There's been an anti-incumbency mood throughout the nation for some time, but the congressional banking scandal seems to have been the straw that broke the camel's back. In other years, voters might have gritted their teeth and sent back current officeholders for yet another term. But voter anger now runs so deep that it doesn't seem to matter whether the candidate was involved in the banking scandal, or even whether he or she is a member of Congress. The recession, budget deficits at all levels of government, civil unrest--all have put "throw the bums out" on the lips of voters from Washington to Sacramento to Orange County. Even candidates for nonpartisan offices such as judgeships say they are feeling the hostility.
Although some of this reaction unfairly rubs off on good candidates, perhaps there is a silver lining in Orange County. It's true that many of the county's representatives--notably, Rep. Ron Packard (R-Carlsbad), Rep. C. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) and Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Garden Grove)--have good records of service. Far too many, however, do not. Among those competing for their party's nominations in the June 2 primary are several who promise little more than same-old, same-old representation for the county.
Never have voters had a better opportunity to reject these candidates and instead elect some lesser-known but fresher faces who can give Orange County the kind of representation it deserves. Several races in heavily Republican districts offer good choices that could help set Orange County on a new course.
The time is ripe for change.
Accordingly, The Times has chosen to endorse only in key Republican primary races for Congress and the Legislature, and only in those where there is a strong candidate, mindful that winning those contests is tantamount to winning the general election in November:
46TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: Although Robert K. Dornan has commanded national attention as a TV and radio personality, many are dissatisfied with his antics and his grandstanding. Dornan's 39th District was reconfigured in the latest redistricting, so he is running in the 46th. His opponent, former Superior Court Judge Judith M. Ryan, 48, is inexperienced in government, but she is an appealing newcomer in Orange County politics.
Much of the campaign has focused on abortion; Dornan, 59, is ardently opposed to it, and Ryan is just as strongly in favor of abortion rights. It is this issue that brought the race to national attention because abortion-rights supporters saw in Ryan the opportunity to get Dornan out of Congress.
Heartfelt differences on an issue that has divided many Americans of good conscience would be one thing. We disagree with Dornan's position on abortion, but our chief quarrel is with his antics. For example, in trying to head off support of Ryan by WISH List, a recently formed group that backs Republican women in congressional races who favor abortion rights, Dornan stormed into a meeting and demanded that there be no endorsement. Since WISH currently stays out of races in which there is a GOP incumbent, the issue was moot. But his behavior earned Dornan--previously known as B-1 Bob for his undying support for the B-1 bomber--a new nickname: Bully Bob. Another recent example of Dornan's posturing was his unwillingness to let bygones be bygones in pursuing litigation in an airplane seating dispute.
Ryan, meanwhile, has been making a name for herself as someone who can learn fast. She is in touch with issues in the district, transportation and education among them. She was a good judge, and she shows excellent potential for becoming an equally competent legislator for Orange County.
Perhaps most important, Ryan can bring a refreshing style of representation--one guided by inclusiveness and a willingness to listen to the concerns of ordinary people at the grass-roots level.
Endorsement to Ryan.
33RD STATE SENATE DISTRICT: Incumbent John R. Lewis, 37, of Orange has a fight on his hands with the candidacy of Todd Thakar, a 34-year-old lawyer who has served as an aide to Gov. Pete Wilson and as a special assistant to the regional administrator of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is unlikely that there ever will be a better challenge in this district than the one being mounted by this bright, energetic and promising moderate.
Lewis served 11 years in the Assembly before running in a special election to fill the seat vacated by John Seymour (R-Anaheim), who was appointed to the U.S. Senate.
During his Assembly tenure, Lewis earned a reputation as a naysayer who did very little. He was best known as a highly partisan GOP strategist who once sent out mailers with phony endorsements by President Reagan. He was indicted in 1989 for forgery in connection with that incident. The charges were later thrown out by an appeals court, but the incident left a bad taste in the mouths of Republicans as well as Democrats.
Although the heavily bankrolled Lewis will likely retain the seat, it would be a mistake for The Times to remain silent in this particular race.
Endorsement to Thakar.
68TH ASSEMBLY DISTRICT: An open seat in which the lackluster former Assemblyman Curt Pringle, 32, of Garden Grove is being challenged by the much sharper Buena Park Mayor Rhonda J. McCune, 46. Westminster Councilwoman Joy L. Neugebauer, 65, also is running.
Pringle is perhaps best remembered for his 1988 Assembly campaign in which GOP officials, acting at the behest of Pringle's campaign manager, ordered that uniformed security guards be placed at polling places in Latino neighborhoods. There ensued several years of legal proceedings that questioned whether the Republican Party had attempted to violate the voting rights of Latino residents. Partly because of the poll guard issue and partly because he was a do-nothing legislator, Pringle was defeated in 1990 by Tom Umberg.
It's hard to figure why Neugebauer is running, other than to draw off votes from McCune, an excellent candidate who is nobody's person but her own. Well-respected, open, pragmatic, pro-business, McCune would be a breath of fresh air compared to either of the others.
Endorsement to McCune.
70TH ASSEMBLY DISTRICT: Incumbent Gil Ferguson, 69, of Newport Beach, one of the legendary "cavemen" of the Assembly, is being challenged in his somewhat redrawn district by Costa Mesa Mayor Mary Hornbuckle, 49. There are light-years of difference between these two in effectiveness during their respective tenures.
Ferguson, a former Marine lieutenant colonel, has drawn attention to himself chiefly through opposing just about everything. Ferguson's personal vendetta against Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) has left him little time to offer constructive legislation that would benefit Orange County. It's time for this troglodyte to go.
Fortunately, there is an excellent alternative. Hornbuckle is thoughtful, issue-oriented, hard-working and a supporter of abortion rights. She's done an excellent job for Costa Mesa, where she has been the voice of reason, and she would bring a badly needed constructive style to Sacramento.
Endorsement to Hornbuckle.
POSTSCRIPT: The Times chooses not to endorse in the newly drawn 45th Congressional District, a heavily Republican district in which winning the GOP primary is likely to portend election in the fall. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, 44, of Huntington Beach, whose own 42nd District dramatically changed during redistricting, has assumed the posture of an incumbent against Huntington Beach City Councilman Peter M. Green, 66, and Costa Mesa City Councilman Peter F. Buffa, 43.
Rohrabacher, a member of Congress for four years, is arguably the weakest congressmen now representing Orange County. He first earned a national reputation, such as it is, with attacks on the National Endowment for the Arts. Now he has turned his vitriol to immigration. No endorsement, although either Green or Buffa would be preferable to Rohrabacher.
The Times will reassess this race in the fall.