Topping Ballot: High Turnover in High Offices
From the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to the far-flung courthouses and jails, the results of Tuesday’s primary election will affect the county’s future in profound ways.
Countywide, seven incumbents are retiring or seeking higher office, an extraordinary turnover of local government.
Three seats are up for grabs on the county Board of Supervisors, the body deciding the future of the El Toro site.
Incumbents Jim Silva and Tom Wilson, both seeking reelection, disagree on whether a commercial airport should be built at El Toro when the Marines leave in 1999.
The vacated supervisor’s seat in the central county could be the swing vote on the five-member board. Five candidates seek the seat.
Longtime officeholders Sheriff Brad Gates and Dist. Atty. Mike Capizzi will step aside, relinquishing the county’s top crime-fighting jobs to successors. There hasn’t been that kind of change in law enforcement in the county in three decades. The jobs of assessor and auditor-controller also are being vacated by the incumbents.
While local attention is drawn to these county shake-ups, national eyes are on the congressional primary in the central county. Former congressman Robert K. Dornan is in a hard-fought GOP battle with lawyer Lisa Hughes and Superior Court Judge James P. Gray for the right to face Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) in the fall.
On the state legislative side, two Assembly seats held by Republicans pushed out by term limits are being sharply contested. The GOP primary winners are heavily favored to win
the seats in November.
Secretary of State Bill Jones is predicting that 42% of the state’s voters will cast a ballot, which would be the highest turnout in 12 years for an off-year primary.
This is the first primary under the blanket primary rules. That means that voters, regardless of party, may cast ballots for any candidate. All the candidates are listed together under the office they are seeking.
Independents, who previously could vote only for propositions and nonpartisan offices, will be allowed to vote in partisan races.
Here is a look at the key races in Orange County:
4th District Supervisor
The most sharply contested supervisorial seat is the one being vacated by Supervisor William G. Steiner, the 4th District.
North Orange County Community College board Trustee Cynthia Coad, 65, and Anaheim Councilman and Police Officer Lou Lopez, 54--both airport supporters--are arguably ahead of the pack based on endorsements, funding or vote-getting history.
Coad has clinched key endorsements from pro-airport business leaders such as Carl Karcher and George Argyros. With a war chest that dwarfs those of the other candidates, she has loaded up on television and radio advertising and used the mail to reach voters while doing relatively little precinct walking.
Lopez has been hitting the streets nearly every day, relying on the grass-roots effort that won him his council seat in 1994 in the district’s most populous city.
“I’m going through my second pair of tennis shoes,” he said. “I’m going to win it the old-fashioned way.”
Other candidates are La Palma firefighter and Councilman Paul F. Walker, 38, Anaheim real estate agent Steve White, 50, and accountant Eric H. Woolery, 32, a member of the county Board of Education.
As in other multiple-candidate nonpartisan races, if no one picks up more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters will square off in the general election this fall.
2nd District Supervisor
In the 2nd District supervisorial race, incumbent Jim Silva, 54, is facing land planner and former Costa Mesa Mayor Sandy Genis, 45; Huntington Beach Councilman Dave Sullivan, 60, and retired criminal investigator Ralph S. Silva, 58.
Supervisor Silva is seeing some of his support in Huntington Beach eroded by Sullivan and in Costa Mesa by Genis. Silva is hoping a visit from Gov. Pete Wilson on Monday will give him a last-minute push.
Supervisor Silva--who is the only pro-airport candidate in the coastal district--has seen backing for the airport wane in parts of his district recently and that may have affected his popularity.
As the incumbent, Silva also has been the target of attacks. In recent mailers, Sullivan called Silva the “big-money special interest candidate” who “sold out the Bolsa Chica” wetlands to developers from the Koll Co.
Jim Silva accused Sullivan of not sticking to the issues. “The things he has said are not true,” said Silva. “I have received many contributions; a majority of them are under $1,000.”
Genis is walking precincts and relying on her name recognition in the district’s second-largest city.
5th District Supervisor
In the 5th District race, incumbent Tom Wilson, 58, is facing Newport Beach Councilman John W. Hedges, 42, and write-in candidate August Spivey, 55.
Wilson’s South County district is largely and passionately anti-airport. Hedges, an airline pilot, supports the airport and his candidacy appears futile in a region so strongly against it.
Spivey, a teacher who lives in Newport Beach and opposes the airport, said he decided to run because--contrary to popular belief--there is some anti-airport sentiment in Newport Beach.
In the last week, the already contentious sheriff’s race has grown more bitter as both campaigns increased personal attacks.
Supporters of Santa Ana Police Chief Paul M. Walters, 52, frequently contend that Orange County Marshal Mike Carona, 43, is a bailiff and not a street cop. Those contentions were repeated Thursday at a raucous rally of about 500 officers and their families outside the Santa Ana police headquarters.
Carona’s mailers have tagged Walters as a “liberal” and “a labor union activist.”
The two have strong bases of support, though neither has won the backing of Gates, who is leaving after 24 years in office.
Carona is the choice of many local Republican Party leaders and several mayors and council members. Walters is favored by a large majority of the sheriff’s deputies he hopes to lead.
