Did Muldoon & Vo Betray Moorlach? (Did It Matter?)




[Author’s note: most of this was written a week and a half ago, some a week ago, some today. Glad to finally have it off of my desk!]

Here’s a late post-mortem on the 2nd district Supervisor’s election in which former Supervisor John Moorlach endured a second election defeat in less than 18 weeks, this time to Katrina Foley.  (It follows upon a loss to Don Wagner and a loss to Dave Min for State Senate.)  A narrative has coalesced (with Moorlach’s urging) about what happened in this election — and I have serious doubts that it tells the right story.

Moorlach — who we’re sincerely happy to inform you has received several job offers since losing the runoff election for supervisor — issued a screed to his email list a couple weeks back that is revealing enough to warrant comment.  We got our hands on it, we deem it of greater public interest due to the election, and so we’re printing the whole thing — followed by a critique of what’s legit and what ain’t.  It’s printed below in red — not in a gaudy Republican bright red, but a darkened and muted blood-stain red.  (OK, technically that’s sort of a purple, but so is deoxygenated blood.)

The point of this review of Moorlach’s writing is neither to agree with him or to make sport of him, but to mark and remark upon an extraordinary statement.  I’m including notes at the end rather than disrupting the text, but am adding emphasis to a few points. Here we go!

An Analysis of the Campaign

Although the election was last week, many are still reacting to the results. Including myself. So, I’m finally back with an UPDATE to catch both of us up.

The most difficult behavior to deal with in life is betrayal. The two other Republicans in the race for Supervisor were malcontents who betrayed the Orange County Republican Party and its leadership. Dealing with betrayal is the most difficult of processes to go through.

Even Jesus had to deal with betrayal, for God’s purposes, but it certainly doesn’t make it any easier for the rest of us to deal with. It is a long healing process. The biggest lesson that I had to learn from my loss to Robert L. “Bob” Citron, another Democrat, back in 1994 was to be better, not bitter. Just give me the space and time.

Not only was the Party betrayed, but so were the management of the County and its 31 departments and agencies. The last thing they wanted was another County Supervisor who will be a managerial disaster. The role of Supervisor is a critical one and few excel at it.

During the March Primary last year for state Senate, the Third House (moneyed interests) in Sacramento determined they did not want Katrina Foley in the State Senate. They had met with her and found her to be obnoxious and too similar to progressive liberal State Senator Hannah Beth Jackson (D – Santa Barbara). Consequently, they funded independent expenditures against her and for David Min. Untrained observers blamed Foley’s Primary loss on the Republicans. Wrong. I would have preferred to have faced her in the General election. You know the rest of that story.

Management at the County needs adult leadership from its five Supervisors. The role of a County Supervisor is a critical executive one. The only Supervisor displaying that characteristic currently is Supervisor Lisa Bartlett. And, she is termed out in two years.

Katrina Foley is not only obnoxious, but she’s cranky and a meddler who has a failed track record, with documented fiscal mismanagement in Costa Mesa.

How do you take a city generating one of the highest sales tax revenues in the state as a percentage of income to last place in the County and in the bottom 10 percentile of California’s 482 cities? Foley did it. I can’t think of another city in California that has had such a dramatic fall in its fiscal situation. Also see COVID is slamming Orange County city budgets in the article here.

When the County of Orange needs adult supervision, it will be receiving a failed and disappointing Supervisor for the Second District. This is unconscionable and it was avoidable. And someone has to be held to account.

Today’s lead story in the Flashreport provides the most thorough analysis of the campaign to date and is the first piece below. It gives a first-hand account of the behind-the-scenes intrigue and comes to the correct conclusion.

The Letter to the Editor in the Event News Enterprise, a publication serving the Seal Beach area of the Second District, provides a perspective from a grassroots organizer in the second piece below (also see MOORLACH UPDATE — Two Disappointing Republicans — March 14, 2021).

And the Orange County Breeze, which serves the Cypress/Los Alamitos area of the Second District, has a submission from an activist I’ve been familiar with and respected for more than three decades, who shares her disappointment in the third piece below.

Enjoying Freedom

Thanks to all of you that have been inquiring as to how I’m doing. My wife and I are great. We’re slowly digging out, we’ve cleared out the campaign headquarters and are trying to empty boxes at our home. And we have returned to good health after our bouts with COVID-19.

I’m trying to build new routines and enjoying reviewing several job offers. But, I’m also trying to return to my blog to keep an archive of the journey by posting current activities every day and catching up pieces from the campaign in between. I felt today’s UPDATE was important enough to send out.

