It’s over. Northwest Orange County has given the Democrats a legislative supermajority in the State Assembly to go along with the one in the State Senate. Chris Norby, e-mailing from Honduras, has conceded the victory in the AD-65 race to Sharon Quirk-Silva.
I’m not generally one to dance on people’s political graves. Without question, Norby had real accomplishments in the legislature — some of which involved opposing much of his own party, as with the scuttling of redevelopment. He was an ideologue in both the best and worst senses — willing to take on anyone in support of his beliefs, but also so committed to them as to be immune to contrary evidence.
Norby lost to a better and more dedicated candidate who started out with great support from her community and from her mentor, Loretta Sanchez, and jumped through every hoop necessary to get the state Democratic Party and unions to — finally and almost too late — jump into the race with both feet wearing cleats.
Quirk-Silva won’t have the advantage of surprise in two years — but she also won’t so badly need it. She’ll be able to raise gobs of money now so that she can hold onto the seat. That money will have to be used to cement in a larger transformation — one that can survive an election where President Obama, Prop 30, and Prop 32 are not the main concerns. Just as Loretta Sanchez has been the “go-to person” in central OC, she will become the same in the northwest — a significant party leader and organizer from Stanton and Cypress up to Fullerton and Buena Park. Both a long-planned voter registration campaign in West Anaheim and Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s decision to allow online voter registration played significant roles in the win. Quirk-Silva had a strong, professionally led staff, a thick hide in the fact of attacks, and tremendous discipline. She’ll now have the advantage in Sacramento of being the rock star who brought home the unexpected victory.
As Loretta Sanchez has done for her, Quirk-Silva will have to groom her own successors should she decide to run for State Senate in four years — or for Congress if Jay Chen doesn’t beat Ed Royce before then. (Note: I don’t need a disclaimer here; I don’t expect or especially want to be among those successors Apparently, I’m a little polarizing.) The Republican bench in the area is deeper than the Democratic one, which will mean a lot of effort towards party building in order to catch up — La Palma’s Ralph Rodriguez is one example of someone that people might want to start being nice to right now — and for Democrats, that’s all to the good. She’ll probably (but not necessarily) face a strong challenge in 2014 — “what’s Shaun Nelson running for?” is already becoming a local parlor game — but if she survives it strongly enough she’ll probably be in the clear thereafter.
It’s a heady time here in the region. This was not “just another election”; it was the local version of a 1932 or 1968-style realignment. A lot — including the broader success of the regional party — will rest on Quirk-Silva’s shoulders. That’s OK, though — she’s battle-tested. She’s dealt with both Kelly’s Army and with an army of elementary school students. Which experience will prove to have been more useful in Sacramento — well, that’s the punch line to a joke that she’s earned the right to complete whichever way she wants.