Orange County’s Biggest Losers! Election 2012 edition.


It’s been a busy two weeks at the Registrar’s office as Neal Kelley’s staff went through a painstaking task of verifying individual signatures on over a quarter of a million ballots, including the late Vote By Mail ballots received during the last few days before the election or on election day and the provisional ballots issued at polling locations.

But now that they  finished, it’s time to note the biggest losers of 2012.

Chevron on Measure W in Fullerton

After a decade of wrangling, by last year Chevron finally had a compliant City Council that approved a development plan for Coyote Hills, the 510-acre property oil and gas field that remains the last major undeveloped property in North Orange County. When a ragtag band of local residents had the nerve to gather signatures to put the Council’s decision to a vote of the people, Chevron hired the nation’s premier ballot measure and issue advocacy firm, Woodward & McDowell. According to their web site, these hired guns boast a 95% success rate on ballot measures and “never take their eye off the end goal:  WINNING.”

Chevron gave Woodward and McDowell a blank check, which they spent producing an impressive-sounding coalition of local school board members, politicians, former fire chiefs and hacks from both political parties. W&M bought enough advertising on the internet that you could not turn on a computer in Fullerton without seeing a YES ON W ad. They put at least a dozen pieces of mail out to Fullerton voters, and had professional teams ringing doorbells and phoning voters with messages carefully tested in focus groups and polling.

Chevron even got their friends on the City Council to amend the description of the measure on the ballot to add the term “Nature Preserve.”

Despite spending $1.5 million dollars in direct campaign costs, Chevron and their overpaid consultants got their asses kicked 61% to 39%. Outspent 25 to one, the No on W folks managed to penetrate the noise of the Chevron campaign with a message that was reinforced over and over again “Don’t Be Fooled by Chevron.”

Developers and Overpaid Consultants in Orange on Measure FF and the Orange City Council

Volunteers turning in referendum signatures in Orange

This is another case where developers bought themselves a compliant City Council that approved major changes to the planning designations on the Ridgeline property. Again, local activists gathered signatures to overturn the City Council’s decision. Here the consultants were led by Diane Gaynor. Between their opposition to the signature gathering and the election, Gaynor and her cronies sucked over 1.3 million from the rubes at Milan Capital, developers who were very good at fixing up undervalued strip malls, but were led down a disastrous path by a Newport Beach flim-flam artist who talked them into buying parcels of land in Orange.

Matt “Jerbal” Cunningham, one of our favorite targets at the Orange Juice, appeared once again in this saga with a hastily formed non-profit that recycled all of the developer’s arguments without once expressly telling voters to vote YES on FF.

As a byproduct of the No on FF campaign, local Orange Republicans managed to elect a grass roots slate of candidates to their City Council, rejecting Jon Dumitru for Mayor, and putting an end to the aspirations of Ray Grangoff, a staffer for  Supervisor Pat Bates,  who rents a room in Orange from another county staffer, Mike Johnson in Supervisor Bill Campbell’s office, where Matt Cunningham’s wife, Laura, is chief of staff.

Winning Mayor Tita Smith and Council Members Mike Alvarez, and Mark Murphy are all candidates with deep roots in Orange and little loyalty to the the OCGOP or to the politicos on the fifth floor of the Orange County Hall of Administration.

Tyler Diep in Westminster

Not too long ago, Tyler Diep fancied himself a candidate for Assembly, raising $135,000 for a race he then abandoned. Diep transferred that money into the City Council campaign, and ran aggressively. Diep failed to garner the support of the ever feisty Margie Rice, who instead encouraged political novice Diana Lee Carey to run. Carey was ignored by just about everyone except Vern Nelson, but it turned out that her record of fighting to protect Westminster homes and businesses against eminent domain and her continued battle against tolls on the 405 freeway showed Westminster voters that she would stand up for their interests.

Diep’s defeat is one more loss for Van Tran, whose political machine has lost its discipline after Tran’s 2010 whupping by Loretta Sanchez. This cycle, Tran seemed more interested in getting a paycheck from the Assembly campaign of Travis Allen. Campaign finance reports show that Tran pocketed a handsome $6,666 in salary and consultant fees from Allen’s campaign.

Hansenites in Huntington Beach on Measure Z and the City Council

Hansen and his wife, mocking public safety workers at Halloween

Huntington Beach has a property tax that only pays for employee pensions. Measure Z would have eliminated that property tax.

How hard should that be to vote that down in a city where Republicans likely voters outnumber Democrats by almost 70%.  Too damn hard for Toll Road Don Hansen and the out-of-town developers who joined a fireworks vendor to fund his Vision 2020 PAC that spent over $150,000 in their Measure Z initiative campaign. It’s a narrow loss, but when Republicans can’t combine their two favorite targets – taxes and public employee pensions for a win, it shows that they are serious losers.

Even worse for Hansen and his allies was the massive failure of their campaign of slimy Jim Bieber-produced hit pieces against Jill Hardy. Not only did this backfire, as Hardy gained a much higher percentage of votes in late VBM and election day votes after the smear campaign, but the visceral response to the attacks also helped take down Hansen-supported candidates Barbara DelGleize and Devin Dwyer.  Jim Katapodis, the candidate heavily backed by the police unions, was linked to Jill Hardy in late mail and automated calls, and he passed both Dave Sullivan and Barbara DelGleize in the final vote tally.