For the campaign catch ups, see MOORLACH UPDATE — January 10 Campaign and Profiling — March 12, 2020 and MOORLACH UPDATE — The Campaign Begins – January 12 — March 15, 2021.

Here are the other UPDATES:

Election results — MOORLACH UPDATE — Starting with the Conclusion — March 13, 2021.


Liberal and shallow review of the results — MOORLACH UPDATE — Noise of OC — March 16, 2021.

Another kind Letter to the Editor — MOORLACH UPDATE — Best Qualified Candidate — March 17, 2021.

A look at the Newsom recall effort — MOORLACH UPDATE — As You May Recall — March 18, 2021.

(As an initial reaction: YIKES!)  We’ll print the letters Moorlach mentions, in rose and in full, as a public service.

(1) By Robin Itzler

The goal was to elect a Republican
Dear Editor,

Congratulations to Newport Beach Councilman Kevin Muldoon and Fountain Valley Mayor Michael Vo for helping Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley win the seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors. As many others have written and posted, Muldoon and Vo put their egos ahead of what is good for the Republican Party and the result is that we now have a Democrat in what was once a Republican seat.

Like many Republicans in Orange County’s Second Supervisorial District, my goal was to support the most ELECTABLE Republican and that person was former State Senator John Moorlach. I also felt that based on his years of service to Orange County, Moorlach would do the best job. Yet, if Muldoon or Vo were running in this race as the lone Republican, I would have supported either one. The goal was to ELECT A REPUBLICAN, not placate one’s ego. (Otherwise I should have run for the board!) I hope neither Muldoon nor Vo seek a future office where they will want my vote because it won’t be there. Most Republicans I have spoken with have told me the same thing.

Here’s the second letter Moorlach notes:

(2) By Jeanne Goodin

Dear Editor,

California and Orange County has lost a true PATRIOT [Ed. Note: Hey!  He’s still here, and still alive!] whose sole purpose was to serve the constituents in CA and Orange County thru his expertise in numbers, legislation, family and the Constitution.

John gained the nations attention 25 years ago by guiding Orange County out of a ruinous bankruptcy, warning that Orange County’s highly leveraged investment strategies would lead to fiscal disaster. He was appointed Orange Count Treasurer-tax Collector (1995-2006) as a CPA and Certified Financial Planner to put the County on a long-term path of success.

Managing a portfolio of $7 billion he used his expertise during the Great Recession to implement policy changes that helped the County avoid fiscal disasters that other regions of our county experienced. He guided the County’s exit from Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection within 18 months and achieved more than $800 million in litigation settlements.

John has served well as an officer of the County of Orange for some 20 years and served on the platform that would lead the County to fiscal health. He accomplished all the goals needed to put Orange County back on financial accountability.

John Moorlach’s defeat March 10th is a loss for Orange County as well as California due mainly to Republicans who centered on their own aspirations without considering what would be best for Orange County.

A sad commentary!!

Speaking of sad commentaries, the brunt of this piece will be devoted to discussing the piece Moorlach cites from Jon “Flash” Fleishman’s The Flash Report.  (“Flash” is his nickname, right?  If not, he is now!)

We’ll have to treat Flash’s piece a little more gingerly than those letters. It’s long, it’s newsworthy, and I don’t feel like writing the sort of paragraph-by-paragraph critical rebuttal (“fisking”) that would allow including the whole thing as “fair use,” because it’s not all rebuttal-worthy.)  So I’ll quote four paragraphs of what in it I think is most critical in Flash Report logo sea green and summarize (or rebut) the rest with my own summary in bold orange and my commentary in bold royal blue.

 Flash Pan: 4 graphs of quotes + some summarizing! 

I have known and liked Kevin Muldoon for many years. I had always considered Muldoon to be a committed conservative activist, standing tall on issues when others would fade into the background. I was pleased to play a role in helping Muldoon get elected to the Newport Beach City Council. That said, it turns out I didn’t really know Kevin, or at least I didn’t know about an important character flaw of Kevin’s until these last couple of months… 

Flash says that everyone knew that Michelle Steel was leaving the seat in either 2020 or 2022. She beat Rouda, so OC Democrats coalesced around Foley.  Because Republicans still exceed Democrats in 2nd Supe district voter registration, her only chance was for many Republicans to split the vote.

As a member of the Republican Party, which has much more a draconian hold over its politicians than Democrats do, and because the former is must more demographically homogenous than the latter, Flash may be less familiar that are OJB’s editors with the agony of identity-based competitive primary elections.  He sees ego at work here (and to an extent that’s true) but local demographic interest groups not only put pressure on candidates to run, but also undercut the notion that if people vote for Republican P over Q , the absence of P on the ballot means that they would surely vote for Q.  (Lordy, as Democrats we know that that is not true.)  We can tell him some stories about what happens when one moved from the traditional Republican tripartite division between “Wall Street, Main Street, and Easy Street” to one where, as with Democrats, demographic interest groups (labor included) do not tend to coalesce, but often compete to be heard, respected, and obeyed.

