South County 73rd AD Melee Attracts a Democrat: Prof. Wendy Gabriella, Esq.

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Wendy Gabriella

Wendy Gabriella, recently Academic Senate President of Irvine Valley College, has announced the early stages of her run for State Assembly in the 73rd Assembly District, which covers most of South County.  (Of special interest to many of us here, she doesn’t merely teach Anthropology, but is an attorney with a rare but precious interest: pursuing Open Meeting Act cases.)  Her entry into the race roils the waters in a competition that has thus far seen five roughly comparable Republican candidates — who now may be fighting next June for one slot in the general election rather than two.

First, the press release, then the analysis.


LAGUNA NIGUEL-Constitutional attorney and Professor Wendy Gabriella announced today that she is a candidate for the State Assembly to represent the 73rd Assembly District.   As a long-time resident of the District and a career educator, Professor Gabriella runs as a fiscal conservative dedicated to ensuring that our present and future generations have access to quality public education in order to meet the economic opportunities of the future.  Professor Gabriella’s campaign focuses on increasing per pupil funding while holding the line against spiraling tuition, ever escalating textbook prices, and crippling student loan debt.

“I intend to promote quality education in order to meet the economic opportunities of the future,” said Professor Gabriella in her campaign kickoff conference.  “I am the only candidate in this race with 30 years experience in the classroom, and the ability to work cooperatively with Democrats in Sacramento to achieve real educational reform.”

“I am also a strong advocate of transparency in government, elimination of partisan politics, and holding Sacramento accountable”, added Professor Gabriella.  “As a public interest attorney, I have successfully litigated numerous cases involving the California Open Meeting Act which requires elected officials to do the public’s business in public as well as First Amendment (Freedom of Speech) cases.  I won the first Open Meeting Act case in California where the judge took the unprecedented step of ordering tape recordings of closed sessions to protect the public from secret backroom deals.  It’s time to hold Sacramento accountable and eliminate the partisan politics which causes gridlock.”

The only Democrat in the race, Professor Gabriella offers the voters a stark choice between the typical politicians, and a consensus building candidate with the proven ability to work across partisan lines for the good of the district.  “California is in transition”, Professor Gabriella noted.  “We need new leaders who can responsibly and compassionately guide that transition. We face many opportunities and Sacramento needs courageous leaders who are willing to plan for the future, a future that includes fiscal accountability, spending caps, and economic development.  Please join me in looking forward, investing in, and working toward the future of California”.

Assembly District 73 includes Aliso Viejo, Coto De Caza, Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, and San Juan Capistrano.

Gabriella — whose website apparently went live today — doesn’t hold elected office, as do many of her prospective opponents.  Her record of accomplishments is serious enough that they won’t be able to brush her aside.  She’s well-positioned, through her legal work on the Open Meeting Act, to run as a “good government candidate” in a race that will be full of the sort of politicians who would normally be in her sights.

Yes, the 73rd is a conservative district (where fiscal conservatism should play well) where termed out Republican Diane Harkey got about 130,000 votes to the 72,200 of her opponent James Corbett.  But it’s also as “Tea Party-esque” as you can find in Orange County — generally suspicious of and antagonistic towards government.  (Her hometown of Laguna Niguel, after all, also contains another lawyer with additional career interests: the birther, real estate agent and dentist Orly Taitz.)  Having a history of punching the government in the nose and winning — a harder claim for Taitz to make — could play well here.

The practical effect of this is to take a Republican race that already looks to be boiling and to turn it to plasma.  Consider the field:

  • Steve Baric (Republican) – Councilmember, Rancho Santa Margarita
  • Bill Brough (Republican) – Councilmember, Dana Point,
  • Anna Bryson (Republican) – Board Member, Capistrano Unified School District,
  • Paul Glaab (Republican) – Councilmember, Laguna Niguel
  • Jesse Petrilla (Republican) – Councilmember, Rancho Santa Margarita

This is sort of like the line-up for my 55th Assembly District straddling the Puente Hills, except that the Republicans here have more cachet than the ones there.  And the stakes for them could hardly be higher.  Whichever of them catches what is likely a single ticket into a general election against Gabriella is going to be in this seat for up to 12 years — and very hard, barring scandal, to dislodge unwillingly.  So four of those five ambitious politicians are facing the prospect of falling behind the fifth in the Assembly line into Republican power.  They might each be better off if the nominated Republican loses the general election race, although that’s not nice to acknowledge.  That sort of discord is good news for Gabriella.

