On Michele Martinez’ Supervisorial Run and the Delicate Problem of Fraud in Little Saigon

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Do – Martinez – Bui

This post has been delayed because I couldn’t figure out how to end it.  I still can’t quite figure it out, but I’m giving up.  It’s not due to a lack of inspiration, but to the fact that it presents a problem for which there is no easy or good solution — especially if, as both major parties (but Republicans especially, this time) want to be “politically correct.  Maybe you can help me out in comments.


I had planned on attending last month’s DPOC meeting a couple of weeks back, but wasn’t able to do so for reasons announced to the local political blogosphere by the Liberal OC’s distended rectum known as “Pinky”:

March 28, 2016 at 10:56 pm

Hey Greg. Hope that kidney stone hurt like hell

(And Chmielewski let that one in!  No surprise there, of course.  Note, we’re using Chumley’s real name here through the primary, as he is a candidate for DPOC office and deserves a certain measure of respect — from which our pre-election publication of “Pinky’s Greatest Hits” may detract a bit.)

Anyway: thanks, Trumpfinger, it certainly did!  It felt like someone was hammering my left testicle on an anvil.  There’s no way that you could possibly understand!  But I was recovered by that Wednesday.

And so we move on to the main story from that meeting, to quote directly from Derek Humphrey’s press release for Michele Martinez:

The Democratic Party of Orange County (DPOC) voted overwhelmingly to endorse Santa Ana City Councilmember Michele Martinez’s campaign for Orange County Supervisor at Monday night’s general membership meeting.

Had I been there, I’d have added my vote in her favor.  Yes, I’m still pissed at her ruining Julio Perez’s chance to run one-on-one against now-Assemblyman Tom Daly — who was just in the news today for having failed to support the Democrats big push for a phased-in $15/hour minimum wage.  (Thanks, Tom!  You make criticizing you so easy!)  But, just as Tefere Gebre did at the time, I blame that more on the serpentine seducer Jose Solorio than on Martinez herself.  And I’m not enamored of her being part of the Melahat Rafiei stable of candidates, but if you want to get the big “Business Democrat” money these days, that seems to be the way to get a chance to do it.  (Not necessarily “to do it”; just to get the chance.)  And, despite what her detractors (some of whom will likely be speaking up below) say, she’s plenty bright and surely has been better seasoned from her time leading organizations like NALEO, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials and SCAG, the Southern California Association of Governments.  So, sure — I’ll support her.

What I really loved from the press release, though, was this quote from a press release from DPOC Chairman Henry Vandermeir:

Democrats can count on Michele Martinez to fight for the values and priorities of our party. As a local City Councilwoman and regional leader, she has proven herself to be a responsive and effective advocate for the issues that matter most to Orange County families. Michele represents the best hope that our party has had in a number of years to win a seat on the Board of Supervisors, and we encourage all Democrats to vote for her. We plan to make this campaign one of our highest priorities as we head toward the Primary Election.

Well, unless that “number of years” of “1,” this statement indicates that Martinez gives us Dems a better chance of winning the First District than Lou Correa did in his special election against Andrew Do and two other Vietnamese candidates a year ago.

That race, which had no incumbent (the spot is now held by Do), was supposed to be a “gimme” for Correa — and my belief is that Correa probably won a fair count.   But the count was not likely fair:  I heard lots of first- and second-hand reports from people suggesting voter intimidation at the polling booths and absentee ballot fraud, in which absentee ballots were filled out on behalf of people who didn’t necessarily even know that they had received them.

As usual in OC politics, where personal safety wins out over ethics most of the time, people did not want to go on the record.  First, they were afraid of now-State Senator Janet Nguyen — this is not conjecture on my part, as I asked people to go onto the record and this was their reply.  Second, what would have been the point?  These were not “ballot counting” issues; they would not show up in a recount (as Correa did for a time pursue), but only in a active and expensive court case.  Neither Correa nor the other party with presumable standing — the DPOC itself — chose to pursue these reports of corruption.  (“Forget it, Jake: It’s Little Saigon.”)

As it happens, I think that Vandermeir is probably correct in his assessment, despite Do being the incumbent, for three reasons.  First, the one he’d probably cite is that this is a Presidential election year, where Dems might be expected to have a better advantage than in a special election.  Second, as I hope Henry knows, the scuttlebutt is that Andrew Do and Janet Nguyen reportedly had a falling out not long after his election, which is why she encouraged Garden Grove Councilman Phat Bui to run for the seat.

The third reason is speculative: it represents something that I hope, rather than know, is true.

