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Orange County in Bankruptcy : Group Unites Measure R Opponents : Coalition: Citizens Against the Tax Increase pulls together community, business and GOP leaders for anti-tax campaign.

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Opponents of Measure R will announce next week the formation of an umbrella organization that pulls together a coalition of community, business and Republican party leaders to run the campaign against the half-cent sales tax increase.

The campaign will be headed by car dealers Mike Shepherd and Gary C. Gray, and businessmen Frank Greinke Sr. and Dale Dykema. All are members of the Lincoln Club, the influential Republican leadership group whose members are appearing on both sides of the hot ballot battle over Measure R.

Called Citizens Against the Tax Increase, the group wants to raise between $500,000 and $700,000, said campaign consultant Mark Thompson, who has been hired to coordinate the drive against the tax.

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The group came together in the past several weeks when opponents--especially those in the business community--realized that those in favor of the sales tax are well-organized, well-funded and mounting a significant effort.

“A bunch of people got together and said we need to do this the right way,” said Thompson, who has run a number of local GOP legislative campaign drives. “Until now, what you heard was that business leaders and top Republican leaders are for the tax. This is our effort, to pull under one umbrella all the opponent groups and to have a valid impact for the amount of money we will raise.”

The organization began in the business community, and is branching out now to enfold politicians and community activists who are against the tax. Included under the umbrella will be the GOP Central Committee--which this month announced unanimous opposition to the tax--a host of Republican legislators, as well as business people and the foot soldiers from the Committees of Correspondence and their No on R group.

No one on the newly formed committee expressed a lack of confidence in the ability of the local activists, who have until now been out front in the anti-tax campaign, to run a meat-and-potatoes political battle against the “yes” forces.

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But no one on either side of the issue expected that the loose coalition of local community activists could match the money or the organization being commanded by the pro-tax forces under the leadership of Sheriff Brad Gates and the high-powered political consulting firm of Butcher, Forde & Mollrich.

Leaders of the Yes on Measure R Committee said they will spend $2 million to $3 million.

“In any campaign, you need to be able to get the message to the voters, to get voter turnout,” said Fred Whitaker, a GOP Central Committee member, who is a founder of Citizens Against the Tax Increase. “Our purpose is to get the no-on-the-tax message out to voters. This (committee and its campaign) is going to be organized like any other initiative or electoral campaign.”

The half-cent sales tax, if approved, is expected to raise about $130 million in the first year. The tax would be in effect for 10 years.

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Key business leaders in the drive are the car dealers, whose fear their business would be hurt by the sales tax increase. Shepherd owns Santa Ana Chrysler/Jeep, and Santa Ana Isuzu/Hyundai and Gray is owner of Orange Coast Jeep Eagle in Costa Mesa.

Shepherd, who stressed that he was offering his own views and not those of the committee, said: “The bottom line is we feel we have put together a group that has the wherewithal to raise the necessary financing to defeat this thing. Money is an important part of the political process. You have to have a professional campaign organization to run a campaign, and hence, Mark Thompson. My goodness, the other side has (Butcher, Forde & Mollrich), one of the top in the state.”

Thompson said the committee will be organized with a policy committee, speakers bureau, get-out-the-vote drive, fund-raising arm and regular polling to track turnout and support. It will be headquartered in Tustin.

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The policy group is co-chaired by Assemblymen Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove), Mickey Conroy (R-Orange) and Jim Morrissey (R-Santa Ana), and Tustin Councilman Jeffery M. Thomas. Other elected officials endorsing the group include representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) and Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), state Sens. Rob Hurtt (R-Garden Grove) and John R. Lewis (R-Orange), and Assemblymen Ross Johnson (R-Placentia) and Bill Morrow (R-Oceanside).

Thompson predicted a big absentee ballot campaign and an expensive battle.

“I think 40% to 50% of the vote will be absentee ballots,” he said, adding that turnout could run as high as 24%, which would be on the high end for a special election.

“If it goes that high, then the consultants on both sides will have to enlarge the size of the voter groups they are targeting with mailers and absentee ballots, and that will up the budget.”

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Among the co-chairmen of the committee, Greinke is chairman and founder of Southern Counties Oil Co. in Orange, which distributes fuel and oil, products sensitive to sales tax rates. Whitaker, an attorney, is a vice president of the same firm. Dykema runs T.D. Service Financial Corp. of Santa Ana, which provide services to lenders and financial institutions.

Contributing to today’s coverage of former County Treasurer-Tax Collector Robert L. Citron’s guilty pleas were staff writers Eric Bailey, Anna Cekola, Ken Ellingwood, Matt Lait, Mark Platte, H.G. Reza, Lisa Richardson, Diane Seo, Debora Vrana, Michael G. Wagner, Peter M. Warren, Jodi Wilgoren, Chris Woodyard and correspondents Shelby Grad and Steve Scheibal. Also contributing were photographers Robert Lachman, Al Schaben, Geraldine Wilkins, Don Bartletti and Craig Wallace Chapman and researcher April Jackson.


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