The eyes of the world were on Orange County for most of this year, due to the possibility that the longtime bastion of American conservatism might go blue.
It did — kinda. While election results haven’t been verified, five of Orange County’s seven congressional seats seem in the hands of Democrats — a historic moment, indeed. But other local races show that the lords of OC still have some fight to them, even if the old Orange County is now officially dead.
Three congressional races were safely blue, and thus drew little attention. Incumbents Linda Sanchez, Lou Correa, and Alan Lowenthal (representing the 38th, 46th, and 47th districts, respectively) easily won reelection. The rest were those that Republicans and Democrats alike have bitterly fought over for the past two years, ever since Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election here — the first time a Democratic candidate took Orange County in 80 years.
The big upset of the night was first-time candidate Democratic candidate Harley Rouda taking down 30-year congressman Dana Rohrabacher of the 48th. The thought of Dana losing would’ve been absolutely inconceivable two years ago at Skosh Monahan’s in Costa Mesa, where he hosted the most raucous #MAGA party in the Southland on Election Night as the the county’s most vociferous Trump supporter.
That party atmosphere was in effect as late as around 9:30 in the evening on this year’s Election Night, when Rohrabacher was down by less than 30 votes. He told the true believers at working-class white bar Skosh Monahan’s in Costa Mesa that it was a “David versus Goliath” battle — with the 15-term incumbent, of course, casting himself as the underdog.
Dana had a point, to an extent. Rouda raised three times more campaign funds than him — $7.2 million to $2.4 million. That money went to multiple commercials that seemed to run during every break on KCAL-TV Channel 9’s evening news block for the past two months. Liberals’ hatred of Dana brought in volunteers from across the United States, and a pointed effort by national Dems to unseat him in the form of strategists and even more money.
But the real reason Dana lost is because he brought in upon himself, by alienating as many Orange County Republican leaders as possible. His laziness and pendejismos didn’t help, either. It brings to mind John Schmitz, a member of the John Birch Society who was Orange County’s congressman for one term and would’ve gotten more until he said of Richard Nixon’s trip to China in 1972, “I didn’t care that Nixon went to China, I was only upset that he came back.”
An enraged Dick ran a more moderate Republican to take him out. By the end, the only people who supported Dana were neo-Nazis and surf bros — and even they’re not as common anymore in HB.
The other congressional campaigns played pretty much to script.
Mike Levin easily beat Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey for the open 49th Congressional District race (long occupied by the long-polarizing Darrell Issa). For the 45th District, UCI Law professor Katie Porter is currently just two percentage points behind incumbent Mimi Walters, which surprised a lot of observers who were certain that invigorated South County suburban moms would deliver the race to Walters. But Porter couldn’t easily unseat Walters because, despite the efforts of Democrats to cast the congresswoman as “Despicable Mimi,” no one really cared about her — hence, most voters didn’t care enough to try and boot Mimi.
And first-time candidate Gil Cisneros had little chance to defeat former State Assemblywoman Young Kim in the 39th Congressional District seat for two reasons: The power of the Asian-American vote (which, contrary to national punditry, usually leans Republican in OC); and Cisneros’ uninspiring nice-guy approach, which forced local Democratic leaders to quietly try to change behind the scenes.
As I’ve said earlier: if State Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who lost her seat to Kim in 2014 but won it back in 2016, and whose district roughly covers the 39th, had run in this district, she would’ve won. Expect her to take on Kim in 2020, making the face-off the finest trilogy since Marco Antonio Barrera contra Erik Morales.
Disneyland Rules Anaheim Again
Over the past year, the Happiest Place on Earth has undergone PR crisis after PR crisis over multiple reports about all the exploitation workers must undergo. The powerful UNITE HERE Local 11 used that momentum to qualify on this year’s ballot Measure L, a living-wage ordinance that would apply to any business in the so-called Anaheim Resort but everyone knew was pointed at the Mouse.
It’s currently in the lead by less than 600 votes.
But that’s the only victory that progressives earned on Election Night. Disneyland — which spent an Anaheim-record $1.5 million in this election — saw three of its preferred candidates win seats in Anaheim: Jordan Brandman and Trevor O’Neill on the council, and former Councilmember Harry Sidhu as mayor. That flips the seven-member Anaheim council to a 5-2 hard majority for anything Disney, with only incumbent Jose Moreno a true skeptic of corporate subsidies.
Expect a new era of city subsidies to rain down on hotels, the Angels, and Disneyland — and expect UNITE HERE and other progressive forces to face off against them again and again.
The District Attorney’s Race
The real shocker of the night was the District Attorney’s race, where current Supervisor Todd Spitzer comfortably beat longtime DA Tony Rackauckas, who ran only to try and stop Spitzer. Rackauckas — who had previously said he wouldn’t run in 2016 — delayed retirement to try to deny his former protege and then pick his own successor. The fight here was straight out of King Lear.
His plan didn’t work.
Spitzer was Rackauckas’ hand-picked successor way back in 2010, until the teacher booted student. Spitzer vowed to run in 2014 but was talked down by party leaders, then took the plunge this year despite scoring only two endorsements from elected officials: fellow supervisor Shawn Nelson (who’s even more pompous than Spitzer), and the mayor of Orange.
In Orange County, friends and foes alike think Spitzer is hotheaded, media-hungry, and just too extra, and gave the former KFI host little chance of winning.
But the jailhouse snitch scandal — in which deputy district attorneys relied on illegally obtained confessions by snitches to get conviction after conviction that later got overturned — hounded Rackauckas for years and obviously left the public suspicious of the man born Antonio Limón Rackauckas (yep: Tony is a Chicano from East L.A.). So did the indefatigable work of my former colleague, the OC Weekly’s R. Scott Moxley. As far back as 2001, Moxley was sounding warnings that Rackauckas — a former Superior Court judge who first became famous for organizing a recall campaign against California Supreme Court Justice Rose Bird back in the 1980s — was dirty, dirty, dirty.
Voters didn’t listen — until now.
Latina Trump Card
History was made in Santa Ana when Salvadoran-American Cecilia “Ceci” Iglesas became the first-ever Central American elected to an Orange County elected office when she won a council seat. But that’s where the celebration should stop, because the Republican ain’t no Wendy Carrillo. In fact, she’s known as “Latina Trump” by longtime progressive activists in OC.
Why? As a longtime trustee for the Santa Ana Unified School District, Iglesias tried to implement charter schools and weaken the teacher’s union. She was the lone voter against a board measure in support of DACA. She’s director of community relations for the right-wing California Policy Center. Iglesias called AB 1266 — the California statute that protects transgender and gender non-conforming rights for K-12 student s — a “creepy, dangerous law” that “lets boys use girls’ bathrooms, showers and locker rooms while the girls are using them.”
In a year where Donald Trump has demonized Central American refugees as “invaders,” Iglesias — who migrated to the United States with her family in 1979 — has remained disturbingly quiet on the matter. More disturbingly? Trustee Iglesias once got high school students to boo Valley High School. Her own alma mater. (Valley High kids got their revenge, in the video shown above).
The OC Right has labored for years for a Great Brown Hope — and Iglesias, regrettably, is it.
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