A Gallery of Political Standouts

Orange County's most influential Republicans owe their status to wealth, connections or the attainment of elected office. A look at some of them:

Howard F. Ahmanson Jr.

In the first five years of this decade, he was one of the state's most generous political donors, giving nearly $4 million to candidates and causes. It was a rift with the city of Santa Ana's Redevelopment Agency in the 1980s that helped launch Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson Jr. into politics. Ahmanson, now 46, who inherited the Home Savings and Loan fortune amassed by his father, stepped in when the city decided to uproot the Orange County Rescue Mission, claiming the move was an intrusion by government into the private sector's efforts to help the poor. Since then, Ahmanson has supported a variety of conservative causes. An intensely private man, Ahmanson rarely speaks to reporters. Ten years ago, he married the former Roberta Green, a journalist who not only helps him with his philanthropic activities but generally acts as his spokeswoman. They live in Corona del Mar and operate Irvine-based Fieldstead & Co., through which they distribute donations.

Jo Ellen Allen

The first vice chairwoman of the Orange County Republican Party, Jo Ellen Allen jumped into politics before she was old enough to vote. Allen's zeal for the game has not wavered. She became a "Nixonette" while living in Canoga Park in 1960 at the age of 14. She went on to get four degrees in political science, including a doctorate, at Cal State Northridge and USC. In 1980, Allen began what became a 16-year stint as California president of the Eagle Forum, a national conservative public policy organization founded by Phyllis Schlafly that promotes traditional family values, a strong national defense and free enterprise. A resident of Corona del Mar since 1977, Allen, 49, moved briefly to Santa Ana and ran for Assembly in 1992, losing to Democrat Tom Umberg. Married with three children, Allen was recently named director of public affairs for Southern California Edison. The interest in politics comes from her father, she said. "He had a very deep love of this country and shared it with us. We grew up wanting to preserve what had been handed to us."

George Argyros

He is the finance chairman of the state Republican Party and perhaps the most powerful man in the county--with the possible exception of Donald L. Bren, majority owner of the Irvine Co. Don't bet against any cause backed by George Argyros, as those opposed to a commercial airport at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station have found out. Argyros, 59, who lives on Newport Beach's Harbor Island, was a personal friend of the late President Richard Nixon, travels to foreign countries with the likes of Henry A. Kissinger, and is independent enough to back any politician he wants, including former Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. The grandson of Greek immigrants, Argyros once owned AirCalifornia and the Seattle Mariners; his wife is active in a host of social causes. He is also the longtime board chairman of Chapman University in Orange, his alma mater.

Marian Bergeson

When she arrived in Sacramento in 1978 as the first Orange County woman elected to the state Legislature, she was dubbed "Marian the Librarian," a nickname derived from her longtime service on behalf of schools and her work as a trustee of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District. By 1992, however, Marian Bergeson was named by the Capitol Journal as the second most effective Republican in the state Senate. Persistence, dogged determination and the ability to negotiate a compromise have always been Bergeson trademarks. The Newport Beach resident rebounded from defeat in a run for lieutenant governor in 1990 and rejection as a nominee for state schools superintendent in 1993. Bergeson was often the lawmaker called on to carry the important but unspectacular legislation in areas such as transportation and local government. Now an Orange County supervisor nearing the end of her political career at age 70, she still wins high marks from most quarters.

Donald L. Bren

The county's richest man, Donald L. Bren, 64, majority owner of the Irvine Co., is the last true Orange County land baron. The son of a movie producer and an actress, Bren is as private as a man who owns 55,000 acres of prime county land can be. He owns houses in West Los Angeles, New York and Sun Valley, Idaho, but spends most of his time in his home on Linda Isle in Newport Harbor. Born in Beverly Hills, he served a hitch in the Marines and landed permanently in Orange County in the 1960s as the first owner of the Mission Viejo Co. In 1977, Bren teamed up with Joan Irvine Smith and others to purchase the Irvine Co. By 1983, he had bought out his partners and was the sole owner of the county's largest ranch. Twice divorced and now single, Bren is close friends with Gov. Pete Wilson; he backed Wilson's short-lived run for president last fall. He takes pride in the city and community he has created in Irvine. "I get great satisfaction principally out of seeing people who are already living here and working here and enjoying the recreation, the place and the quality of life," he says.

