors and council members.

Harrington, running as a reform candidate, has far fewer high-level GOP endorsements, but does list backing from 26 local mayors and council members. Many of those supporters represent cities that contract with the Sheriff’s Department for police services and have expressed concerns that they may be overcharged for those services.

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One gas-tax repeal effort gains steam, another is fading

The Buzz is the Register’s weekly political news column.

Assemblyman and gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen was the first to prepare a ballot measure calling for the repeal the state’s new gas tax, but a second proposal is gaining momentum while Allen’s is poised to die.

The Huntington Beach Republican submitted his plan to state elections officials in June, but has since been engaged in legally wrangling over the title given the measure by Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

The 12-cent per gallon hike effective Nov .1 — along with an increase in the vehicle license fee — is designed to pay for $52 billion in road and transportation improvements over the next decade. Becerra’s title focuses on the improvements and doesn’t mention the tax.

While Allen succeeded in winning a Superior Court ruling to have the title include the words “repeals gas tax,” Becerra prevailed on appeal and on Wednesday the state Supreme Court announced it would allow the appeals court ruling to stand.

Becerra’s title: “Eliminates Recently Enacted Road Repair and Transportation Funding by Repealing Revenues Dedicated for Those Purposes. Initiative Statute.”

Allen, who called the Supreme Court decision a “mockery of justice,” had been counting on a high-court victory that would reset the six-month window for collecting signatures.

Instead, the original deadline of Jan. 8 will apparently stand, making it unlikely Allen will be gather the 365,880 signatures required. As of last week, he had not begun collecting signatures.

In the meantime, a coalition behind a separate ballot measure to eliminate the new tax submitted paperwork in October and notified elections officials on Dec. 15 it had gathered 25 percent of the 585,407 signatures needed. The higher signature threshold is because the coalition’s measure calls for an amendment to the state Constitution while Allen’s did not. The group has until May 21 to collect the signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot.

While opponents to the gas tax say the state should make need improvements with existing funds, proponents of say using existing money would require cuts in other areas. Gov. Jerry Brown say the increases — which include a vehicle license fee hike of about $50 for the average car owner — are overdue and bring the taxes and fees into line with those 30 years when adjusted for inflation.

The measure received the two-thirds state legislative vote required for new taxes on a party-line vote, with just one Republican supporting the plan. However, it has been endorsed by many in the business community who typically align with the GOP, including Orange County Business Council and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.

The coalition behind the repeal measure already gathering signatures includes the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox and San Diego talk radio host Carl DeMaio. A UC Berkeley poll released Friday found that likely voters favored repealing the gas tax, 52 percent to 43 percent.

Like Allen’s measure, the coalition proposal received a Becerra title that does not mention a repeal of the gas tax. Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said that while the group is proceeding with signature-gathering with the current title, it may sue to try to have a different title appear on the November ballot.

Becerra’s title for that one: “Eliminates Recently Enacted Road Repair and Transportation Funding by Repealing Revenues Dedicated for those Purposes. Requires any Measure to Enact Certain Vehicle Fuel Taxes and Vehicle Fees be Submitted to and Approved by the Electorate. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.”

The coalition prefers a constitutional amendment to Allen’s proposed repeal because the constitutional approach will require a voter approval before any gas tax can be increased in the future. Allen’s measure would only address the current plan, and would do nothing to prevent the Legislature from passing the same plan again.

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Republicans-turned-Democrats challenging O.C. GOP Congress members

The parade of Orange County Democrats running for Congress is expected to grow to 19 today, July 19, with two former Republicans joining the pack seeking to take out GOP incumbents.

Brian Forde, a former technology adivsor in Barack Obama’s White House, planned to announce today that he will challenge Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Beach, bringing the field of Democrats in that race to six. Navy vet, lottery winner and philanthropist Gil Cisneros on Monday launched his challenge of Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, who now has four Democratic opponents.

