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ELECTIONS ’88 : ORANGE COUNTY : Vasquez Coming on Strong in 3rd Supervisorial District Contest

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Times Staff Writer

When Gov. George Deukmejian was considering the appointment of a new Orange County supervisor last year after Bruce Nestande resigned, one of the most important criteria was whether the candidate could hold onto the seat in an election barely a year later.

In April, 1987, the governor named Gaddi H. Vasquez, and there was some open skepticism about whether this 32-year-old man who had never held elected office could survive his first campaign.

Well, the skeptics have been converted. Today, Vasquez has won the endorsement of every elected official in the cities within the 3rd Supervisorial District, and he has raised more than $400,000 to help scare off all but one minor challenger, rancher Sam Porter.

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“A lot of us questioned (Deukmejian) about (Vasquez’s electability),” said Assemblyman Nolan Frizzelle (R-Huntington Beach), who had openly predicted that Vasquez would be challenged by a fellow Republican in the nonpartisan race. “We tried to let him know that getting elected was very important and that (Vasquez) was going to have to work real hard.

“But I think Gaddi has done that much more assertively than we had any right to ask.”

Orange County Democratic Chairman John Hanna is another one who first rolled his eyes at Vasquez’s appointment and now figures he might even vote for him June 7.

“At the time of his appointment, my feeling was that he would be certain to draw a strong Republican opponent and probably a strong Democratic opponent,” Hanna said. “However, he has spent a lot of time meeting with people and raising a lot of money.

“I think he has more political skills than I thought.”

Gaddi Holquin Vasquez, now 33, was primed for a race, even though he has never been elected.

When he was just 17, he shared a podium with then-Gov. Ronald Reagan after being elected honorary governor at the Boys State Convention. That year, he won 33 of 37 speech contests all over the West with a style he says was patterned after Billy Graham.

Vasquez was a police officer in Orange for five years before he became an aide to former Supervisor Nestande in 1980. In 1985, Deukmejian selected Vasquez to be his liaison with the Latino community and, later that year, he became a deputy appointments secretary to the governor.

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He was still working in Sacramento when Deukmejian appointed him to replace Nestande.

Porter, Vasquez’s only challenger on the June 7 ballot, is a 60-year-old rancher from Trabuco Canyon who likes to call himself a maverick and who has been a longtime critic of the supervisors. Lately, Porter also has become a controversial character in the remote foothills, where he owns a 300-acre ranch known as Porterville.

He is a member of the board of directors of the Santa Ana Mountains County Water District and currently is the target of an attempted recall. The recall was launched by a fellow director who complained that Porter has illegally connected several low-income homes on his ranch to his own water meter.

Considered Revenge

Porter says the recall is an act of revenge that stems from his charges that other directors in the water district have conflicts of interest with companies they hire to do construction work.

Both Vasquez and Porter are Republicans.

For better or worse, the politics of Orange County during the last year has put Vasquez under an unusually intense spotlight.

The 3rd District is one of the fastest-growing parts of Orange County, and much of its territory is still unincorporated, meaning that the supervisor is the front-line elected official for every complaint from a broken street light to traffic problems and police protection.

In the last year, the district--which stretches along the county’s eastern border from La Habra to Mission Viejo--has been the focus of the two hottest issues in county politics: the selection of a new jail site and the slow-growth movement.

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Voted for New Jail

Just three months after Vasquez joined the board, the supervisors voted 3 to 2 to build a massive, 6,000-bed maximum security jail in Gypsum Canyon, part of his district. Supervisor Don R. Roth and Vasquez voted against the site, pitting them against the three senior members of the board. The vote led to a signature drive to require that the jail be relocated in Santa Ana.

Then came the slow-growth initiative, looming as a political iceberg for the supervisors when it qualified last March for the June ballot. And Vasquez was thought to be one of the most vulnerable on the issue because he was up for election on the same ballot at a time when there is so much development planned in his district.

The leaders of the slow-growth movement tried to find a credible challenger to Vasquez.

Tom Rogers, one of the founders of the movement in Orange County, said he considered running for the seat. Norman Z. Eckenrode, a Placentia city councilman, also considered running, and he said at one point that he would file against Vasquez if he could generate enough support and money to mount a viable campsaign. But after several weeks he abandoned the idea.

Focus on Growth

Porter has centered his campaign for Vasquez’s $61,900-a-year job on the slow-growth initiative, which he supports and Vasquez says he will vote against. But Porter was not an active member of the group that qualified the initiative for the ballot.

“I vigorously support Proposition A,” he said at a recent debate on KOCE-TV. “The developers and the supervisors are inextricably linked together. Proposition A will offer us the only alternative to this madhouse we call Orange County.”

Porter also described himself in 1985 as a “militant pro-growther” who opposed open space because it would prevent the construction of low-income housing. His campaign manager, David Kidd, said Porter since has changed his mind.

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“That’s when growth was productive,” Kidd said. “Now things have changed, (and) he has begun to re-evaluate his condition.”

Vasquez said he believes that the people who support slow-growth are really looking for solutions to traffic problems. In that context, he said, he has shown leadership by developing the Foothill Circulation Phasing Plan, a proposed $240-million financing plan for a regional road system.

The plan is designed to create several parallel routes to the Santa Ana Freeway. It will be financed entirely by developers who plan to build more than 35,000 homes in the area. In return for their contribution, the developers would be given assurances that their projects are protected from future land-use changes, such as the slow-growth initiative.

The plan is one of the goals that Vasquez set for himself when he came into office. By the time the election came around, Vasquez said, he wanted to have a variety of accomplishments that he could hold up as tangible evidence that he was responding to problems.

Some of the other accomplishments he is claiming are a requirement that new developments set aside space for child-care centers and the creation of a county hazardous waste strike force to expedite the prosecution of polluters.

When he became a supervisor, Vasquez said, he had a dual mission. In addition to what he wanted to achieve for his constituents, he needed to get himself known in the district so he could be elected.

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He started a periodic newsletter to keep his district apprised of county government news. He also set a rigorous schedule for himself to meet with organizations and constituents. And he required his staff to respond to constituent complaints within 48 hours.

At the Serrano Intermediate School in El Toro, Sarah Lambrose, president of the Parent Teacher Organization, said Vasquez helped get a traffic signal that had been sought for years.

Lambrose said she approached Vasquez at a community meeting in January, just after an eighth-grade student on a bicycle had been hit by a car at the school. Within a week, Lambrose said, Vasquez visited the school and then helped get the funding for a new signal.

“I think this is just a good example of a joint effort,” Lambrose said. “He did follow up, and he was responsive.”

“He has gotten around; he was everywhere,” Democrat Hanna said. “He’s earned this election.”

Sam Porter

Occupation: Rancher.

Party Affiliation: Republican.

Age: 60

Residence: Trabuco Canyon

Public office previously held: Director, Santa Ana Mountains County Water District.

Gaddi H. Vasquez

Occupation: Incumbent.

Party Affiliation: Republican.

Age: 33

Residence: Mission Viejo

Public office previously held: None.

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