NPP Prosecutor Karen Schatzle Moves to Enter CA-39 Race


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I started looking through the Friday Feb. 9 update if Registrar of Voters’ online Candidate Filing Log over the weekend.  (Only candidates residing in Orange County must appear in it, although others can choose to blow some dough on filing here, so in multi-county districts The OC Log will miss non-OC-resident candidates like LA County’s Jay Chen and Alan Lowenthal and San Diego County’s Rocky Chavez and God-knows whom in Chino Hills.)

I didn’t expect to find anything earth-shattering within it.  Boy, was I wrong!  What I found there reshaped by expectations for the CA-39 race (although I suppose that they could return to prior form, which is a prediction of Jay Chen vs. Shawn Nelson.)  Ready?  Here we go.

OC Deputy Attorney Karen Schatzlewho in 2016 ran against incumbent Superior Judge Scott Steiner after he had been found to have been having sex with law students in chambers, and who last summer sued Tony Rackauckas and the county for $5 million on a claim of employment retaliation for her defying the OCDA’s order not to run — is once again thinking outside of the box.

Schatzle took out the forms needed for nomination signatures for two races — AD-68, where I’ve long understood she planned to run, and CA-39.  You can do that; nothing matters until you actually turn in your signatures and the other paperwork you need to swear in as a candidate.  What’s new is that Schatzle has only returned them for the CA-39 race, which she did on February 7.  Schatzle is not a member of any political party — that is, she is an “NPP.”  That status makes it much harder for her to win a race where only one Democrat and one Republican are running.  But that disadvantage may be reduced — or even reversed — in a race where five Republicans and seven Democrats appear likely to run.

As she presumably lives in AD-68, Schatzle would very likely be carpetbagging into CA-39 — I forget whether there’s a tiny overlap around Anaheim Hills, but I don’t think she lives there anyway — which is permissible for Congressional races.  If she makes the top two runoff, she would presumably be adopted by voters favoring whichever party is excluded from it, along with the minority of independent voters who are actively antagonistic towards both parties.  (She would become the first NPP in the California legislature — and thus national news.  It would also put her on the shortlist for any “Third Way” campaign by some Mike Bloomberg, Mark Warner, or Jeff Flake type, which is one reason why I think that ambition will lead her to take this leap.)

Trying to look at this objectively (despite my preference for a Democrat generally and my support for Jay Chen in the race), this is a pretty brilliant gambit — and one that I’m bemused to say takes me entirely by surprise.  If she can raise the funds to run — about which I do not know — she would presumably depict herself a determined and demonstrable “equality of opportunity” feminist and anti-sexual harassment crusader.  The only woman with any hope at all in the Democratic field is Mai Khanh Tran, whose efforts have been relatively anemic ; the only woman in the Republican field is Young Kim, who is no kind of feminist at all.

Meanwhile, she now benefits from a likely clustercrash on both sides of the aisle, with both parties dividing up their share of the vote among five or more serious candidates.  Theoretically, one could make a runoff with 8% of the vote in such a situation; realistically, unless the field is winnowed ahead of time or one or two candidates surge while the others fall, getting 15% of the vote seems likely to do the trick.  As a prosecutor, feminist crusader, and the only woman in the race, reaching that threshold does not seem beyond Schatzle’s capability.

A big irony here is that if Democrats could just keep a candidate out of the AD-68 race — or, alternatively, put up five or so of them to divide their support — Schatzle would have had no strong reason to look for an alternative to that race and find CA-39.  But it looks like only one Democrat, Michelle Duman, is running against incumbent Stephen Choi .  As was demonstrated in 2016 when NPP Brian Chuchua (whose campaign I managed) had hoped to win with a coalition of Democrats, NPPs, Choi-hating Republicans, and Tom Tait Republicans until an unknown Democrat named Sean Panahi entered the race at almost the last moment — with one candidate from each party Democrats will vote for the “D” (and presumably Republicans for the “R”) even despite the almost certainty that their candidate will be utterly slaughtered in the general election.  (Panahi — who seems like a nice guy, but still — was indeed slaughtered in that very conservative district.)