Walters and Royce each cruised to reelection last year by more than 14 percentage points. But Hillary Clinton also won in both districts — as well as in the county’s two other Republican-held House districts — prompting national Democrats to target the four seats and helping to spur the cavalcade of candidates.

Forde, 37, was born and raised in Tustin, which is in the district, and returned to the district in April when he moved from Washington, D.C., to Lake Forest. Concerns with President Donald Trump’s economic, education, health care, travel and immigration policies were deciding factors in his decision to run. Like the other candidates, he sees Walters as promoting Trump’s agenda.

“We have good (Democratic) candidates in the race,” said the Tustin High School graduate. “Each of us bring something to the race.”

Forde hopes to distinguish himself with his technology background.

“Technology is our future,” he said. “We don’t have enough people in Congress who understand technology.”

Forde had adopted his parents’ party affiliation as a Republican until re-registering as a Democrat last year, a change he said was overdue because of changes in the GOP and his own political evolution. He voted in 2008 and 2012 for Obama and supported Hillary Clinton in last year’s primary and general elections, he said.

Forde holds a B.A. in sociology from UCLA and an MBA from London Business School. In 2005, after a stint with the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, he launched a wireless telephone company in that country called Llamadas, S.A., of which he continues to have an ownership stake.

He served in the Obama Administration from 2011 to 2015 as senior adviser for mobile and data innovations. He helped lead the White House’s Climate Data Initiative, led a task force to revitalize Detroit’s technology infrastructure after the city’s bankruptcy, and launched an administration-promoted apprenticeship program emphasizing technology skills, according to his campaign biography.

Forde subsequently worked at MIT as director of its Digital Currency Initiative and as a lecturer. Forde said he’ll be working full time on his campaign beginning this week.

The other Democrats in the race are UCI Law School professors Katie Porter and David Min, former U.S. Senate aide Kia Hamadanchy, and businessmen Ron Varasteh and Eric Rywalski.

Vet, philanthropist

Royce challenger Gil Cisneros spent 11 years of active service in the Navy, then worked six years as a manager at a Frito Lay plant before winning $266 million in the state lottery, quitting his job and launching the Gilbert & Jacki Cisneros Foundation. The charity helps disadvantaged youth — particularly Latinos — prepare for and gain admission into college. The couple has invested $30 million in the foundation, he said.

Cisneros’ own college background is diverse, including a B.A. in political science from George Washington University and an MBA from Regis University in Denver. After launching his foundation, he went to Brown University and earned a master’s degree in Urban Education Policy.

He said he would not be running had Hillary Clinton won the presidency.

gil cisneros cropped
Gil Cisneros is among Democrats challenging the reelection bid of Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton. Photo courtesy of Gil Cisneros.

“The Trump Administration is trying to rip health care away from people,” said Cisneros, 46. “And it doesn’t get as much attention, but they’re doing the same thing with education. I can’t stand by and let them do that. It was time to get involved.

“A lot of my life has been about service to my country. This is an extension of that.”

A longtime Republican who re-registered as a Democrat in 2015 after three years as an independent, Cisneros said it’s not his views that have changed but those of the GOP.

“What a Republican was in the ’80s is kind of what a Democrat is today,” he said, pointing to President Ronald Reagan’s support of amnesty for undocumented immigrants and of the gun control measure known as the Brady Bill. Cisneros voted for John Kerry in 2004, John McCain in 2008 and Obama in 2012, he said. He favored Bernie Sanders in last year’s primary and Clinton in the general election.

Cisneros, his wife and their twins are planning a move from Newport Beach, where they’ve lived since winning the lottery, to the Yorba Linda area, where his wife’s family lives. He said he choose to run in the district he’s moving to rather than the one he’s leaving.

He joins Democrats Phil Janowicz, Mai Khanh Tran and Sam Jammal in the race, as well as independent Julio Castaneda.

Read more about Republicans-turned-Democrats challenging O.C. GOP Congress members This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed. Orange County Shredding Service

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