Former state Assemblyman Bill Campbell on Tuesday won a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, even as a state appeals court is deciding whether the ballot initiative that made the election possible is constitutional.
Campbell easily outdistanced four rivals in the contest to represent the 3rd District, which stretches from the rustic canyons of the Santa Ana Mountains to the master-planned community of Irvine.
Campbell, who received nearly 75% of the vote, said he hoped to immediately begin tackling the financial problems facing the county and expressed confidence that the legal battle over whether the election should have taken place will soon be over.
"You can never expect to be ahead by this much," Campbell said.
He said he thought his huge lead was driven by two factors: that he represented two-thirds of the district for the past six years in the state Assembly and that he ran an effective, albeit expensive, campaign.
"I was known in the district, and I tried to serve people well," he said. "Certainly the message got out and that's part of it. What that message did was it reminded people of what I had already done for them."
Despite the uncertainty over the election, the five candidates seeking the vacant seat spent more than $280,000, with Campbell spending the lion's share.
More than 34,000 voters cast ballots, but only a third of them voted at the polls. The rest -- more than 23,000 -- cast absentee ballots, about three-quarters of which were for Campbell. All ballots have been counted.
The election had a markedly low turnout in the history of the district, home to 600,000 people. Former Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who vacated the 3rd District seat in November after he was elected to the state Assembly, was the biggest vote-getter of any supervisor ever, winning 119,450 votes in March 2000.
"It's been very slow; this is the worst I've ever seen it," said Lorraine Castruita, a worker at the Modjeska Canyon Community Center polling site.
By 9:15 a.m., just eight people had voted there. By that time in previous years, especially during presidential elections, there have been lines to vote and hundreds of ballots cast.
"Maybe it's confusion over the results as to whether the election is even going to count," she said.
The court battle is over Measure V, the voter-approved measure that called for vacancies on the Board of Supervisors to be filled by special elections rather than by the governor's appointment.
Critics sued, saying Measure V was an unconstitutional attempt by Republicans to prevent Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, from filling the seat being vacated Spitzer.
A Superior Court judge ruled over the weekend that Measure V was unconstitutional. An appeals court allowed the election to occur but said it would take up the issue next month.
That means the county's new supervisor will be seated and begin making decisions with the prospect of later being removed from office if the court throws out the election results.
The other four candidates were Irvine police officer and former longtime Tustin council member Jim Potts, college professor William Wetzel, county veterans representative Douglas Boeckler and postal worker and Los Angeles County Sheriff's reserve Deputy Robert Douglas.
Potts, who came in second with just more than 13% of the vote, couldn't believe the gap.
"I knew it was David going against Goliath, but I never had any idea it could be that big," he said. "I've got to give him credit. He orchestrated it before the position was even open. I guess the rest of us were foolish to try to run against 'The Machine'," as Campbell is called by his opponents.
Among critics, Measure V is largely viewed as a ploy by Spitzer and Campbell to allow them to play musical chairs -- a charge both men strongly deny -- and to prevent Davis from appointing a Democrat to represent Orange County's Republican 3rd District.
Spitzer, who financially backed the measure, said the only intent of the initiative was to allow voters to select their representative -- and that was what they did when they overwhelmingly elected Campbell, whom Spitzer endorsed.
"When a candidate is elected into office, they are elected with a mandate from the voters. They have the will of the electorate behind them," he said.
"Given the incredible problem of the state budget, there couldn't be a better time for a former legislator to be sitting on the Board of Supervisors. He will be the only member of the board who has sat in the Legislature and has a statewide perspective and understanding of the budget process. He's going to carry a lot of weight on the board."
Campbell said among his biggest concerns is the state budget crisis that threatens to cut nearly 8% of the county's general fund, as well as fiscal mismanagement in the county planning department that led to a fifth of its staff being laid off. He said dealing with the fate of the defunct El Toro Marine Base is another priority.Campbell, 60, raised $270,000 and quickly locked up dozens of endorsements from leaders such as Sheriff Michael S. Carona, Supervisors Tom Wilson and Jim Silva, and Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez. Campbell's 75,000 mailers showed him smiling alongside President Bush.
Longtime county watchdog Shirley Grindle said the outcome of the election was never in doubt.
"Campbell is definitely the fair-haired boy for the Republican party," she said. "It was well-known that Campbell went after absentee votes virtually before anyone else was in the race."
Times Staff Writers Janet Wilson and Jean O. Pasco contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS
*--* 100% Precincts Reporting Votes % Bill Campbell 25,501 74.8 Jim Potts 4,504 13.2 Douglas Boeckler 2,043 6.0 William A. Wetzel 1,497 4.4 Robert Douglas 563 1.6
Elected candidates -- or those leading with 99% of precincts reporting -- are in bold type. Results are not official and could be affected by absentee ballots.
Los Angeles Times