Incumbent Roth Is Alone--but Not Lonely

Times Staff Writer

Supervisor Don R. Roth’s last election, in 1986, was one of Orange County’s most memorable. It was a grueling, neck-and-neck battle between the Republican mayors of Anaheim and Orange.

The contest set a record for the most expensive supervisors race in county history, with the two candidates combining to spend about $1.3 million. In the end, it was the man with the gold-plated Mickey Mouse watch, Anaheim Mayor Roth--by 1%.

Today, Roth’s political outlook has changed 180 degrees. As he begins his campaign for reelection in 1990, the field is devoid of challengers.

“There is no one out there,” said Fred Hunter, Anaheim’s current mayor. “I think Don Roth is a slam-dunk.” Ditto from Orange Mayor Don E. Smith.


Even Roth’s previous opponent, former Orange Mayor Jim Beam, said recently, “I think Don has done an excellent job, and that’s one of the reasons there is no competition.”

In addition to Anaheim and Orange, Roth’s 4th District includes Buena Park and La Palma.

No Complaints

In Buena Park, Mayor Donna L. Chessen, a Democrat, also said she sees a dearth of opponents. “I guess if somebody’s doing a good job, they probably feel the seat is theirs,” Chessen said. “I have virtually no complaints.”


The election is still about a year away, but political experts say the recent campaign reform laws make it almost imperative for a viable candidate to be raising money this month.

Beginning July 1, the candidates are limited to $1,000 contributions from individual donors. They can get $2,000 from an individual, however, if they received half of it before July 1.

Roth threw a fund-raiser last month at the Disneyland Hotel that raised almost $50,000 for his reelection. His total bankroll is almost $100,000, all of which can now be legally duplicated from the same donors.

The strongest challengers would have to come from Anaheim, which any successful candidate would have to carry in the election because it represents far more than half of the district’s population.


No Interest

But Mayor Hunter said he has not heard any interest from his Anaheim council colleagues and that he has no interest in the job either.

Hunter, Roth and other political leaders in the 4th District attribute Roth’s political shutout to his hard work and popular positions on the critical issues before the Board of Supervisors.

“You have to give Don Roth credit,” Hunter said. “He’s doing a good job as supervisor for the people of Anaheim.”


Roth, 67, said he’s not surprised by the lack of competition. “I’m a very hard-working supervisor,” he said. “And I think if you do your job, you can expect to have nobody challenge you.”

Safe Seat

But politically, the 4th District seat is also one of the safest for an incumbent in Orange County.

Part of the reason is that almost the entire area is already incorporated, which means that most people give the blame or credit on local issues to city council members. The supervisor’s activities are much more invisible to the electorate than most politicians, and incumbents usually continue in office.


It is also a significant help that the city councils are responsible for the controversial and emotional land-use questions, such as development. Many elected officials dread land-use issues because, with such high stakes, voting with either side can create enemies.

“I have not had one land-use issue in my district,” Roth said. “My cities and mayors are taking the heat, (and) I’m not in that buzz saw.”

Still, Roth’s complete lack of opposition is significant because he has suffered some key political defeats in the board room.

Since Roth became supervisor in 1987, the county has voted on three major jail construction projects either inside or immediately adjacent to Roth’s 4th District. They are the 6,000-bed maximum security jail in Gypsum Canyon near Anaheim Hills; the doubling in size of a branch jail in Orange, and plans for another jail near Anaheim Stadium.


Roth does not seem to have been blamed for those hardships by his constituents, however. In fact, he has gained political strength by being an outspoken opponent of the jail plans.

Roth’s first major vote on the board in July, 1987, was to oppose the Gypsum Canyon jail. And when it passed 3 to 2, Roth appeared at a jam-packed gymnasium to kick off a grass-roots campaign to defeat the jail.

112,000 Signatures

Last summer, that organization showed its political maturity by submitting 112,000 signatures to qualify a measure for the ballot that is aimed at killing the Gypsum Canyon jail plans.


That measure will probably be on the same ballot as Roth’s contest in June, 1990, which could be another boost for his campaign. The jail is an emotional, quality-of-life issue that could draw a crowd of Roth supporters to the polls in Anaheim.

Also, next year it will be Roth’s turn to take over as chairman of the Board of Supervisors. It’s a ceremonial position that rotates among the supervisors every year. But it is certain to give his office a slightly higher profile in the election season.

“It’s not going to be very easy for someone to challenge me,” Roth said. “I think we’ll be in very good shape.”