Chaos Erupts in CDs 39 & 49! (Question 1: Could It Recede?)

If all days in OC’s political scene were this interesting, we would never get ANYTHING done!  (Yes, that IS supposed to be Darrell Issa.  Not really.)

(1) The Obvious (but Unasked) Question

Orange County literally has ten political stories today that could be front page news on any other day.  The echo from CA-39’a Rep. Ed Royce’s announced retirement on Monday is, if anything, getting louder.  At the other end of the county, in CA-49, mega-wealthy  Rep. Darrell Issa has announced his own attention to retire.  The political deathwatch over Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in CA-48 is also growing more frenzied — but that’s not really yet today’s story.

Meanwhile, we’re beyond the point of mere speculation about who may announce for these seats, and the sudden glut of opportunities for OC’s  A- and B-list political celebrities in these seats means that the offices that they were going to run for now have their own tempting vacancies. We’ll see a domino effect if that happens — and the fear that this could be a once-in-a-decade sort of opportunity in the game of political musical chairs means that pretty much everyone with medium-term ambitions has to pay attention and prepare to drop everything and jump into the fray.

But there’s a question that everyone — participant and observer — should be asking at this moment.  And most of them probably aren’t.  That is: how many of these tectonic changes are irreversible?  How many could turn out to be a whipsaw movement in which Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall and shatters … and then floats back up, restored?

With Orange County supposedly in the center of the political universe right now, we’re playing simultaneous games of grandmaster-level chess right now — and Republicans are (appropriately enough) paying white.  We can assume that if things look darker for Republicans towards the end of the filing period, they will adjust — just like the move they made two years ago to counter Sukhee Kang in SD-29 by substituting Ling-Ling Chang into that race.  (Yes, that move backfired — few except readers of this blog knew that Josh Newman was a far better candidate — but it was still an inspired move!)

If things start going south (and not in the cultural way that Republicans like), one can imagine the following speech coming from either Royce or Issa (though probably not Rohrabacher, whom the leaders want gone) either at the beginning of filing, if they want to be kind, or towards the end, if they’re merciless:

As you know, I announced in early January that I would not be seeking reelection to Congress this year.  Since that time, I’ve received a great number of calls and personal messages of support and sadness from my supporters.  None of them affected my decision — until now.  Over the past few days, I’ve received calls from President Trump, from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, from Rep. Mimi Walters, and from others in and around House Leadership.  They have transmitted a consistent — I think I can fairly say orchestrated — message: they want me to stay in this race.  Frankly, one reason seems to be is that given the way that Democrats have overreacted, we believe that my return to the race will have caught them flat-footed — and maximize our chances of retaining and even extending the Republican majority.

So, I will be running for Congress after all.  If at some time in 2019 I decide that I don’t want to stay in Congress, I will retire on my own terms and we will have a special election, as provided for by law, with an electorate composed of the voters most interested in and devoted to our democracy.  Thank you for your time; I won’t be taking questions.

A reminder to (or advisory to new) readers: I’ve been in OC for a long time now, and I don’t think that I can come up with a single political tactic that our local Republican and advisors can’t — and haven’t — already imagined.  (This is the county that gave you both Nixon and Reagan, after all.)  I don’t think that this will happen if they think that they’re in good shape.  If the polls — which will be everywhere, starting any moment now — show them in trouble, especially in this close of an election with OC seats so potentially decisive, I think that this is definitely already in their playbook.

So what should candidates do?

First of all, Republicans should only commit early if they are dead certain that they won’t be betrayed.  Who has this luxury?  I can think of only four names: Young KimTim ShawLing-Ling Chang, and Diane Harkey.  The reasons are that (1) I don’t think that Ed Royce will betray Kim — and I can’t say that about many politicians and their proteges — so once she’s definitely in he’s definitely out; (2) Shaw should probably have been in the 4th Supe’s race anyway, so he has nothing to lose; (3) Chang, who is a little safer from competition now, though only if she sticks to the Newman recall; and (4) if Issa gets back in, corrupt but popular-in-the-party Harkey could probably beat him anyway.  Anyone else is asking to find themselves in a crocodile-infested swamp without endorsements or supporters.

(For those wondering whether I am merely messing with Republicans here: well, if I were trying to look at the situation objectively, I couldn’t entirely rule out that possibility — but I don’t think I am.  We’ll see what people with loyalty to their party might agree with what I’m saying.  That’s one reason one publishes one’s speculations.)

Second, Democrats should not commit to a single race early — and by “commit” I mean only actually filing one’s signatures and getting sworn in at the Registrar’s office, not simply taking out forms and gathering signatures — if they can imagine any constellation of Republicans they would regret having signed up to vote against.  (Frankly, if they can’t think of any today, they’re probably lacking in imagination.)  See how things play out.  Keep an eye on key players like Kim and Shaw to see whether they commit.  Have options available — which I’ve been trying to tell you anyway!  Whoever commits indelibly to what turns out to have been an ill-advised race prematurely will get no sympathy from me or anyone who listens to me.  Look, if this is a chess match between the parties at this point, you don’t want to seal your first five moves into an envelope and mail them off before you’ve seen what the other player is doing!

