OC GOP embraces power over principle, but so does the DPOC

O.C Register columnist Steven Greenhut and I both quit the GOP this year. Today Greenhut provided further reasons why that was a great move in an editorial slamming the OC GOP for their lack of huevos with regard to “their boy” Mike Carona, the disgraced Sheriff of Orange County. Here are a few excerpts from Greenhut’s editorial, which divulges what happened, or didn’t happen, at the last OC GOP Central Committee meeting, this week:

The main business before the committee was, originally, a resolution that would have called on Sheriff Mike Carona, who, along with his wife and alleged mistress, have been indicted on federal corruption charges, to resign his office. The party recently called on the majority of members of the Capistrano Unified School Board to resign for conduct unbefitting Republicans, even though they faced no criminal charges. So it seems like an obvious thing for the GOP’s governing body to consider whether Carona is still worthy of being sheriff.

Of course, the Capo board didn’t have allies deeply embedded in the political structure, as does this sheriff. After former Cypress Councilman Mike McGill drafted a resolution calling for a Carona resignation, party leaders convinced him to soften the measure to gain wider support. So McGill introduced a resolution that called on the sheriff to take leave until the federal charges are resolved. It was weak, but it would have extended the time the sheriff would vacate his office and at least open up a debate about the sheriff’s behavior.

Right before the committee meeting, the sheriff’s top political aide, attorney Michael Schroeder, told a Register reporter that the sheriff actually supported that resolution. Yet even that milquetoast resolution couldn’t get a hearing at the committee. McGill called for a suspension of the rules to allow for a vote. Such a rule-suspension required a two-thirds vote, but it couldn’t even get half the members to vote for it, thanks in part to the behind-the-scenes efforts of Carona’s backers. The vote failed, and that was that. The party resolution committee will mull over the matter and come back with a report in January, but the basic purpose was achieved: The party squelched criticism of its sheriff.

And it did so bloodlessly. After the vote, McGill told me committee members are “sheep.” Many no doubt find the sheriff unfit to be the county’s top cop, but there’s reason not to buck the party establishment, especially Schroeder, who is known for his aggressive efforts. Schroeder, after all, is waging a “burn the village” campaign against Supervisor Janet Nguyen, through legal and other complaints that will hobble her campaign to retain her seat.

“I gotta hand it to the elected GOP Central Committee members of Orange County,” wrote GOP activist and Powder Blue Report blogger Allan Bartlett. “They are totally afraid of their own shadow when it comes to this Carona business. Tonight, a totally watered-down resolution was offered by Mike McGill and it couldn’t even get a majority vote, let alone a two-thirds vote to even have a debate on the resolution asking the sheriff to take a leave from his job. Talk about embarrassing. Members were joking that they were going to leave the room when the vote came because they didn’t want to go on the record for this vote. They are gutless.”

“Flexing power is a wonderful thing,” said one savvy GOP activist, awed by the skill of the pro-Carona maneuverings. He thinks Carona is “guilty as hell,” and certainly believes him unfit to serve in political office, but as a political junkie he loved watching a good game of hardball. I found the game sickening. There was one other significant portion of it, which took place before the vote. OC GOP Chairman Scott Baugh gave a rousing speech before the vote, in which he offered some criticisms of the sheriff, but mainly argued against any rush to judgment.

Baugh, who was once the target of an overzealous local prosecutor, insists that I was wrong in the Orange Punch blog for viewing his speech as a ringing endorsement of Carona. (I wasn’t the only one, by the way, as OCBlog’s Jonathan Constantine referred to it this way: “Chairman Scott Baugh kicked off the night at the O.C. GOP Central Committee meeting with staunch support of Sheriff Mike Carona.”) “My intent last evening was not designed to promote and defend Mr. Carona,” Baugh explained. “In fact, as expressed above, I have called into question his innocence, his character, his integrity and his private life, which is appropriate to do whether or not he is guilty of the crimes alleged against him. Rather my speech was designed to promote and defend liberty [italics added].”

Don’t fall out of your chair laughing. The liberty issue Baugh refers to involves Carona’s supporters’ allegations of prosecutorial abuse by federal prosecutors. Now, I’ve known Baugh for years and know that he’s serious about that issue, given his personal experience, but it is a bit hard to take for the sheriff, his top aides (including Schroeder, who advises the sheriff and D.A. Tony Rackauckas) to all of a sudden start sounding like card-carrying members of the ACLU (or this editorial page!). Carona and Rackauckas have long argued that the public should trust law enforcement and prosecutors, as they both opposed various efforts to ensure additional oversight.

The GOP is not exactly a bastion of concern for civil liberties. How often do you hear top GOP officials, especially those in law enforcement, express concern about poor folks being railroaded to jail by overzealous D.A.s? Not often, right? But it’s a whole different story when one of their ownpowerful leaders is caught in a federal snare. “It was also ironic to see so many new civil libertarians in the room when their guy is under indictment,” added Bartlett. “If I got a dollar for everyone that came up to me tonight and told me, ‘Allan, the sheriff deserves to be presumed innocent under our system,’ I’d be a rich man tonight. Of course these are a lot of the same people that believe cops and prosecutors can do no wrong.”

The Central Committee was dealing with a political issue, not a criminal one. The courts will deal with the indictment, but the party needs to stand up for integrity in public office. Even Baugh argues that the public should “question [Carona’s]innocence, his character, his integrity and his private life.” Well, aren’t those questions enough reason to call for Carona to resign?

Meanwhile, the party split over Carona is likely to get wider. The GOP establishment magazine, Red County, featured a hard-hitting column by local conservative activist Mark Bucher, who refers to Schroeder as “the poison in our party” for his approach toward the Nguyen election. Those are tough words. Schroeder insists he is doing nothing wrong, and has only filed one lawsuit dealing with the election count and a couple of FPPC complaints. But some party leaders in the Lincoln Club and the New Majority think otherwise. But while the party is getting a clue on the Nguyen situation, it’s still tolerating the sheriff. Yes, the Caronies won a big victory Monday night, but I doubt that the debate will go away. The enduring question: How much of the party’s reputation will suffer because of its continuing embrace of power over principle?

Well said! But honestly, the O.C. Democrats are not much better. Look at how they have circled the wagons around John Hanna, the President of the Rancho Santiago Community College District, in the wake of two scandals. First, we found out that the RSCCD board spent $30 million on the Carona Sheriff Training Facility, instead of building a math/science building at Santa
Ana College, and then we found out the fire alarms and fire suppression systems at SAC have not been working since 2005. Hanna is a Democrat, as is the majority of his board. So you won’t hear anything negative about any of them on the local Democrat blog.

Hanna also supported failed OC Treasurer Chriss Street, a Republican. And the Chairman of the Democratic Party of Orange County, Frank Barbaro, endorsed Carona, as did State Senator Lou Correa and OC Clerk/Recorder Tom Daly. None of them have apologized and their party has yet to take any official actions against Carona.

People of Orange County – wake up! Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans care about doing the right thing. They both worship power and do the will of their respective special interests. But this week at least the Republicans looked even more craven than their counterparts. Small wonder that Baugh and Barbaro often get together for drinks. Birds of a feather…

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"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.