In a demographically heterogeneous party — such as Democrats with Blacks, Latinos, Asians, women, LGBTs, union members, and mostly white liberal upper middle-class professionals — you don’t necessarily see a division of policy turf, such as where the Wall Street bankers control the treasury, Easy Street entrepreneurs control regulation, and Main Street small-town conformity controls social issues.  (A fourth group, Neo-Conservatives, tends to control foreign policy in both parties, although during the Trump Administration this control was replaced be deference to Vladimir Putin.  That’s not hyperbole.)

Such coalition politics is relatively easy.  Satisfying sundry identities is hard — at least when there are more than a small number in competition.

The basic problem is that in a party with competition between demographically diverse interests for scarce resources, support for a candidate that satisfies one demographic interests won’t necessarily translate into support for others in the party.  Demographically invested voters do not find a party’s candidates fungible (interchangeable); looking at the share of the two-party vote in such elections and that each party vote is a vote for anyone in the party — “The point is to elect a Republican” — is folly.  (In fact, feeling disrespected by one’s party may lead them to greater hostility to other candidates in the party — probably most likely manifested in not voting at all.) 

(As an aside, just looking at the split of the two-party vote in a district is highly outdated anyway, now that NPP voters are so prevalent — and more often aligning with Democrats.)

So, a riven party won’t necessarily vote as a block — especially when certain of the identities feel disrespected.  My sense is that in the 2nd Supe district wealthy and mostly white Newport Beach Republican sybarites — who were quite content with Korean Michele Steel (because she was understood as former GOP honcho Shawn Steel’s hand-puppet — do not want to be represented by what they consider tawdry Vietnamese politicos expanding their influence from Little Saigon.  (Whether Vo fits that bill — he probably doesn’t — is immaterial, from their perspective.)  So they wanted Muldoon in the race to represent their, um, “worldview.”

Viets know this, resent it, and at best would be indifferent between Foley and Muldoon  So they would want Vo in the race as well — not necessarily for his ego, but for their collective pride.  But, again, that doesn’t mean that they’d vote for Foley given how easy it is to just not vote at all.

So that “white Republican vs. Viets” dynamic can explain why there were two challengers to Moorlach rather than one.  (And note that both Muldoon and Vo probably helped themselves with the respective constituencies whose banner they held in this race, which will likely be more important than an RPOC nod in, say, a future race for AD-74).  But, as will be noted below, a second challenger was not the problem here.  Even a first challenger was enough to capsize him. 

But why were there any challengers at all?  That has much more to do with Moorlach himself — and, frankly, his lack of self-awareness of his image.  Moorlach had challengers, and lost, because of factors in his past that are exactly why Vern and I find him in many ways admirable: he’s a muckraker, and trouble-maker, a pain-in-the-ass who has made lots of enemies by telling the truth about corruption and (with more varied veracity) waste.  Why wouldn’t he expect people to be gunning for him?  Doesn’t Flash understand why a sleazy Andrew Do or self-serving Muldoon would snarl at St. John of the Moor?

Not everyone is ideological, Flash!  Not everyone puts principle above comity!  Vern and I can both testify to whether standing up to power makes one friends within one’s party!  (It does — but not enough of them!)

But even if we set aside all of the above analysis, Flash is simply off about what the results tell us.

Let’s start with the technical point: his focusing fire solely on Muldoon is silly, because even if all of Muldoon’s voters would have dutifully switched to support for Moorlach — as opposed to Vo, Foley, Rappaport, or staying home —  that would still have left Moorlach with 42.2% of the vote, safely behind Foley’s 44.3%.  Muldoon — the candidate of rich, white, xenophobic Mr. and Mrs. Howells — would likely have had even less of a chance to pick up Vo’s voters.

But what if both weren’t in the race?  Maybe he’d have picked up Muldoon’s voters — although Foley did have a presence in Newport from her time on their shared school district Board — but not Vo’s.  And that’s not enough to win.

Here’s why: if Vo weren’t in the race (to garner, let’s presume, mostly Viet votes) it’s not fair to presume that Moorlach would have picked up his votes either, because they would likely listen most to Supervisor Andrew Do — who was relentlessly anti-Moorlach.  (Do’s absence from Flash’s analysis is conspicuous.)  My guess is that a lot of them would have supported Foley — for demographic factional reasons, not ideological ones.

