Editorial: Voting for conscience, not politics

Costa Mesa Councilwoman Wendy Leece has defied the elephant in the room. Despite warnings sent to her from Orange County GOP leaders, she went against her party's line last week by voting in favor of multi-year contracts for police and other city employee groups. Republicans wanted her to help extract more concessions from public employee unions.

Leece's vote was pivotal. The City Council passed the proposal, 3 to 2. Leece, who is hoping to win a second four-year term Tuesday, sided with Councilwoman Katrina Foley, the council's lone Democrat, and Councilman Gary Monahan. Mayor Allan Mansoor and Councilman Eric Bever dissented.

Before the vote, the Republican Party of Orange County had warned Leece to vote against the proposal. Leece went public about the GOP's phone calls and e-mails.

"I never envisioned having to say this about my own party, but Republican outsiders are trying to control the city of Costa Mesa and its public safety," said Leece, who on her website called the incident "The Elephant in the Room."

Well, welcome to politics.

Leece should not be so shocked that county GOP leaders are threatening to play hard ball, even if she holds a non-partisan office. After all, the Republicans did endorse Leece for reelection along with council hopeful Jim Righeimer, who has made his unwavering opposition to giving Costa Mesa's police and firefighters generous pay and pension deals a plank in his platform. Righeimer, as many observers know, has also paid the political price for his resolute stances, as unions are spending wildly to defeat him.

Of course the party expected something in return, namely to stick with its agenda of lowering what admittedly are costly benefits packages for public employees that just don't exist in the private sector. So in this case, the Republican demands on Costa Mesa and other O.C. cities appear generally reasonable, and eventually we too would like to see employee pensions for new hires replaced with 401(k)-style programs.

Nevertheless, we like how Leece voted her conscience rather than do the politically expedient thing.

After all, it takes guts to stare down an angry pachyderm.

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