One might think that, with this development, some Democrats (and even Republicans) might start looking for a race where they won’t be crushed in a clustercrash.  Sadly, that is not likely to happen: each of them seems to stubbornly cling to the belief that the best solution — even in the presence of an NPP who is a credible threat both to make the Top Two and to win it all —  is for everyone besides them to leave the race.

Here is the current roster of people who have at least initiated the process of running in CA-39, based on the OC file and other candidates who have already made clear their plans to run.  (Candidates who can afford the filing fee without signatures-in-lieu (in lieu of paying the full filing fee, that is) have no strong reason to collect and return such signatures, although it’s usually a good practice.)  The names are grouped within party category but are otherwise in the order they would appear on the ballot.  The underlined candidate names are the ones who I think are likely to take more at least 2% of the vote — although those other names will likely siphon off enough votes to push an outcome to the other side.

NPP:  KAREN LEE SCHATZLE, filed signatures-in-lieu Feb. 7

DEMOCRATS:

SUZI PARK LEGGETT, filed signatures on Jan. 23
HERBERT LEE, filed signatures on Feb. 7
PHIL JANOWICZ, filed signatures on Feb 5
SAM JAMMAL, filed signatures on Feb. 7
NATHAN TROUTMAN, had not filed signatures as of Feb. 7
SOPHIA ALEXANDER, filed signatures on Feb. 7
GIL CISNEROS, has no financial need to file signatures
ANDY THORBURN, has no financial need to file signatures
MAI-KHANH TRAN, probably has no financial need to file signatures
JAY CHEN, does not need to file signatures in OC, just in LA County

REPUBLICANS:

JOHN J. CULLUM, filed signatures on Jan. 31
YOUNG KIM, filed signatures on Feb. 2
MARK GAOUETTE, had not filed signatures as of Feb. 7
ANDREW SAREGA, filed signatures on Feb. 7
STEVEN C. VARGAS, had not filed signatures as of Feb. 7
SHAWN NELSON, probably has no financial need to file signatures
BOB HUFF, does not need to file signatures in OC, just in LA County

So: that’s 6 serious Democrats out of 10 names, 5 serious Republicans out of 7 names, and 1 serious NPP who can cast a pox on both parties’ houses.  At least everyone’s in equal amounts of pain — except perhaps for Schatzle.

I spoke to our sane Republican contributor Ryan Cantor about this story while I was writing it — and he doesn’t think that Schatzle can break through the field, where he thinks it will take 20-22% to qualify for the Top Two runoff.  Maybe it will — if some candidates do leave the race, fold their tents midway, or have their tents blown away in a hurricane — but I think that it will take more like 15%-17%.  Everyone’s going to have their own polls showing them doing well-enough that they shouldn’t be abandoned — even Sarega and Vargas, who can probably each lay claim to a cache of votes in, respectively La Mirada and (among Republicans and inattentive Latinos) Brea — so it wouldn’t even shock me if someone made the runoff with 12%.

If Schatzle makes the runoff, she starts out with whichever party got shut out of the race — which will figure that without party infrastructure behind her she’d be easier than the alternative to knock off in 2020 — PLUS a good bloc of female (and, yes, feminist) voters, PLUS a good block of law-and-order and anti-corruption voters.  Yes, it seems insane to me that an NPP could win this seat — but at this point I’d make her co-favorite with Jay Chen and Shawn Nelson if she gets in — and Young Kim and Mai-Khanh Tran’s leaky campaigns just took on more water.

(Of course, I would have to change my analysis if two or three more Democrats got into the AD-68 race to split the vote that would otherwise go to Michelle Duman.  Schatzle would still be a favorite against mush-mouthed Stephen Choi if she made the runoff there with the support of Democratic, independent, and female voters — and it would be a cheaper experiment for her to run.  That would be the equivalent of Democrats taking half a seat in the legislature.  Are we smart enough to take advantage of that?  No, we are not — and even if we were, it’s getting late in the game.  Maybe Sean Panahi will run again?)


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.)