What Went Wrong With the 2020 Westminster Recall?




Tyrannical Ta, Histrionic Ho, and a little slice of Charlie –
Westminster missed the opportunity to get rid of them.

Lovers of good honest government, all over Orange County, were looking with hope toward Westminster last month – could the town’s voters really dethrone this three-member majority (known popularly in Westminster as “The Gang of Three”), whose record of corruption and nepotism was famed countywide?  It seemed the recall proponents did everything correctly.

But when the April 7 election day rolled around, the incumbents beat off the recall about 60% to 40%. Granted this election was held during the first few weeks of the coronavirus quarantine, but you’d think that would hurt each side equally. So what went wrong? Well, rather than sit here theorizing on our own, let’s ask the proponents what they think sunk the recall boat.

Factions, and the Billionaire.

There were three different factions pushing for this recall, factions that were not always on the same page. First there was Dr. Long Pham’s ”Vietnamese Voters Coalition,”  who filed the first recall papers.  They encouraged a group of like-minded Westminster whites and Latinos to form the powerhouse “Westminster United” group in support.  And so far all was good.

Kieu Hoang

But then came LA-based billionaire Kieu Hoang, who took a sudden interest in helping to fund the campaign. Sounded like great news at first – who woudn’t want a billionaire on their side?  But this eccentric and controversial mogul insisted on doing things his own way – he hired longtime sleazy political consultant Gilliard & Associates, which proceeded to create over-the-top garish mailers and sent out paid out-of-town canvassers who were really not familiar with Westminster issues.

Meanwhile Kieu Hoang, whom it turns out a lot of Vietnamese-Americans dislike and distrust, frequently went on Vietnamese radio, unhelpfully engaging in hyperbole and calling the Gang of Three ridiculous names:  Communists!  Gangsters!  Terrorists!  This lowered the discourse to the level where the same names were being thrown back at the Recall proponents.

Turning Partisan, and the OC GOP attacks.

From the beginning the recall proponents did their best to keep the recall non-partisan, even though all three targeted incumbents happened to be registered Republicans. The Gang of Three’s corruption, nepotism and gangster tactics are resented by Westminster Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike, so the recall should have been nonpartisan. But two of the eleven replacement candidates – the two who turned out to be most popular, Jamison Power and Carlos Manzo – happen to be Democrats, and the DPOC did a little advertising for them.

Tyler Diep

But what really hurt was the OC GOP taking up the anti-recall cause with a vengeance. The Gang of Three (Ta, Ho, and Charlie Nguyen) are disciples of Assemblyman Tyler Diep and former assemblyman/ powerbroker Van Tran, who (in spite of Tyler’s spectacular Assembly primary loss to Janet Nguyen) still have a lot of pull among Republican insiders, particularly OC GOP chairman Fred Whitaker, as well as Kermit Marsh, Supervisor Michelle Steel, and Supervisor Andrew Do (the latter of whom provided a couple of vicious robo-calls, in Vietnamese.)

So the OC GOP put a lot of money into attacking the recall proponents with ridiculous manipulative mailers. They painted the whole operation as a sneaky Democrat takeover plot (even though only two of the eleven replacement candidates were Democrats), and framed it as a racist anti-Viet campaign (even though 7 out of the 11 were Vietnamese themselves!)

And they sent out mailer after manipulative mailer warning that these sneaky non-Viet Democrats would end up  creating more homelessness, turning Westminster into a “Sanctuary City,” and filling up Westminster parks with used hypodermic needles!  Total bullshit but apparently effective.   Kieu Hoang ONLY sent his pro-recall mailers to Viet households, so the only literature most English & Spanish-speaking households got was this OC GOP propaganda.

Little Saigon Dirty Tricks

“Forget it, Jake, it’s Little Saigon.”

There are things that traditionally happen, in Little Saigon elections, to opponents of the ruling faction.  Over half the pro-recall SIGNS were stolen within three days of their having been posted.  Many people mailed in ballots that turned out not to have been counted for one reason or another.  Hundreds (at least) of pro-recall ballots vanished from one particular Westminster mailbox.  