Michele, last fall, lectures a skeptical Los Amigos on the importance of having "one of us" (i.e. Lou Correa) represent a latino district. Vern differs with Greg on his characterization of her as "bright."

Michele, last fall, lectures a skeptical Los Amigos on the importance of having “one of us” (i.e. Lou Correa) represent a latino district. Vern differs with Greg on his characterization of her as “bright.”

It may be that Martinez will just fight harder than Correa did if it looks like fraud took place either in collecting and returning absentee ballots, or at the polls.

That is: I think that Martinez simply has more guts than Lou Correa does.

I presume, though I don’t know, that Martinez will make the runoff.  At that point, either (1) Do makes the runoff because he’s the incumbent or (2) Bui makes the runoff because the rumor is true that he really does have Janet Nguyen’s support.  Either way, it would not be surprising if some shenanigans went on to achieve one or other result — although it would be surprising if the loser (between Do and Bui) spilled the beans over it.

Martinez has a clear interest in the race — and a clear interest in making sure that whatever shady dealings may be going on in June do not go on in November.  And the best way to do that is to ensure that everything gets watched very closely IN JUNE.  That — especially addressing absentee ballot fraud — would take a lot of work ahead of time, including probably getting clearance to ask voters who turn in their forms early if they remember voting and to follow up with absentee voters who turned in their forms late after the fact.  It would be a dry run for November.

Orange County has a kind of political schizophrenia about chronic reports of fraud within the Vietnamese community.  On the one hand, many people believe that it is happening.  (The specific concern seems to be that absentee ballots are being ordered on behalf of people, filled out for them, and returned for them.  It’s a scam that more commonly comes up in discussions of votes by those in nursing homes.)  But then our Orange Countians sort of chuckle at it, in a “boys will be boys” sort of way.  And some of the chuckling is nervous, as in an “I don’t want to be accused of being racist” way.  In other words, we’re up against political correctness.  Lots of people seem to think that something hunky may be going on, but no one wants to be the one to say.  Lou totally crapped out when he reached his moment of truth.

To me, that has it absolutely backwards.  If lots of people think that Vietnamese politicians — and, to my knowledge, other Asian groups like Koreans, Filipinos, Chinese, Persians, and Arabs are not widely suspected of this sort of chicanery — are breaking election laws, AND IF THEY REALLY AREN’T, then such a situation is intolerable.

It’s the position that “well, sure they’re cheating, but they’re Vietnamese immigrants, what do you expect?” that is the racist one.

We Democrats have had our own adventures — some continuing — with minority groups associated with our party being accused of voter fraud: it’s come up with Latinos, Blacks, Jews, Irish, Italians, etc.  Republicans have had their previous accusations with Cubans, Jews, and various white ethnics.

Everyone is better off if minority communities (as well as, it should be unnecessary to add, majority communities) elect people who will not stand for fraud within their own communities.  My creed is that there are good and bad actors within every race, every religion, every ethnicity, every ideology, and every political party.  We as a society want to limit ourselves to only GOOD actors gaining political control from every group from furthest right to furthest left, from most libertarian to most statist.

Of course, any such effort has to deal with a significant problem: one doesn’t want to become the equivalent of Curt Pringle posting poll guards to intimidate Latino voters.  This is the sort of situation that requires sensitivity and tact.  There is not only nothing wrong with Vietnamese casting lots of votes in elections, but there is everything right about it.  There’s everything right if, of course, they are actually seeking their own ballots, casting their own votes, signing their own names, and returning them without someone altering them.

This is where I’d love to be able to present a great idea about how to proceed — but I don’t have one.  I presume that if there were a sting operation of some kind, it would have to come from some branch of government — we don’t want to be Curt Pringle posting poll guards, after all — and the (excellent) Registrar of Voters office does not to my knowledge have the capacity to do field investigation at all, let alone undercover investigation.  The District Attorney is almost totally worthless.  It is doubtful that either the State (AG? Secretary of State? FPPC?) could do anything here, or that the federal government would get involved.

So that means that there’s the possibility of no deterrence against such actions at all — perhaps for the foreseeable future — as well as no clearing the air of widely suspected improprieties in Little Saigon.  That’s not good.  I see only two other ways that anything could be done: one would be a bigger media investigation than I’d expect to find … and the other is that some people who know what’s going on would have to speak up.  (Our lines are open!)

The splits in the Vietnamese community — especially that between Do and Janet/Bui — may give some hope that some people might step forward  to try to ensure a clean election this June (although perhaps not in November.)  But then again — this is Orange County, and the one thing that those of all ethnicities seem to agree upon is: “don’t stick your neck out, don’t get involved.”  It’s not much of a civic motto, but at least we come by it dishonestly.

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.)