What do the words “taxpayer advocate” mean to Orange County voters?
What about “businesswoman?”
That’s what’s at issue in a lawsuit Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) filed earlier this month alleging that one of his opponents in a June race for the Orange County Board of Supervisors has misrepresented herself on the ballot.
Michelle Steel, a member of the state Board of Equalization, spends most of her days neither advocating on taxpayers’ behalf nor running a business, a petition filed in Orange County Superior Court asserts.
The petition, which asks for the court to order a number of changes to Steel’s candidate’s statement, names the Surfside resident and Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley as respondents.
Steel’s role at the Board of Equalization, the document says, is “quasi-judicial,” noting that she must impartially consider tax appeals.
Therefore, her official ballot designation — the occupation that will be listed alongside her name — should read “Board of Equalization member,” the document argues.
“Her full-time position is as an elected member of the state Board of Equalization,” Mansoor said Wednesday. “Telling voters her occupation is anything else is deceptive.”
His ballot designation is “California Assemblyman.”
On Wednesday, Steel, whose Twitter handle is @TaxFighterSteel, dismissed the claims.
Mansoor, a former Costa Mesa mayor, had already contested Steel’s ballot designation to the registrar, which ultimately allowed her to keep the “taxpayer advocate/businesswoman” tag.
She added that as a Board of Equalization member, she’s had a hand in refunding millions of dollars to taxpayers.
Furthermore, Steel said, she owns rental properties and has helped manage her husband’s law firm for decades. Steel is married to state GOP heavyweight Shawn Steel.
“I don’t know why [Mansoor] is just wasting money and time here,” she said.
Kelley said that while he couldn’t comment directly on the case, he noted that legal battles over candidate statements and ballot designations aren’t unusual.
He estimated that “in the neighborhood of five to seven lawsuits are pretty typical every election cycle.”
“Sometimes we’ll negotiate between the parties; sometimes we’ll outright change things,” Kelley said. “I’ve seen everything, to be honest with you.”
Steel and Mansoor are vying to replace Supervisor John Moorlach, who will be termed out of the board’s District 2 seat, representing parts of Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, among other cities.
Joe Carchio, Huntington Beach city councilman and retired business owner, and Jim Moreno, governing board member of the Coast Community College District, are also in the race.