Marilyn C. Brewer

She's the only woman from Orange County in the state Legislature. But like many local politicians, Marilyn C. Brewer started out as a county aide--she was on the staff of then-Supervisor Thomas F. Riley. Unlike most others, however, Brewer's political views are considered mainstream, particularly on abortion rights, which she favors. But Brewer (R-Irvine) bristles at the liberal label imposed on her during her first primary in 1994 and again last March. Brewer, 58, is married, the mother of four sons and lives on Newport Beach's Lido Isle. She had a firsthand background in business long before entering politics: With her husband, Chuck, she started a plastics manufacturing business 30 years ago that continues to thrive today. That experience has helped shape the anti-tax, pro-business stance she espouses, one that has helped her position herself to become one of the most powerful women in the Assembly.

Christopher Cox

Vice President Christopher Cox? Sen. Christopher Cox? Once an obscure but meticulous lawyer on the staff of President Ronald Reagan, Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) now appears to have a limitless political future. He is expected to run for the Senate in 1998, but syndicated columnist George Will and others have suggested the 43-year-old Newport Beach resident would make a strong running mate for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole. Cox's national reputation was boosted last year when the Harvard Law School graduate successfully took on the trial lawyers' lobby, carrying legislation that makes it more difficult for investors to prove securities fraud in federal court. Cox's wife of five years, Rebecca, is a member of the powerful military Base Closure and Realignment Commission; the couple have two children.

Dale Dykema

The new president of the Lincoln Club of Orange County, Dale Dykema has not always been successful in his political endeavors. Dykema, 65, lost a race for Long Beach City Council in the early 1970s and, at the urging of former Gov. George Deukmejian, ran for state Assembly in 1976. He lost that race too. But his political forays helped create a love of politics in his son, Rick, who is a special assistant to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) in Washington. Dale Dykema, who now lives in Newport Beach's Eastbluff community, joined the Lincoln Club in 1978 and moved to the county in 1980. He owns T.D. Service Financial Corp. of Santa Ana, which processes about 10% of all the real estate foreclosures in California. He has helped the Republican Party by reviving its dormant Silver Circle group, now a prominent fund-raising organization. A moderate on social issues and a conservative on fiscal matters, he says he "decided years ago that I could make a better contribution helping others than running for office myself."

Thomas A. Fuentes

Amiable, outgoing and articulate, Thomas A. Fuentes in 1985 became the first Latino to head the county Republican Party. The former seminary student has been at the helm ever since. But the groundwork was laid years before the night he was elected to succeed Lois Lundberg. Fuentes, 47, of Lake Forest, was president of the Young Republicans at both Santa Ana College and Chapman University and first won election to the county GOP Central Committee at age 22. Fuentes has served on the boards of countless charitable groups, was communications director for the Catholic Diocese of Orange and worked for then-Supervisors Ronald W. Caspers and Thomas F. Riley in the 1970s. He is currently a vice president at Tait and Associates, an engineering firm in Orange. In 1985, he suggested Orange County should be the right wing of the state GOP. "I see Orange County as an anchor to the right for the California Ship of State. And in our role as that anchor to the right, we have to be very vigilant about maintaining [our] registration edge."

Doy Henley

As former president and spokesman for the Lincoln Club, Doy Henley is now serving as the influential club's chairman. He moved to California in the 1950s as a Democrat, albeit a "very, very conservative Democrat." He credits Walter Knott of the Knott's Berry Farm family with first getting him involved in local politics and inspiring him to become a Republican. He began as a volunteer walking precincts, but Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign "is when I got really excited," he says. "We don't think it's useful to worry too much about this Republican or that Republican. Let's keep the one we've got who has the best chance to be elected," he says. Henley, 66, of Tustin, who is married with two grown children, has enjoyed a successful career as a manufacturer, supplying aerospace parts. His 31-year-old company, Aeromil Engineering Co. of Santa Ana, now employs about 100 workers.

