AGENTS’ ORANGE: the Unabridged Political History of Orange County, 1960 – 2000. PART ONE.


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Our forbear.

This is the first installment of the Orange Juice Blog’s re-publication of the – I almost wrote classic, but how could it be classic when it’s out of publication and nearly forgotten? – authoritative history of late-20th century OC political corruption, “Agents’ Orange,” the masterpiece of legendary conservative environmentalist and 20th-century OC Republican leader Tom C. Rogers (above).  We’ll print some biographical information on Mr. Rogers at the bottom of this installment, and it will probably take half a year for us to publish the whole book.  For now, enjoy the “Introduction” and the “Reader’s Guide.”  [The BOLDING and illustrations are done by this blog.] – OJB

AGENTS’ ORANGE:

the Unabridged Political History of Orange County, 1960-2000.

INTRODUCTION.

This book was written in order to record the individuals and events that shaped the stages of one California county’s rise to a position of pre-eminence in the nation’s political landscape.  Its subsequent turmoil in local governance and fiscal irresponsibility led to bankruptcy and decline as a reliable source of decisive vote margins for conservative Republican candidates.

While Act One began with players more oriented toward the Democratic Party, the theme soon became obvious.  It revealed that the driving forces behind those who would gain control of Orange County were motivated by the pursuit of corporate profits, and party affiliation was simply a matter of convenience rather than conviction.

As Republican registration increased, it became easier to elect Republicans to critical positions in city councils and on the Board of Supervisors.  For the short period in which Democrats held sway, they found willing Republicans to accept their campaign donations, in return for favorable votes on matters relating to their interests.

It became easier, during Republican ascendancy, for cooperative candidates to change registration rather than do battle against increasing numbers of voters joining GOP ranks.

The most devastating result of dollar politics was that Republicans and Democrats abandoned their core party principles.  The temptation was just too strong to win elections with the unlimited funds available to those who passed the litmus test.  The special interests were soon able to control the county and some cities when computer technology replaced motivated volunteers as a decisive force in winning elections.

Muddying the political waters further, a relatively small group of Republican incumbents began to exert influence at the state level, by pre-selecting candidates for State Assembly and Senate.  The criteria for their selection process was a willingness on the part of a hopeful to accept and embrace the incumbents’ view of what constitutes a “proper” conservative.  Once they passed this Biblical/Philosophical vetting, those Republicans who made the cut would have the assurance of sizable donations plus professional management of their campaigns.  This all-knowing, all-powerful group became known as “The Cavemen,” who by virtue of being incumbents had the capability of extracting money from lobbyists in Sacramento, a literal bonanza for all ambitious politicians.  In addition, several of the Cave Men had their own personal funds and did not hesitate to commit them when the situation warranted.

Whether it was the financial support of the special interests or of the GOP incumbents, the net result was that in many cases individuals were elected to an office for which they were totally unqualified.

Add to that the motivation of their sponsors and you have an unfolding plot which would eventually lead the county to bankruptcy, and the GOP to splintered ineffectiveness.

The requirement for any history book is to record a detailed and authentic compilation of facts, individuals, and events that occurred during the subject period.  Those are set forth in the following pages by category, but in order to read Agents’ Orange as a narrative, a “Reader’s Guide” is provided as a path for the person who would prefer to follow certain correlated events from each section in a chronological order.

A sequential reading of each section’s background text will also provide a digest of the contents of this unabridged history.

It is the author’s belief that, although a history, Agents’ Orange is also a mystery story with a huge cast of characters with numerous protagonists as well as guilty parties, and given the details, perceptive readers will be able to sort it all out.

[Skipping the “Acknowledgements,” we will proceed to the “Reader’s Guide.”  Each of these bullet items will have a link, to a chapter once we print them.]

Reader’s Guide

1960

  • Orange County population surges, and the profile of new residents establishes the base for a conservative electorate.

1964

  • The Barry Goldwater (right) campaign and Proposition 14 define the philosophical inclination of county voters.