Carona began his campaign expecting to face Gates, but the longtime sheriff chose not to seek reelection. Walters entered the race late. As a result, Carona has had far more money to spend, although the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs has spent tens of thousands of dollars mailing on behalf of Walters in recent days.
The key issues in the race include whether to expand Theo Lacy Branch Jail in Orange, which Walters favors, or build a privately funded new jail, which Carona advocates. Some of Carona’s supporters have investments in companies that run privatized jails and prisons.
A large majority of voters were undecided just two weeks before the election, according to a recent Times Orange County Poll.
The race to succeed Capizzi as the county’s top prosecutor also was a tossup in the Times poll, with two-thirds of voters undecided.
The contest between Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Rackauckas, 54, and Wallace J. Wade, 51, one of four assistant district attorneys, has been relatively low-key in the last several weeks.
The initial battling, however, was fierce this spring when both candidates threatened to sue each other over their respective campaign statements and sparred over whether they had improperly solicited donations from employees who were at work in the district attorney’s office.
Capizzi has endorsed Wade, while Rackauckas has gained the support of the union representing deputy district attorneys.
A major issue among front-line trial attorneys has been their desire to have more say in how their cases are handled, especially the ability to engage in plea bargaining with defendants without necessarily getting such deals approved by superiors. That is something favored by Rackauckas, a former prosecutor in the office.
Wade has said that prosecution of political corruption cases will remain a top priority if he is elected, while Rackauckas believes some of the high-profile cases pursued by the office in recent years were relatively minor and could have been handled by the state Fair Political Practices Commission.
Ironically, Rackauckas’ campaign consultant was alleged to have been one of those involved in placing a decoy Democratic candidate on the ballot in a crucial 1995 election.
Congress, 46th District
In the 46th Congressional District seat, three Republicans are battling Dornan, 65. The contest turned more heated last week as Hughes, 49, sent mailers that angered both her chief rivals, Dornan and Gray, 53.
Polls a month ago showed Dornan with a large but fading lead, and Hughes and Gray even.
The double-barreled attacks by Hughes accused Gray of backing the legalization of drugs and asked Democrats to vote for Hughes “to send Dornan packing once and for all.”
Gray said the mailer “is simply not true.” Gray has called the drug war a failure and said he wants to create a debate on the issue to explore other options. Gray in 1992 drew statewide attention by saying marijuana, cocaine and heroin should be sold at pharmacies to adults.
Dornan, whose mail this week was all targeted at Sanchez, said Hughes had broken “Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment” by attacking fellow Republicans.
Everyone predicted victory for themselves, including Cornelius “Chuck” Coronado, 71, who is wooing the Latino vote.
Hughes has built her campaign on the belief--shared by several Republican leaders--that she can neutralize Sanchez’s advantage with pro-choice GOP women. Gray maintains that he could attract the most Democrats and independents, while Dornan is trying to reassemble his old coalition of anti-abortion advocates, blue-collar Democrats and conservatives.
Sanchez, who is unopposed, predicted “a tough race” in the fall but said she would defeat any of the Republicans.
Assembly, 73rd District
In South County’s 73rd Assembly District, the hit mail is flying as a trio of Republicans battle down to the wire. Laguna Niguel Councilwoman Patricia C. Bates, 56, and Jim Lacy, 46, a Dana Point attorney, have done most of the jousting.
Bates and her allies last week dispatched three hit mailers criticizing Lacy for contributions he has received from Republican trial lawyers and his conspicuous claims to be the only candidate who will carry the “Reagan Revolution” to Sacramento.
One mailer accuses Lacy of running a deceitful campaign by sending out his own campaign literature featuring 15-year-old photos of him with Ronald Reagan at a black-tie dinner.
Lacy defended his ties to Reagan, noting that he worked in both the Reagan and Bush administrations and is endorsed by Reagan administration officials such as Edwin Meese III and Oliver North.
As Bates and Lacy feud, San Clemente Councilman Steve Apodaca, 47, is staying clear of the fray and running a bare-bones campaign on family-friendly promises of fewer taxes, better schools and improved public safety.
“Pat decided she couldn’t resist the opportunity to put out some negative pieces,” he said. “But we’re sticking with the issues.”
Assembly, 68th District
In the central county’s 68th Assembly District, a hard-fought race among five Republicans turned sour last week when Ken Maddox, 34, contended John Kellogg, 39, libeled him in “a preposterous and offensive” mailer.
Kellogg’s mailer claimed Maddox had “ties” to a child molester, a link based on the fact that Maddox bought space on a GOP slate mailer run by a man with a 1992 felony conviction for a sex offense.
The Republican Central Committee on Saturday reprimanded Kellogg for distributing the mailer.
The mailer also cost Kellogg, a Westminster lawyer, the endorsements of Assemblyman Jim Morrissey (R-Santa Ana) and Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach). Baugh urged his supporters to vote for Maddox.
Also in the race are: Garden Grove Councilman Ho Chung, 64, Paul Gonzales, 39, a businessman from Buena Park, and Westminster Councilwoman Joy L. Neugebauer, 70.
Times staff writers Greg Hernandez and Eric Bailey contributed to this report.