Janet and Jose face off at Newport’s Pacific Club, for a crowd of lobbyists.




I could barely fit Jose (far left) into the same frame as Janet, but there’s no way the event hostess knew that when she omitted him from the introductions.

A debate between Janet Nguyen and Jose Solorio?  Or, I’m sorry, a “forum?”   Between the two state senate contenders who could determine the Democrats’ continued supermajority in that body?  Count me in!

“In” was at Newport Beach’s toney Pacific Club this past Wednesday, and the organizers were the Orange County Public Affairs Association (OCPAA) which describes itself as “a forum for the growing ranks of OC public affairs professionals, elected officials, corporate executives and policy makers to connect, network and share best practices.”  Hence it wasn’t surprising that most of the people I saw and recognized at the event were lobbyists or “consultants.”

Right here, Matt Cunningham was saying to Solorio and Urch, “Oh great, here comes Vern Nelson and he’s taking our picture.”

Also, the Republican couple sitting to my left said I’d be about right to guess the crowd to be about “90% Republican.”  And sure enough, the excited hostess who started the event by naming off all the celebrities present, mentioned four Republican electeds:  Supervisor Janet Nguyen, Newport Mayor and assembly candidate Keith Curry (who introduced himself to me to tell me I’ve got his fire pits position wrong),  Anaheim councilwoman Gail Eastman for some reason, and some south-county water board member.  That’s right, the Dem half of the headline pair completely slipped her mind – Rancho Santiago School Board trustee and three-term Assemblyman Jose Solorio!

“I guess you’re chopped liver here, Jose?”  “I guess I am,” he smiled gamely, as he worked the room shaking hands.

To my right, two guys down, was nice-guy liberal flack George Urch (who invited me and got me in.)  In between George and me was the most tired, sad looking old man I’d seen in days – it took me a couple minutes to recognize Teamster chief Patrick Kelly right by my side, three months after having grilled him on his pro-toll lanes position.  We spoke some more … but enough digressions for now, let’s get to the main event:


(Pic by the Voice’s Nick Gerda; mine all turned out blurry)

Janet’s main talking point was that she is key to ending the Democrats’ 2/3 supermajority in the state senate – if Jose beats her and keeps the 34th district seat now held by Lou Correa, the Democrats will be able to do all kinds of horrible things (which in fact they have not in these past two years when they could have – they’ve not raised taxes, they’ve balanced the budget, and the economy has grown.)

Canny Jose’s major selling point to all these Republican hacks and business leaders was that, if they wanted to get anything done in Sacramento for their own interests or district, they need to be represented by a Democrat, a member of the overwhelming majority.  “Who do you go talk to now to get something done?  Lou Correa, Tom Daly!  [Which is true – V.]  You don’t need another Republican sitting in the corner.”

Jose was right to present himself as one of the most conservative or “pro-business” Democrats during his tenure – often disappointing to us progressives on things like health care and prison reform, but presumably inoffensive and helpful to much of this crowd.  Janet surprisingly never brought up his occasional pro-Labor positions like his support for PLA’s (project labor agreements), probably anathema to much of the group – either it didn’t occur to her or maybe she really couldn’t, having been cozy with labor herself whenever convenient.

Jose however took great relish in frequently shifting his answers smoothly into attacks on the many ethical breaches and screwups Janet has been embroiled in throughout her 7 years as Supervisor, including her single-handed cronyistic demolition of CalOptima, which the Feds had to come in and remove from her.  He also scored her for being the deciding vote on raising ambulance fees, and painted her as pro-405 toll lanes (which she denies) because she has been a wobbly undependable vote on the preferred Alternative 2.  The fun part was watching Janet’s reaction during these attacks – the madder she gets the bigger she grins at the audience until it looks like her face might crack.  This Asian woman has not mastered the characteristic poker face.

Janet’s favored attack on Jose was his 2011 vote “supporting a state budget that removed $73 million in funding from Orange County government coffers.”   I couldn’t remember how he responded to that, so he wrote me via e-mail:

It’s been well-documented that it was the Board of Supervisors that failed to protect the VLF money.Supervisor Campbell for example, said they “dropped the ball” on it‎ and the BOS never placed it on their legislative agenda. Norberto Santana was still at the Register when he warned the county that the money was not protected and being placed at risk.”

Overall it sounded like these two candidates agree on much more than they disagree on, except which one of them you should send up to Sacramento.  The Voice sent two journalists to the forum – Nick Gerda and Thy Vo – and together they churned out a piece that very day, which included a couple details I gotta hat-tip them for:  Number one, this could be the ONE AND ONLY “DEBATE” between the two contenders – and how do you like that, citizens of the 34th?  One exclusive $55 a plate forum for lobbyists, executives, and insiders.

Nick and Thy also provided what I thought a handy valuable list of interests who back BOTH Jose and Janet:

“Disney, the Apartment Association of Orange County, the oil and gas industry, Pacific Life Insurance Company, Sempra Energy and the parent company of Enterprise Rent-A-Car.”

George Orwell can have the last word here – his final sentence from “Animal Farm”:

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.