Boys in the Backroom couldn’t buy the election with their smear campaign against Jill Hardy

There’s going to be a lot of collateral damage from the failure of Hansen and his allies, as the details of the money-laundering scheme to hide the funding sources of the anti-Hardy hit pieces is gradually revealed. Do the major corporations that sponsor the Orange County Business Council really want their names tied to campaign money-laundering that fails badly with vile smear campaigns against popular local electeds? Will the actions of Poseidon, AES, Rhonda and Robert Mayer, Tri Pointe Homes, backfire on the corporations that thought they could buy some friends on the Huntington Beach City Council?

Expect FPPC complaints for money-laundering and tough new campaign finance laws in Huntington Beach after the new Council is seated.

Hansen fashioned himself as one of the new young guns of Orange County Republican politics, but he has been emasculated by defeat after defeat. His family political consulting business was a dismal failure, his candidates were beaten in two consecutive election cycles, and he couldn’t muster enough of his colleagues to support adding tolls to the 405 Freeway or putting fireworks on the ballot as a Charter amendment.

Jim Righeimer in Costa Mesa

Two of Righeimer’s allies won election to the City Council, but it was a narrow victory indeed. Gary Monahan went from top vote getter in 2008 with 17,836 votes to a squeaker of a victory over a political neophyte in 2012, with under 14,000 votes. The top vote-getter in Costa Mesa was Sandy Genis, an outspoken critic of Riggy’s failed outsourcing plans, his profligate spending on attorneys and consultants, and his cut-and-paste charter.

Measure V, said Cut and Paste Charter, went down to a crashing defeat. The lazy local media regurgitates Riggy’s story line that this was a triumph of union money, but the real troops in Costa Mesa who beat the charter came from a grassroots group called Costa Mesans for Responsible Government. While unions spent a small fortune, their ham-handed political consultants and excessive spending might well have backfired without the concerted grass-roots effort.

Larry Agran, and Forde & Mollrich, in Irvine

Larry Agran and his allies in Irvine lost their majority in an election where voters finally got tired of Agran’s hubris and excess.

Sure, Irvine has been well run, but the millions spent on no-bid contracts with Forde and Mollrich to promote the Great Park and the over-the-top political campaigns every year finally caught up with Larry’s Team slate this year.

Forde and Mollrich, like Woodward and McDowell, is one of those top drawer consulting firms that boasts of helping pass Prop 13, win election for the Schwarzengrabber, and win. They helped pioneer political direct mail, but now seem to have lost their way.

Larry’s lost the knack of retail politics and his past triumphs don’t resonate with voters.  His most popular team member, Sukhee Kang, left  for a quixotic Congressional campaign and there was an additional backlash, as substantial numbers of Irvine voters cast protest votes for candidates who weren’t part of Larry’s Team or the Republican slate.

Don’t count Agran out. Although he was defeated in the Mayor’s race, Larry has two more years on his City Council term.

Chris Norby and Bruce Whitaker

When the Citizens’ redistricting committee finished drawing the lines, Norby’s North County district fell to 38% Republican registration, the acknowledged line where a California district  becomes competitive with the right combination of candidate and campaign. Sharon Quirk-Silva hesitated to jump in after Sacramento pols indicated they wouldn’t invest in an Orange County race, and as she tried to guide her city through the upheavals caused by the Kelly Thomas tragedy.  After Loretta Sanchez eventually convinced SQS to run, Norby and local Republicans showed their typical arrogance. Norby hired a third-rate Inland Empire consultant and ran a crappy campaign.

Bruce Whitaker, who has been on the public payroll as a staff weenie for Norby at both the County and the State, is now scrambling for a new job, just as Norby tries to talk his old pals at the County into appointing him to some vacant position in the bureaucracy.

But the stink of defeat may cling a little too closely to both of them, as Norby’s loss in Fullerton was coupled with the defeat of Travis Kiger, a protege of Whitaker and Tony Bushala. And the crushing defeat of Measure W may not sit well with Norby’s donor base, where Norby failed to pay Chevron back for their generous campaign contributions.

Orange County Journamalism – The Biggest Loser

Orange County political journalism sucks, and it continues to deteriorate. The local press remained AWOL in some of the biggest stories in the county, including  the battle over the proposed Toll Lanes on the 405, grassroots organizations in Costa Mesa, Orange, and Fullerton, money-laundering in Huntington Beach and Anaheim,  and the painfully obvious fact that Chris Norby’s district was competitive after the redistricting.

OC Register Death Watch

Marty Wisckol blathers on and on about his “polling” which is just a pathetic on-line assemblage of self-selected political activists who reply to his questions. Meanwhile, Wisckol can’t get simple facts right in his process stories, and the Register continues to report on national politics only through its reflection in the opinions of people in Wisckol’s rolodex.

Unbelievably, the Register’s editorial and opinion pages have gotten even worse under the new ownership, crazier and less balanced.

The Register is boosting their staff and adding sections to their print product,  but there’s still no core of competence to train and edit the interns and new hires.

The Rest of a Sorry Lot

The LA Times shows no interest in Orange County and their community papers suffer from second rate editors who never get their cub reporters up to speed or lose them if they show a glimmer of talent.

The OC Weekly has become a laughing stock in political circles, with Irvine Republicans boasting about how they own R. Scott Moxley, who alternates between hippy-punching and slavering over his new BFF’s in the Republican party. It’s a sad day when the local alternative press descends into comforting the comfortable and insider stories about  the Republican Central Committee.

Only in the Voice of OC and in a handful of local blogs do we see any real attempt at investigative reporting. Even the Voice can’t manage to cover enough of the county with their small but talented staff and at times seems bogged down by their Community Editorial board.

Until the state of journalism in this county is commensurate with our political and economic importance, we have to sadly include OC citizens themselves among “Orange County’s Biggest Losers.”

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