My nominal opponent in this year’s race for Orange County District Attorney (now fortified with Public Administrator) is incumbent Tony Rackauckas. Many people, though, apparently think that he doesn’t plan to be the incumbent when the upcoming term of office ends in 2018. Speculation abounds that Rackauckas will resign something around March 18, 2017, his 74th birthday, just past halfway through his term — allowing his hand-picked successor to be ratified by a friendly OC Board of Supervisors.
As one who thinks that the public, rather than a bare majority of three of five Supervisors (two of whom, Todd Spitzer and Shawn Nelson, might reasonably want to contend for such a position), should choose who serves in important County officers, that troubles me. “Smoking Rackauckas out” on whether he plans to serve a full term isn’t one of my top reasons for running … but it is a good one. I’d like to hear about his intentions — wouldn’t you?
In fact, analyses of this race going back three or so years have projected that it would be between Rackauckas’s Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder — ex-wife of influential GOP power broker, Rackauckas adviser, chiropractic insurance salesman and fairly recently convicted drunk driver Mike Schroeder — and Spitzer, Rackauckas’s former top deputy. Somehow, that didn’t happen.
I’ve heard not-for-attribution insider speculation — meaning, loose talk from people involved with county politics over the years, though for the most part I can’t recall who said what when — that Rackauckas is running because he, rather than Kang Schroeder, would have a much better chance of fending off a challenge from the well-funded and (in some circles) popular Spitzer. In fact, up to this point it looks like his decision to run has been enough to keep Spitzer from running at all — although the clock hasn’t expired.
So I tip my hat to them if that is true: it would be a very clever political play. My problem with it is this: if it leads to Kang Schoeder’s installation in 2017 ,allowing her to fundraise and run as an incumbent in 2018, it sort of screws over the public and the democratic system. With that head start, and presuming that any term limits that may be set for the office won’t count an initial appointment where she served less than two years, we could see a “Rackauckas dynasty” stretching from January 1999 to January 2027. As I will explain over the weeks ahead, I don’t think that’s good for Orange County.
I’m brazen enough to not only campaign against Rackauckas, but to say all of this stuff out loud. (Maybe he’ll deny ever having had the thought — which will give anyone who knows otherwise a chance to contact the Register, the Voice, and the Weekly to refute him.) One thing I’d offer Rackauckas is an opponent who’s willing to say things without regard to political self-preservation — I’m not one of the “Masters of the Universe” who run Orange County and I largely hold such people who put profit before service in contempt — and that’s something that he’s never had to face in an election.
Sure, Rackauckas will try not to respond personally to an impertinent guttersnipe like me. Instead he’ll arrange anonymous sniping to take me down — or perhaps the “casual relationship to the truth” stylings signed by the likes of Dave Gilliard and Matt Cunningham. But that doesn’t tend to work with me. Eventually, given the sorts of challenges I intend to make, he’ll have to speak up personally to try to refute me. Luckily for him, as Kris Murray and Lucille Kring can tell him, that always works well!
OK, perhaps responding to my criticisms at this week’s Anaheim City Council meeting, Murray did look a little sad. And I believe that my perfectly legitimate and appropriate attacks on Tony Rackauckas’ record will make him feel sad as well. But those are the breaks — challenging the powerful with the truth is part of what we all have to do if we’re going to fight for the downtrodden. If Tony doesn’t want to put up with being sad, especially when the media chimes in, for the next few months — well, who can blame him?
(By the way, to help T-Rack’s oppo researchers: I’ve given a lot of speeches at the Anaheim City Council meetings over the past year. I’d start there. There’s one with finger puppets, which has another local blogger all in a tizzy because he can’t imagine such a thing being useful, for explaining how the City Council has been making a spectacular mess of the Angels negotiations. By all means, show this to as many people as possible! Get out the word!)
So: if Kang Schroeder wants to be DA four years from now, she should “screw her courage to the sticking place” and run for the job instead of letting her boss shove other people out of the way and slide her through the side door.
Similarly if Spitzer or Nelson want to be DA then they should suck it up and face the voters, rather than a board of five (or, if they both put forward their names and disqualified themselves from voting, as little as three.) I doubt that Spitzer would have any sort of “understanding” with Rackauckas about 2018 at this point, but Supervisor Nelson, who has broken with many of his former “Fullerton’s Future” brethren in warmly embracing Rackauckas early on and with great force, unfortunately might.
The same advice above goes for the many Deputy DAs who, according to second-hand grumbles, do not look forward to another four years under their present boss — and even less so under their boss’s Chief of Staff. I presume that they all think that they could beat the sole Democrat running in a runoff, right? (They’d have a far easier time doing that — or beating me in 2018, then they would if they were taking on Kang Schroeder as an entrenched incumbent.)
Orange County governance tends to be — let me choose my word carefully here — clubby, and I’m a proud non-member of that club. Our county needs a watchdog as DA. I could do it — perhaps Spitzer and Nelson could do it as well, but I’m the least likely of the bunch to worry about stepping on toes. Is Kang Schroeder a watchdog? No way. So if she wants the mantle of incumbency in 2018, let her come out and earn it this June.