Muldoon’s argument in his campaign against Moorlach was, paraphrasing, that Moorlach was just a lousy candidate with a bad track record, and that he should therefore back out for a more mainstream conservative.  Is that a fair assessment?  Well, I personally like Moorlach more than I do Muldoon, Vo, Do, or Fleischman — his writings should him to be thoughtful, witty, and self-effacing, and he’s right about the need to take more of a “green eyeshades” look towards our budgets and pensions, even if we may disagree about the extent of that — but his party did fail to rally around him against Min.

Given that, was Muldoon really wrong?  Moorlach says that Foley was a much weaker candidate than Min.  So now we’ll leave Flash alone and get to Moorlach’s writing directly.

Moorlach’s Failings

In most situations, I’ve been able to disagree with Moorlach, to the extent I do, without disrespecting him disliking him. And overall, I stand by that attitude.  But, there’s much to disrespect and to dislike in what he’s written.  Let’s start with disrespect.

He doesn’t get that Foley’s a Better Politician 

My relative appreciation of Moorlach derives from my being a fellow wonk.  But most voters are not wonks, and there’s a strong argument that Moorlach hasn’t exhibited much of a “common touch” with them. Deft politicians — and I do not claim to be one, but I’ve never run for public office expecting to win rather than to just make a dent — develop and deploy a common touch.  Moorlach, his wryness aside, didn’t do it in his campaign.

For example: look at the parallel interviews that Vern did with Moorlach and Foley.  Here’s what, judging from his email blast, statement, Moorlach appears to think is the “money shot”:

As a result of my financial decisions, Orange County has improved dramatically.  Examine each city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.  When taking the Unrestricted Net Position for Governmental Activities and dividing it by the municipality’s population, you arrive at a per capita metric.  Out of 58 counties, Orange County moved up from 46th place as of 2010 to 24th place as of 2019.  In contrast, Costa Mesa has moved from 18th place out of 34 Orange County cities to last place during the same period.

Let’s presume for a moment that most voters could even make it through that paragraph.  Does the casting of credit and blame make sense on its own terms?  Only if you’re pretending to be (or actually are) completely out of touch.

First: Does Moorlach deserve some credit for OC’s past improvement?  Sure — but also some blame for its present ailments.  For all of the credit he deserves for trying to rein in the excesses of pensions, he warrants blame for the county’s abysmal social services spending, which has become most evident in recent years over the homelessness crisis.  He’s very good (well, Zenger may correct me here) with numbers, but less good at realizing that some numbers simply impact human lives more than others.  (His style of penny-pinching “gained” us the godawful Othena site.)

Beyond that, his arguments against Foley are, in their own right, preposterous — and they suggest that from his perches in Sacramento and Santa Ana he’s really had little idea of what has been going on within much of his own district this past decade.

First, he talks about what has happened to OC’s standing, now vs. 10 years ago, in a certain per capita measure of (to oversimplify and analogize) “shareholder value” net of factors like pension obligations.  Well — what else happened in the interim?  Oh, yeah — the foreclosure crisis, with its epicenter right here in OC!  Housing prices plummeted; tax revenues followed (although not right away.) Would that explain part of why our per capita spending went down?  (Pension reforms could also be part of it — but didn’t Moorlach fail to get the BOS to make the most important potential pension reforms?)

But the far bigger problem is with his attack on Foley for what has happened over the past decade in Costa Mesa.  Anyone remember about what happened in Costa Mesa about 10 years ago?  That’s right — the city-wrecking Righeimer Caliphate!  Foley was in the minority of the Council during most of her 11 years on Council this time, first fighting to constrain the profligate and hapless morons destruction of the city budget and administration and then having to, Biden-like, dig out from underneath it.

Hanging Costa Mesa’s decline around Foley’s neck is either knowingly unfair and misleading or starkly ignorant of what was going on in that city at the time and Foley’s role in it.

But look, that sort of distortion is not uncommon in bare knuckles politics.  From there, Moorlach goes hog wild and does himself some lasting harm.

Moorlach Can Really Be a Sexist Asshole

According to Moorlach, Katrina Foley is not only obnoxious, but she’s cranky and a meddler who has a failed track record, with documented fiscal mismanagement in Costa Mesa showing her incapable of providing adult supervision on the BOS.

I’ve addressed the “fiscal mismanagement” side of things — hey does he have any criticisms of the other, Republican problem-causing Council members he’d like to share? — and “failed track record” is just generalized political nattering.

But “obnoxious, cranky, and a meddler”?

Here’s my guess: if you were to ask Andrew Do to describe Moorlach, these same terms might turn up.  Moorlach is cranky (about fiscal policy), his detractors consider him obnoxious — and he does like meddling in other politicians’ domains.