(2) And, Oh Yeah, Those Headlines…

  1. Termed out 4th District Supervisor Shawn “but I just wanna be a juuuuudge!” Nelson announces for CA-39.  Note that the filing for judges is earlier than for other offices, so Nelson’s maneuverability is more limited than other candidates.
  2. Former State Senate leader from SD-29 Bob Huff announces for CA-39.  Huff can’t betray either of his proteges — Shaw, because Huff doesn’t live in OC, and Chang, because he’s not eligible to run for SD-29 again, and she’s (quite foolishly) slated for the recall against Josh Newman.  (She must be grumpy this morning, not being able to play in these games.)
  3. Royce’s protege Young Kim announces for CA-39.  And she received Huff’s endorsement, which is the biggest surprise since the sun rose this morning.  (Royce has no love for Huff and anti-love for Nelson.)
  4. A headline for a story I won’t write yet: “How Do the Democratic CA-39 Candidates Stack Up Against Those Three?”  My brief (!) initial take is that Jay Chen remains in the best shape, but not as much so given the possibility of a run against fellow Northerner Huff.  Mai Khan Tran matches up badly if she runs against likely nominee Kim, who takes away her competitive advantages (and more so, as the Asian contingent in this district is Korean rather than Vietnamese — plus Royce will figure out how to get his money to support his protege.  (If at this point she doesn’t consider the easier match, against Michelle Steele, she’s being silly.)  The rich guys, Gil Cisneros and Andy Thorburn?  Who knows (although I have alternative ideas for both of them, to be presented in another piece)?  I still don’t think that they can buy their way into to the district that easily.  Sadly, the thought of either Phil Janowitz or Sam Jammal — who at least had a shot against the politically wounded Royce — beating one of the three Republicans above seems … overly optimistic.  I thought that this should have been “Lean Republican” before due to the Democratic clustersmack leading to two GOP nominees; at this point that seems even more likely, although if those three Reeps stay in the race I think that we’ll at least see one Dem in the runoff.
  5. Tim Shaw announces for OC’s 4th Supervisor seat.  A word here to  Cynthia Aguirre and Rose Espinoza.  How do you think that you beat Tim Shaw here when you can’t get near him in the seat that you share?  I think that one of them should prepare to do a service to the party by running in the race to replace Josh Newman — while endorsing his retention.  If we see multiple Republicans in that race — and the rest of the Republican B- and C-lists (like Chad Wanke) need somewhere else to go — it’s a plurality winner in the race — and either of them could win if up solo against Kim and perhaps Wanke and others.  Someone is going to have to run as a “security measure” — and no one, me included, wants it to be me.
  6. CA-39 get two more Republicans candidates: John Collumn and La Mirada Councilman Andrew Sarega.  OK, maybe this is front-page news on a slow day — but if it were still Royce it would be nice to see them draining votes (especially in LA County.)
  7. Darrell Issa won’t run for re-election!  Again, watch out for the fake punt, but this seems plausible.  Downside — is there any reason to think that he wouldn’t run for the Republican slot as Governor?  I think that once he takes all of his meds, he may well do so — and he’d leave John Cox and Travis Allen in the dust, combining their respective GOP selling points of wealth and wackiness.
  8. Board of Equalization District 4 member Diane Harkey will run for Issa’s seat.  She’ll be the favorite to make the runoff — and my guess is that the party will stanch any GOP competition.  I think that Doug Applegate can still beat her.  Mike Levin seems less likely — he was aiming for Issa with all of his flaws, and doesn’t have the veteran’s war record or cache of volunteers that Applegate retains, once the rallying cry of dumping Issa is removed.
  9. Presuming (safely) that Harkey does run for Issa’s seat, that leaves an open seat on the largely neutered but still existing Board of Equalization.  Without Harkey running, there’s no incumbent.  This is a huge district — 10 million people! — and you’d have to have a fortune to run here, especially starting at this late date.  Fearing Harkey, Democrats haven’t yet been able to come up with a … with a …  HEY!  THORBURN AND CISNEROS BOTH HAVE FORTUNES!  I want to suggest to either of them (ideally not both) that when they run for something in 2012 or 2014, there are a lot worse ways to do so than as the incumbent in a position with 10 million constituents!  This is especially true for Thorburn, for whom I have plans — tell you ’bout them later, Andy — but Cisneros is even richer and therefore more equipped to run.  It’s not Congress, but it’s far more attainable, and the race in LA/Ventura-based District 3 tells you that this IS a seat worth holding.
  10. There’s a candidate’s forum for CA-39 today, which I’m apparently assigned to cover.  (Now that Vern is back, he can do that to me.)  There’s also one somewhere in CA-48, Dana’s district, that would cost $20 to attend.  I don’t know where it is, but if you’re willing to pay $20 to attend a candidate forum, you’re probably well-connected enough to find out.
  11. There’s a new state budget out today, and it’s effect on Orange County is … oops, I see that I’m out of time.  Anyway, if I had written this one, it too could have been a headline.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)