1970

  • Mysterious newcomer runs a behind-the-scenes campaign to gain election to the Board of Supervisors.  Ron Caspers is elected in the 5th District, changing the direction of politics in Orange County. 
  • Ralph Clark is also elected to the board making a third vote for the emerging special interests.  This new group of wealthy individuals is called The Coalition, and they begin to exert power in Orange County. 
  • Consulting firm Butcher-Forde plays an important part in that change.

1972

  • Ralph Diedrich (right) is elected to the Board of Supervisors.  Diedrich spends his own money in the campaign and becomes the de facto leader of the supervisors in dealing with developers.

1974

  • A yacht belonging to Fred Harber, the county’s top Democratic strategist, disappears at sea on a return trip from Baja California.  Missing along with Harber are eight passengers, including Ron Caspers.  No trace of the vessel or the bodies has ever been found. 
  • The grip of developers on the Board of Supervisors is tightened, and the building binge goes on without consideration of impact on the county.  Citizens’ Direction Finding Commission issues report warning dire consequences if unlimited development continues unabated.

1977

  • Ralph Diedrich indicted. 
  • San Joaquin Hills Road proposal floated by Board of Supervisors.

1978

  • Lou Cella indicted.  End of The Coalition. 
  • TIN CUP (Shirley Grindle’s reform) enacted, making it much more difficult for special interests to control county. 
  • More sophisticated players enter the stage.

1980-82

  • Building goes on at a furious pace.  Citizens are shut out of decision-making process, and the supervisors, under the umbrella of special interests, treat irate community groups with arrogance and scorn. 
  • The Republican incumbents enter the scene as major players in the selection of GOP hopefuls for state assembly and senate races.  Motivation in this instance is philosophical/religious, as only individuals who subscribe to a pre-determined definition of “conservative” and adhere to certain biblical principles are backed.

1984

  • Supervisors realize that roads must be built if runaway construction is to continue.  A sales tax proposal is approved by OCTC to finance a road system designed to accommodate high-density projects at taxpayers’ expense.  Proposition A is put on the ballot as a one-cent county sales tax increase to raise $5 billion for roads and other means of transportation.  Developers spend millions to pass Proposition A.  A coalition of anti-tax Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, independents, and county environmentalists is formed to oppose the corporate welfare giveaway.

1986

  • The defeat of Proposition A at the polls has absolutely no effect on the board.  They continue to grant entitlements as if the $5 billion were in the bank.  Traffic worsens.

1988

  • A watershed year in Orange County politics.  Citizens, fed up with a Board of Supervisors operating as if they were employees of the special interests, draw up a ballot initiative which would force the board to require adequate road systems as a condition for approval of major building projects.  A sufficient number of signatures are gathered by an all-volunteer coalition, and the issue goes on the ballot as Measure A, the Sensible Growth and Traffic Control Initiative. 
  • Fearful that Measure A will pass, supervisors and developers work around the clock to enter 18 “pre-development agreements.”  These contracts permanently commit a large portion of the vacant land in the county to high-density development, no matter what the outcome of the vote on Measure A might be. 
  • A race in the 72nd Assembly District between Republican Curt Pringle and Democrat Christian Thierbach would have repercussions felt throughout the state and nation.  The local Republican Party, in conjunction with Pringle’s campaign advisers, hires uniformed security guards to act as poll watchers in targeted Hispanic precincts.  After lawsuits, FBI lawsuits, and censure by the Republican National Committee, the matter was settled for $400,000, a figure that pales when compared to the permanent damage suffered by the GOP amongst Hispanic voters. 
  • 1988 is also payback time for developers who line up to reward two favorite elected officials who have the reputation of being amongst the Heavy Hitters’ staunchest allies in local government.  Dave Baker, former mayor of Irvine, and Harriet Wieder, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, decide to run for Congress in their respective districts.  Megabucks are showered on the two, along with best wishes.  (After all, they may be useful in Washington DC too. 
  • Two local legislators, state senators Marian Bergeson and Josh Seymour, run for the Republican nomination for Lt. Governor.  The machinations involved in this routine contest are quite subtle.  In the chase for dollars, both locals turn to developers for campaign funds.  In the process, Seymour tries mightily to outdo himself as the Building Industry’s number one boy, and he sponsors two highly controversial developer-friendly bills, one of which actually passes.