Gary Hunt

If Irvine Co. Chairman Donald L. Bren is one of the most powerful men in the county, then so is his key negotiator, Gary Hunt. Hunt is Bren's front man and strategist as executive vice president of the Irvine Co. A resident of Corona del Mar's Harbor Ridge development, Hunt became government relations manager at the Irvine Co. in 1977 and helped Bren eventually gain control of Orange County's largest development company. His current responsibilities include heading the company's government affairs and communications efforts, which are aimed at winning approval for the development of the 55,000-acre ranch. Hunt has also held a variety of political posts, including special assistant to then-Gov. Ronald Reagan and deputy director of the Republican National Convention in 1980. Locally, Hunt, 47, serves on the Irvine Co.'s board of directors, the Orange County Business Council and the board of the Harbor Day School, a private school in Newport Beach. He and his wife, Joanne Jameson Hunt, have two children.

Rob Hurtt

Robert Stanley Hurtt Jr. has quickly become one of the most powerful Republicans in California and one of the state's most visible evangelical Christian officeholders. He isn't slick and rarely gives inspirational speeches, but Hurtt, 51, the state senator from Garden Grove and wealthy owner of a tin can and plastic bucket manufacturing firm, last year seized the influential post of state Senate Republican leader. He now acts as a sort of chairman of the GOP board, which includes Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle and state party Chair John Herrington. His avowed goal: To capture the Senate, which Republicans have not held in 23 years. Foes attribute Hurtt's rapid ascent more to his willingness to spend his own millions than political skills. "Whether you agree with what I believe or not, I put my money where my mouth is," he says. Since 1991, Hurtt has donated nearly $3.3 million to state Republicans. Hurtt and his wife, Nancy, his sweetheart from Pasadena High School, have four children.

William Buck Johns III

Though he often holds political fund-raisers at his home, some insiders say his political influence is on the wane. There is no denying, though, William Buck Johns' love of politics. His compact stature and trim haircut make him look like Ross Perot, though his twang comes from his native Arkansas, not Texas. Like Perot, Johns is quick-witted, successful and not shy about his political views. A former Eagle Scout, Johns is known for his charm, his tenacity and his ability to juggle various political interests. As a principal of the Inland Group Inc., Johns, 54, helps real estate developers negotiate the entitlements to build on their properties, most often in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. But the company's headquarters are near Back Bay, not far from Johns' expansive Newport Beach home. Politics is "the ultimate game," Johns says. "It provides you access and transcends all the other kinds of barriers. The Rockefellers, who have all the money in the world, where do they go? They go into politics."

Ross Johnson

He is the dean of Orange County's Sacramento delegation. A former steelworker and Orange Coast College student, 56-year-old state Sen. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine) has outlasted many of his colleagues. Johnson, considered savvy, shy and introverted, arrived in the Assembly in 1978 as one of the conservative "Proposition 13 babies." Nearly 20 years later, his brand of anti-tax, antiabortion, anti-government conservatism is now in sync with the mainstream of the state Republican Party. Johnson a year ago jumped from the Fullerton area to Irvine to run for state Senate. He was labeled a carpetbagger by his rivals, former Republican Assembly members Gil Ferguson and Doris Allen, but won easily, a victory considered a testament to his power in Sacramento. Some believed the party would move away from him, but the opposite has occurred. "I'm reasonably intelligent and I represent the views of my constituency pretty accurately," he says. "Collectively, we represent the views of millions of Californians."

John R. Lewis

Some political insiders call state Sen. John R. Lewis (R-Orange) "the shrewdest mind in the Legislature." A Los Angeles native who grew up in Yorba Linda and attended Valencia High School, Lewis is a wealthy heir to a dog food fortune but lives relatively modestly. Except for a head full of gray hair, he is still boyish-looking at 46. Quiet on the Senate floor, he is considered a dynamo behind the scenes. Like his close ally, Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle, Lewis began his political career at a young age, winning election to the state GOP Central Committee at 20. In 1980, he won an Assembly seat and has been in Sacramento ever since, promoting anti-tax, anti-government conservatism. "We can walk the high road of freedom and self-responsibility or travel with the liberals down the low road to mediocrity and government dependence," he says.

