Conroy an Easy Winner in O.C. Assembly Race
Conservative activist Mickey R. Conroy, a retired fighter pilot and outspoken critic of fellow Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, won a special election Tuesday for a seat in the state Assembly representing western Orange County.
Conroy, who was a strong favorite to win the mostly Republican 67th Assembly District seat ever since he bested five other GOP candidates in a primary last July, defeated Democrat Greg R. Ramsay by a margin of more than 2 to 1. But even before the polls closed, Republican lawmakers in Sacramento were so confident of Conroy’s victory that they telephoned their congratulations.
Today, within hours of winning office, Conroy was preparing to step quickly into the partisan fray by casting his first official votes as a lawmaker on reapportionment--one of the most contentious issues of the year in Sacramento. Conroy was scheduled to be sworn into office by an Orange County judge at noon today and appear at the Capitol for the next scheduled legislative session at 7 tonight.
In an interview from his victory party after the polls closed, Conroy, 63, warned that he will not be a vulnerable freshman legislator.
“Whoever feels that they can control me or use me is in for a very, very, rude awakening,” he said. “I will not set the world on fire, I will not do things just to be doing them, but if it requires that I get up and say something, I will do it.”
Conroy also said Tuesday night that one of his first acts in Sacramento will be to resume his quest for the ouster of Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) on charges that he is illegally holding office because he supported America’s enemy during the Vietnam War.
Conroy said he submitted a petition to the Legislature on Monday calling for Hayden’s removal. “One of my first orders of business will be to see that everyone in the Assembly receives a copy of my petition,” he said.
Conroy first gained statewide attention in 1986 by leading a petition drive that called for Hayden’s removal. Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach), a strong ally of Conroy’s, eventually brought the issue to a vote on the floor of the Assembly, where it was rejected.
Tuesday’s vote ends a series of special elections in Orange County that were triggered by Wilson’s decision in January to appoint as his replacement in the U.S. Senate former Anaheim state Sen. John Seymour. Former Assemblyman John R. Lewis (R-Orange) won a special election in May to fill Seymour’s state Senate seat. Conroy’s election fills Lewis’ vacant Assembly seat.
The Assembly district includes the cities of Orange, Tustin, El Toro, Villa Park, part of Santa Ana and much of Orange County’s unincorporated foothills.
Conroy kept a low profile in the general election, confident that he could not lose to a Democrat in California’s second-most Republican Assembly district.
During the primary, however, Conroy signaled that he will be an outspoken member of the conservative Republican ranks that are critical of Wilson for being too moderate on a number of issues, including taxes, abortion, the environment and gay rights.
Conroy’s top Republican opponent in the July primary was moderate Orange City Councilman William G. Steiner, who was described by sources as Wilson’s choice for the seat, although the governor never made an official endorsement in the race.
Conroy campaigned hard against Wilson’s plan for more than $7 billion in new taxes to balance the state budget. And at the state Republican convention last weekend in Anaheim, Conroy continued his attack on the governor by successfully sponsoring a resolution that calls on the party to support any effort to repeal the tax increase.
Conroy, who lives in Santa Ana and now heads three separate veterans organizations, is a controversial character known for his love-it-or-leave-it brand of patriotism and a knack for inflammatory statements.
He was criticized during the campaign by leaders of other veterans groups, and his opponent called him a bigot for saying, at one point: “There are no such things as hyphenated Americans. You want to be an American, be an American. You want to be a Mexican, go back to Mexico.”
Conroy defeated Democrat Ramsay, 33, a health-care manager from Santa Ana who campaigned, in part, on his own experience as the near-fatal victim of a drunk driver. Ramsay maintained a tenacious campaign on a shoestring budget barely larger than the $9,000 he donated to himself.
In the last weekend of the race, Ramsay’s campaign claimed that it sent voters more than 82,000 pieces of mail, including one mailing paid for entirely by Republicans upset with Conroy. Most of the mail attacked Conroy.
Ramsay also told voters in the letter about his accident in 1979, which left him in a coma for a month just as he was entering his senior year at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
As a result of his experience, Ramsay said he was inspired to become a public servant and to promote better health care. As his campaign brochure said, the accident “gave him a new sense of purpose: that of promoting affordable, cost-effective health care for all Americans.”
EDITION TIME ELECTION RETURNS
67th Assembly District
100% Precincts Reporting Votes % Mickey R. Conroy (R) 15,065 70.8 Gregory R. Ramsay (D) 6,209 29.2
Elected candidate is in bold type.