1990

  • Pete Wilson defeats Mayor Dianne Feinstein for governor.  The vacancy will occur in the Senate after Wilson takes office as governor in 1991.

1991

  • Wilson appoints State Senator John Seymour to fill his Senate vacancy in Washington DC.  Payback time to the power of 10.  Seymour proves the point that the county special interests take care of their lackeys.  A mortal blow is struck to the Republican Party in California. 
  • Developers tangle with Cave Men in the special election to replace Seymour in the 35th State Senate District. 
  • Cave Men win with John Lewis.

1992

  • Seymour is required to run for election against Dianne Feinstein.  Disaster for the GOP, while Democrats enjoy a huge success. 
  • Bill Clinton does well in Orange County.  Many grassroots volunteers switch to Ross Perot‘s Reform Party while those erstwhile Republican opportunists see greater returns from Clinton and support the governor from Arkansas.

1994

  • The chickens come home to roost.  Decades of control by self-serving special interest groups have insured that Orange County is governed by incompetents, and the County files for bankruptcy
  • Earlier in the year mogul George Argyros, a Heavy Hitter who lives in the flight path of departing commercial aircraft at John Wayne Airport, puts up his own money to place an initiative on the ballot to convert El Toro Marine Base to an international airport.

1995

  • Measure R asks voters to approve a $3.5 billion sales tax increase to bail out the county from its self-incurred financial bind. 
  • Cave Men recall Assemblywoman Doris Allen, who they consider to be on the wrong side of their political street, and replace her with Scott Baugh
  • Cave Men, really feeling their muscles bulge, move in a candidate to capture an open senate seat from Gil Ferguson, a popular assemblyman from Newport Beach.  Ferguson felt he was the logical and only qualified candidate to run for the vacated Senate seat, but he fails to win the approval of the conservative incumbents although he’d had a consistent conservative voting record in Sacramento.

1996

  • Volunteer citizens fight back and qualify their own initiative on the ballot that would nullify Argyros’ Measure A.  It’s no contest in this battle of the bucks. 
  • An outsider uses his own money for a run at the Board of Supervisors;  Todd Spitzer is elected and some citizens see a ray of hope.

1998

  • No one in the GOP needed a crystal ball to see this disaster coming:  A total blow-out as Democrats pick up a state senate seat and an assembly seat.  Top of the Republican ticket receives the second smallest voting margin in 40 years. 
  • The official Republican State Committee spends a fortune in nonpartisan race for mayor in Anaheim! 
  • The local County Central Committee denies any part in the Disney Town fiasco, and insists that the party is “strong and vibrant” under the shared influence of the Cave Men.

1999

  • Former Governor Pete Wilson is appointed to the Board of Directors of the Irvine Company.
  • Anti-airport citizens fight back and qualify another ballot initiative for vote in the primary election of year 2000.  Called the “Safe and Healthy Community” ballot proposition, it is given the designation “Measure F” by the Board of Supervisors in a 3-2 vote.

Keep coming back, we’ll be printing a little more of Agents’ Orange each week.  For now, here’s a little biographical information on the author, Tom Rogers.  First, his 2006 obituary:

ROGERS, THOMAS C., 81, passed away suddenly on April 15, 2006 at the UCI Medical Center, in the company of his beloved wife of 55 years, Cecile, and his children.  Tom was born in San Francisco on December 26, 1924, to Harry and Gwendolyn Rogers, and grew up in Glendale with his much-loved younger sister Gwennie. Lifelong friendships were made as a student at Loyola High School in Los Angeles, which survived through service in World War II and into the twenty-first century as the high school friends continued to meet monthly for lunches and trips to the Santa Anita and Del Mar racetracks.

Tom served courageously in World War II in the United States Army in combat operations throughout the Pacific Theatre. Thanks to his experience as a teenager sailing small boats up and down the Southern California coast and his keen interest in all things having to do with the sea, Tom volunteered for General MacArthur’s new Army amphibian unit. He was assigned to the Army’s 544th Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment of the 4th Special Brigade where he skippered landing craft (LCM) throughout New Guinea and the Philippine Islands, including participation in the first wave of forces to help liberate the Islands from the Japanese. In February 1995, Tom and his Army buddy Jim Bellamy returned to Manila to represent the United States at the Fiftieth Anniversary Commemoration events of the liberation of the Philippines.