Curt Pringle

He is the first Republican in a quarter century to hold the Assembly speakership with the support of his party. Defeat has never stopped Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle. (R-Garden Grove). Thrice beaten in runs for Garden Grove City Council and bested in his second Assembly race in 1990, the son of a drapery salesman has rebounded to acquire the top post in the Assembly. Even his first election to the Assembly in 1988 was rocky. A group of Latino voters sued Pringle and the Republican Party, charging that the use of uniformed security guards at the polls intimidated them. Pringle claimed he played no role in the poll guard issue. The lawsuit was settled out of court, with insurance companies paying a reported $400,000 in damages. Pringle, 37, has lived in Garden Grove since he was 9 and is a graduate of Cal State Long Beach. Wife Alexis is a member of the county GOP Central Committee. They have two children. "I won't compromise on things like tax increases and over-regulation of business," he says. "If that makes me an ideologue, then so be it."

Dana Rohrabacher

A former speech writer for President Ronald Reagan and personal friend of Oliver North, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, now in his fourth term in the House, used to be dismissed as a member of the right-wing fringe. But in the new, more conservative Congress, Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), 48, is a player, making headlines with loud pronouncements on a wide range of topics such as foreign policy and immigration. Orange County Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi has been the target of scathing attacks since his office indicted Rohrabacher's campaign manager, Rhonda J. Carmony, for allegedly orchestrating a plan to place a decoy Democratic candidate on the ballot of a special Assembly election last year. For Rohrabacher, there is often no middle ground to politics. Some consider the divorced Rohrabacher, who lives in Fountain Valley when he's not in Washington, a libertarian, not a Republican. In any case, he's not hesitant to suggest he would sometimes rather down a shot of tequila and hit the surf than linger in daylong House committee sessions. "When I stop having fun, that's when I'll get out of here," he says.

Ed Royce

He's a two-term congressman from Fullerton and co-chairman of the self-styled "Porkbusters," a bipartisan group of like-minded budget watchers in the House and Senate. As a shy and reserved student at Cal State Fullerton in the mid-1970s, Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) could have been voted least likely to run for political office. Today, however, the 44-year-old Royce and his fellow Porkbusters have made names for themselves by fighting what they see as "pork-barrel" spending. Royce is another local product who graduated from Katella High School in Anaheim. But he was an obscure accountant for a cement manufacturer when he came out of nowhere to defeat Democrat Frank Barbaro for a state Senate seat in 1982. Many locals remember that Royce kept out of the public eye while he sent out mailers that attacked Barbaro as a liberal and featured pictures of Jane Fonda. Today he is considered a bright tactician and negotiator. "If you are patient enough and you don't mind who gets the credit, you can change the world," Royce says.

Michael J. Schroeder

Attorney Michael J. Schroeder is expected to be the next chairman of the California Republican Party. He's an Orange County native, having grown up in Tustin, graduated from Servite High School and attended Cal State Fullerton, where he served as student body president, before going on to USC and USC Law School. His interest in politics dates back to his days as a Servite sophomore in 1972, when he became a paid staffer for the party's Orange County Central Committee as well as a volunteer in Richard Nixon's reelection campaign. Schroeder, 40, of Irvine, the divorced father of a 9-year-old daughter, worked his way up in the party to become its state treasurer and current vice chairman. He served as chairman of the successful campaign to recall maverick Assemblyman Paul Horcher and as co-chair of the campaign to recall Assemblywoman Doris Allen. "The recall is a tool that you're going to see more often because it fits the mood of the electorate," he says. "The electorate is more angry and they are less willing to put up with politicians who break faith with them."

Compiled by Times staff writer Len Hall.

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