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Corona voters appear to reject 3 pastors who ran for council

Corona voters appear to reject 3 pastors who ran for council
Corona Councilman Randy Fox had framed the city's election as a "spiritual battle" and urged churchgoers to support three Christian pastors running for city council. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Voters in Corona appear to have spurned a councilman’s call to elect three Christian pastors to the City Council, instead favoring a Planned Parenthood health advocate, a retired fire captain and a businessman, according to preliminary results.

Jacque Casillas, Jim Steiner and Wes Speake held significant leads Wednesday in the three council districts up for election. Eleven candidates were vying for the seats. Corona moved this year to by-district elections in an effort to help city leadership better reflect Corona’s growing diversity.

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But the race raised questions about the role of religion in politics after Councilman Randy Fox, a pastor, visited a local church and framed the election as a “spiritual battle” while urging congregants to throw their support behind three Christian pastors who were running.

Fox had suggested that Casillas, a healthcare advocate with Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, would bring “an abortion mill” to Corona. He also warned of “open proponents of gay marriage” in the city and said a Muslim candidate who was involved with the local mosque would “not say no to sharia law, most certainly.”

Fox later said his comments about “sharia law” were made because church members had approached him fearing that if Fauzia Rizvi, a Muslim woman running in the fourth district, were elected, Corona’s mosque would begin broadcasting a call to prayer.

Rizvi had not made any such proposal, nor had mosque leaders, which Fox acknowledged.

On Wednesday morning, the pastors endorsed by Fox — Shawn Kelly, Jeremy Mercer and Doug Husen — were trailing by large margins in each of their races.

In the fourth district, Husen and Rizvi had about 22% of the vote, with Steiner at 52%.

In the first district, Casillas won about 44% of votes, compared with Kelly’s 24%, while candidate Joe Morgan got 32%. In the fifth district, in which five candidates including Speake and Mercer, were running, Speake got about 50% of the vote.

The results are not yet final. Riverside County election officials said about 200,000 vote-by-mail ballots as well as thousands of provisional and damaged ballots still needed to be processed. An update is expected on Thursday.

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