Tom and wife in the 80’s

After returning to civilian life and earning a Bachelor’s Degree at Loyola University through the GI Bill, Tom joined millions of other servicemen in realizing the American dream by marrying and starting a family. In 1950 in Santa Barbara, he married Cecile von Rotz, his devoted wife, who was born and raised in Sarnen, Switzerland. While pursuing various business ventures, Tom began his life-long involvement in ranching and political volunteerism. His dedication to the conservation of California’s land resources was the bedrock of both his avocations.

Since 1960, Tom was active in Orange County politics and served as Chairman of the Orange County Republican Central Committee from 1969 to 1972. In 1972, he was appointed Chairman of Cal Plan, an arm of the Republican State Committee, which had responsibility for all the California State Assembly and Senate races that year, during the Governorship of Ronald Reagan. Tom also held a number of other volunteer political posts, including Chairman of Citizens Against Unfair Taxation (1984) and Citizens for Sensible Growth (1988).

In recent years his efforts have been bi-partisan with an emphasis on limiting growth and taxation. He is considered an environmentalist, and was most proud of his successful efforts to help defeat the attempts to build a new commercial airport at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

Tom enjoyed cattle ranching, gardening, and writing scholarly articles. He is a former associate editor of The Wanderer, a leading Catholic weekly newspaper, and he self-published Beach Soldiers, a personal history of amphibian warfare in the South Pacific during WWII. In 2000, he also self-published Agents’ Orange, a political history of Orange County from 1960 through 2000.

He is survived by his loving wife Cecile of San Juan Capistrano; five children: Cecile (Jim) of Arlington, VA; Tom (Grace) of Mission Viejo, CA; Tina of Honolulu, HI; Harry (Pauline) of Greenville, CA; Helen (Bob) of Mission Viejo, CA; and ten grandchildren. Tom was pre-deceased by his parents and sister, as well as by his grandson, Paul. A funeral Mass will be held at 10:00 am on Thursday, April 20, 2006, in the Mission San Juan Capistrano Basilica, 31520 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to either the Mission Parish School, 31641 El Camino Real, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675 or to Great Park Conservancy, in memory of Tom Rogers for Veterans’ Memorial, 1254 Irvine Blvd. #230, Tustin, CA 92780. Saddleback Mortuary in Tustin is in charge of arrangements.

Published in Orange County Register on Apr. 20, 2006.

Then, this Nathaniel Callahan essay is great reading too:

November 21, 2011 marks the 15th anniversary of the opening of Orange County’s controversial San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor, otherwise known as Southern California’s first tollroad. Carved through the region’s pristine coastal foothills, the tollroad is a asphalt shrine to a tobacco giant’s greed and suburban planning gone awry. Today, traffic and revenue on the 16-mile San Joaquin Hills toll road is lagging so badly behind projections that the managing organization for the road, the Transportation Corridor Agencies, may soon default on $1 billion in bonds. First published in the OC Weekly in 1996, Tobacco Road focuses on the tollroad’s principal opponent, the late Tom Rogers.

I’ve been an abject failure,” Tom Rogers said as he drew an imaginary bead on the new connector bridge to the San Joaquin Hills Toll Road.

“No you haven’t. . . .” I replied, but his laughter cut me short before I could dig his ego out of abjection.

“Shit, just look,” he said.

Under construction at the intersection of the San Diego Freeway near San Juan Capistrano, the bridge angled north through carved-up terrain. Fresh asphalt painted a line of black into the distance through the countryside. Running 15.5 miles and $800 million from where we stood north to the city of Irvine, the toll road’s construction is the prize of a decades-long war. The victors? Corporate superpowers, chief among them the Philip Morris companies.

“What they learned in the cigarette business,” Rogers said, “they brought to real estate.”

READ THE REST HERE.

And finally, Professor Roy Bauer on the Shooting Star mystery and discovering Tom Rogers.


About Tom C. Rogers