On the other hand, the State Senate district will be opening.  OC Supervisor Pat Bates is expected to run against former Assembly member Martin Garrick — but whoever wins there might move onto higher things well before their time is up.  (Congressman Darrell Issa doesn’t seem like he’s planning on going anywhere, but who knows what the richest member of Congress might do?)  So the Assembly assembly line will continue to move — and finishing at least second (or no worse than third) among Republicans next June could turn out to be important down the line.  This is the sort of thing that people talk about in later elections:

“Remember when he finished fourth out of five for AD-73 in 2014?  Poor guy can’t run a real campaign to save his life.”

So any of these five could stand aside — but that would be tantamount to saying that they were not really that interested, thank you, in higher office.  Whether for here or for Bates’s Supervisorial seat, they pretty much have to run — or be counted out as someone who stands apart from and ahead of the many other City Council members littering Republican politics in South County.

Fight for second place in the overall race — that’s not too bad, even if one loses in November.  Fighting for first place among Republicans, with Gabriella likely to take one of the top two slots — that’s tough.  And expensive.  (And, for observers, fun.)

So how do these aspirants measure up?   Actually, it’s a pretty balanced race!

Anna Bryson might have the slightly less elevated office, on the Capo Unified District compared to a local city council, but she has a couple of significant advantages.  First, she has run (in the days before districting) and been elected over a larger territory than any single city.  Second, she’s a she.  She can distinguish herself from the other candidates in the most significant way available — although Gabriella’s entry into the race hurts her somewhat.

Among the other candidates, you may remember Paul Glaab of Laguna Niguel from his involvement with the 405 Toll Roads on the OCTA.  Luckily for him, screwing over people to the northwest is not likely to hurt him.  Bill Brough of Dana Point has been Diane Harkey’s Chief of Staff — but Harkey’s hands might be somewhat tied next year due to her expected race for Board of Equalization against termed-out State Senator Mark Wyland.  (She’ll need all the friends she can get — and working hard to defeat four other local Republicans is not the way to make and keep them.)

Rounding out the set are two men from the Rancho Santa Margarita City Council, former state party Vice Chair and political litigator Steve Baric and Jesse Petrilla, who is both conservative and Spanish-surnamed.  Petrilla, like Bryson, would likely be the choice of Democrats who weren’t paying close attention to anything more than last and first names (respectively) and lacking much other basis to decide wanted to integrate the white-male club of the Assembly.  So Gabriella’s entry into the race also cuts away some of the votes Petrilla might expect from people who don’t actually know him — and further muddies the waters.  (I’ve heard people saying that if no Democrat ran Petrilla would be the frontrunner in June simply in the expectation of getting the mostly non-Republican Latino vote.  But I have little idea whether those people really know the lay of the land.)

So while Gabriella’s presence in the race narrows the window through which these Republicans hope to climb, it doesn’t make anyone’s specific probability of winning so much worse that they would necessarily fall down into the ranks of city officials who aren’t grabbing for the brass ring.  There’s more reason for them to take a shot than to not be seen as having the fire in the belly for it.  It’s not obvious to me who among them I can discount, but maybe some of our more Republican and southern commenters will have their — probably mutually contradictory — ideas.

That should make for an expensive and entertaining June primary — and, potentially, for lasting bad feelings that could bode well for Gabriella in November.

And that’s if nothing changes — and of course something could always change between now and filing day!

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose worker's rights and government accountability attorney, residing in northwest Brea. General Counsel of CATER, the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a non-partisan group of people sick of local corruption. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Occasionally runs for office to challenge some nasty incumbent who would otherwise run unopposed. (Someday he might pick a fight with the intent to win rather than just dent someone. You'll know it when you see it.) He got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012 and in 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. A family member co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)