Supporters of the Gang of Three went out ballot-harvesting at senior homes and mobile home parks, helping these old Viets (who can only speak Vietnamese) to fill out their ballots.  Billionaire Kieu Hoang, they were told, wants to buy up this mobile home park and toss you all out on the street!  On Viet radio, they told listeners to come vote at the Gang of Three’s campaign headquarters, and leave their ballots there to be turned in properly! 

Proponents of the recall were called terrorists and communists.  “Allegedly there are rumors that” has become a common way for this crowd to couch their propaganda.  So allegedly there were rumors that billionaire Kieu Hoang had designs to buy the Westminster Mall once he got his “puppets” onto council.  And “allegedly there were rumors” that Westminster United head David Johnson is a member of the KKK (LOL), and also that he has run, and lost, for numerous political offices (which he never has.)  In a shameless attempt at intimidation, they featured pictures of Johnson’s children on one mailer.

Needles, Sanctuary, San Francisco – a Liberal Dystopia!

Voting in the Time of Coronavirus

Elections during crises, like wars, pandemics or terrorist scares, tend to favor the status quo, as folks cling to the familiar.  Carlos Manzo says that if the proponents had “just been able to have feet on the ground and talk to voters” during the end of March and beginning of April, that would have made all the difference. 


A sad fact is that 10,000 Westminster voters signed the recall petition, but only 7000 of them turned up to vote.  Did some former supporters become opponents?  Or did they just get lazy or indifferent or ambivalent after a few months?  But that missing 3000 votes would have done the trick.

It sure wasn’t easy voting in late March and early April.  First the Registrar said Westminster voters could vote in person.  Then late in March they changed their minds – it was to be mail-in only after all, due to the quarantine.  But a lot of voters didn’t have mail-in ballots, so the registrar put the word out that voters could request one, up to three days before the election – that is, April 4.  Well, it’s human physics that the more difficult and complicated it is to vote, the less people vote.

And if Democrats, and Latinos, had bothered to vote, the result would have been different.  At this point the number of Democrats in Westminster are nearly equal that of Republicans, but they still don’t vote as dependably as a mob of Republicans scared of homeless people, hypodermic needles, and SANCTUARY.

And now it seems like all Westminster is bitching again about their Mayor and Council, just like they were half a year ago.  Well, they blew the chance they had in the spring, now they’re going to have to wait till the Fall…

Looking Toward November

Westminster is in a transition to district elections.  The first term is up for Gang of 3 member Kimberly Ho (who everybody knows is a residence-liar from Yorba Linda) and she’ll have to run for re-election in Area 2, where she pretends to live.  Planning Commissioner Manzo is likely to run against her again – he did pretty well April 7, but it’ll be a struggle to beat Ho in a district 44% Asian, 27% white and 27% Latino.  Hopefully more Latinos and Democrats will come out to vote this fall now that TRUMP is literally on the ballot.

Power to the people!

And reform incumbent Tai Do is likely to run again in Area 3, although he could stay on for another two years as an at-large incumbent.  (The other reform incumbent, Sergio Contreras, has left his seat to run for Supervisor against Andrew Do.)

Used to be the Westminster Mayor had to run every two years, but Mayor Tri Ta, head of the Gang of Three, got that changed in 2018 with a special election that cost the city $85,000, and he barely won.  So he’s safe as Mayor now till 2022.

SO.  Whoever wins in November, there will still be a vacancy which will be appointed by the Majority.  BUT if Manzo wins, Do and Manzo are going to want to appoint the popular school board director Jamison Power; while Ta and Charlie will want to appoint either lame-duck assemblyman Tyler Diep or one of Tyler’s acolytes.  Since those two factions won’t be able to agree on anybody, it’ll go to ANOTHER SPECIAL ELECTION in early 2021 which could be a battle royale between Power and Diep.

So THAT is Westminster’s best-case scenario right now.  Too bad you-all didn’t come out to vote YES ON THE RECALL!

(Just to be safe, this was sent to Democrats.)

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.