Now I don’t necessarily fault him for any of that!  Often, he obnoxiously meddles from a “good governance” perspective, where he’s right!  But — and here’s what he doesn’t get — the same is true of Foley!  She’s been a reformer too, in Costa Mesa, and she’s gotten in people’s faces too — and these terms are just as unfair to her as they are to him.

Of course, they’re repugnant here for a different reason as well — one that, sadly, I don’t expect Moorlach to get.

As Flash notes, Moorlach was endorsed by the Republican Party of Orange County, the Lincoln Club of Orange County, the New Majority of Orange County, the Family Action PAC, Gun Owners of California, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the California Pro-Life Council and other social and economically conservative organizations.  I don’t like any of that — but one can be a social conservative without being an asshole

And in his statement, Moorlach was a total asshole.

As such, he doesn’t seem likely to get that calling a person “obnoxious, cranky and meddling” has a different connotation when applied to a man versus a woman — especially a successful professional woman.

Essentially, whether he understood it in these terms or not, Moorlach was saying that voters should dislike Foley because she’s a bitch.

Obnoxious, cranky, meddling — to round it off he might have added “aggressive” (that one’s true) and “ball-busting,” I suppose — but what he said was enough to paint the picture.

Tina Fey has famously opined that “Bitches Get Things Done.”  This is news to Moorlach, it seems.  Apparently he thought that his being able to depict her as what I’ll call “a bitch” would have made her easier to defeat in a State Senate race than Min.  (Oh — and she’s also a liberal, like, um, someone in the legislature that OC voters don’t know.  Yeah, but as I noted in my endorsement of her, she’s also a plaintiff’s employment attorney, which is something the BOS really does need as the County offices go about cleaning up their own operations.)

Wrapping up

I don’t begrudge Moorlach his sense that he was entitled to this office.  I’m sure it’s an honest belief, and in some ways, he has a reasonable case for it — but he doesn’t have a reasonable case that everyone else should have bowed to him.  He needed a totally clear Republican field to win — but, as noted above, he still likely wouldn’t have won a two-person race.  Vo voters and Muldoon voters simply weren’t his to claim.  Foley was a more deft politician.  And independents, who skew younger, were probably more impressed with a successful professional younger woman like Foley — a … woman who gets things done.

Finally, to reiterate some points made in my criticism of Flash’s piece for the benefits of those who skipped it — I think that Moorlach is a bit naive regarding his opponents.  It seems to me that there is a rift within at least the Coastal OC GOP between the Viet community and the wealthy while Newport Beach community.  Wealthy white Newport Beach residents do not want to be represented by a Viet whom they don’t trust to represent their interests (and who, perhaps based on various examples, they may fear is corrupt — and worse, corrupt in a way that doesn’t benefit them.)  Viets are aware of this bigoted to their status and understandably dislike and resist it.  They’re not reliably Republican voted, at least below the Presidential level, and especially not when Do is on the warpath against Moorlach.

Vo is from the easternmost reaches of Little Saigon, where the lines from Westminster and Garden Grove may not reach, and I know of no ethical clouds hanging over him.  Frankly he doesn’t lose much politically by taking up the standard of OC’s Viet community here.

Similarly Muldoon does not lose much by taking up the mantle of the rich fiscally libertarian shiny white Newport Beach voters.

We can’t forget that redistricting is coming and we don’t know where the new lines will go.  (I don’t think we even get the final census report until next month!)  So, with Supervisor, Assembly, State Senate, and Congressional races in potentially new districts on the horizon, it’s not clearly a bad move for politicians to raise their visibility in this way — as both Vo and Muldoon have done.

None of what I’m saying is arcane.  Moorlach should have known all of this!  Smart politicians know the territory onto which they will tread.  This was a plurality-wins race, not a race where he could close out the competition by first winning a primary.  He should have known that Foley would have a clear field while he’d likely be challenged by at least some agent of Andrew Do. The fundamentals of this race were far from ideal.

Maybe, just maybe … he shouldn’t have run!

Anyway: we wish him well.  Keep on muckraking — but please understand that you were being a sexist asshole.  Don’t do that.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-disabled and semi-retired, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally ran for office against jerks who otherwise would have gonr 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.) His daughter is a professional campaign treasurer. He doesn't usually know whom she and her firm represent. Whether they do so never influences his endorsements or coverage. (He does have his own strong opinions.) But when he does check campaign finance forms, he is often happily surprised to learn that good candidates he respects often DO hire her firm. (Maybe bad ones are scared off by his relationship with her, but they needn't be.)