Lobdell: Looking back at what we've learned

Here are the top 6 things we've learned from last week's local elections.

No. 6: Incumbency wasn't all bad.

Turns out a record 30 years wasn't enough for Newport-Mesa school board member Judy Franco. In fact, nearly 60% of voters chose to bring her back for four more years. (Franco's tenure has been so long that history classes didn't exist when she first got on the school board.)

The landslide was particularly notable because Franco faced a quality candidate in the savvy Loretta Zimmerman, a longtime school volunteer. Plus, several columnists threw whatever weight they had behind Zimmerman (Note to future candidates: Work to have me endorse your challenger and you will be guaranteed to win).

The good news: The school district will continue to be well served by the respected Franco.

Runner-up: At 29 years, Trustee Roderick H. MacMillian served the second longest on the school board. He retired in 1994, citing the need to reduce stress on his ailing heart. Apparently, it was a good choice. Since then, MacMillian has lived a long and healthy retirement.

No. 5: In fact, incumbency is still quite powerful in Newport-Mesa.

In Newport Beach, incumbency was powerful enough to allow two of the three City Council members up for re-election (Mike Henn and Nancy Gardner) to run unopposed. The third incumbent, Leslie Daigle, received 63% of the vote against a single challenger.

Elsewhere, no incumbents lost but school Trustee Michael Collier, who was up against a popular candidate with higher name recognition, Costa Mesa Councilwoman Katrina Foley.

The good news: The Newport Beach City Council is running well, so experience will be one of its strengths when the looming budget problems are tackled.

Out of step: Daigle's opponent, Mark Tabbert, campaigned against Measure V, an innocuous bit of bureaucratic housekeeping that was passed by 62% of the voters.

No. 4: Politics make strange bedfellows.

Costa Mesa Planning Commissioner Steve Mensinger is known for his conservative views, yet he encouraged and later endorsed Foley's successful run for the Newport-Mesa school board — despite having two years left on her council term. Foley, a moderate Democrat, was also endorsed by the local teachers' union and liberal politicians, including Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) and state Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana).

So why would Mensinger — along with fellow conservative Planning Commissioner Jim Fitzpatrick — try to get a liberal like Foley elected to the school board? Is it too cynical to think that conservatives helped get Foley on the school board as a way of ridding the council of its only Democrat — without holding an election?

You can decide, but here's something else: The odds-on favorite to fill Foley's soon-to-be-empty council seat is Mensinger.

The good news: Foley is an excellent, well-liked representative who would have won the school board seat without the conservative cheerleading, and personally, I'd rather have her dedication channeled into our children's future than into city politics.

Hypocrisy: The local GOP slammed Newport Beach Councilman-elect Rush Hill for taking union money. It did the same to Costa Mesa Councilwoman Wendy Leece for not being tough for voting for union contracts with minor concessions. But I'm pretty sure no one will say a word about conservatives endorsing union-backed Foley because her victory will likely result in another conservative appointed to the Costa Mesa City Council.

No. 3: Tried but tired political strategies need to be rethought.

In Newport-Mesa, the public safety unions, local GOP and even political consultant Dave Ellis (who has had a golden touch when it comes to Newport Beach elections) were losers this election. They painted their opponents, respectively, as out-of-control cop haters, out-of-touch union sympathizers, and out-to-lunch insiders. Voters didn't buy the false caricatures.

The good news: Perhaps a new respect has been earned for the sophistication of local voters.

Proposal: Electing representatives from districts works well for the Newport Beach City Council and Newport-Mesa school board. I'd like to see the same for the Costa Mesa City Council. Plus, I'd go a step further, and have each district elect its own representative, as is done with congressional and state Assembly and Senate seats. This would allow for more intense district-only campaigns that would cost a fraction of what it would take to reach voters citywide (or two cities, in the case of a school board race).

No. 2: I would still like to be John Moorlach's friend.

Orange County Supervisor and Costa Mesa resident John Moorlach has gotten criticism for publicly blasting his longtime conservative political ally, Leece, for her recent vote approving new Costa Mesa union contracts.

"She'll always be a friend, but she's not qualified to be a City Council member," Moorlach told the Pilot's Mona Shadia last week. "The point is we need some leadership and someone who understands finance. She shut the door on this opportunity to negotiate with the unions with these contract extensions."

Moorlach, though sometimes as tactful as Simon Cowell on "American Idol," successfully separates his political and personal lives. In his world, he has no problem tearing into someone for his or her political beliefs or actions and still retaining a warm friendship. It's politics and not personal with Moorlach.

I would know. Over the years, I've had many disagreements — some of them strong — with Moorlach over something I've written or he's done, but the personal relationship has never been affected. (I will say this: If Moorlach brought in the local Republican Party to intimidate me, I'd probably scratch him off my Christmas card list for at least one year.)

As models, I like the "Looney Tunes" cartoon characters Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog. Two workers punch a time clock, exchange greetings and go to work — Ralph trying to steal sheep and Sam doing everything to stop him. At the end of the day, they punch the clock and pleasantly say goodbye. You get the feeling they might even have a beer at the neighborhood pub.

The good news: Leece has enough friends, with or without Moorlach, though I suspect the two evangelical Christians will follow the example of Jesus and forgive and forget — soon or later.

Non-election-related trivia: Ralph E. Wolf is modeled after Wile E. Coyote. You can tell them apart because Ralph has a red nose and Wile E. has a black nose.

No. 1: The election ain't over until the Costa Mesa council sings.

With Foley resigning her council seat to go to the school board, the 2010 campaign has yet to end. But now, instead of a city voting, it will be just four council members deciding who will get the two years left on Foley's term.

If the political world were fair, a moderate similar in style to Foley's would be appointed. I'd suggest a former council member — such as Joe Erickson, Mary Hornbuckle or Karen McGlinn — who has no interest in running in 2012. He or she would just be serving out Foley's term, giving voters something close to what they voted for.

But that won't be the case. The four conservatives on the council will appoint someone who mirrors their views — and the lobbying has already begun.

The good news: The politicking will be over in December at the latest.

The bad news: The elections were the easy part. In the next two years, our local politicians will have to face some of the toughest decisions Newport-Mesa has ever faced because of the Great Recession. Time to buckle up.

WILLIAM LOBDELL is former editor of the Daily Pilot, former Los Angeles Times reporter and editor, and a Costa Mesa resident. His e-mail is williamlobdell@gmail.com.

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