7 Powerful Female OC politicians the Register has never heard of

Maybe the Register‘s Hanna Kang is a humorist, I prefer to think that, a PRANKSTER. A political satirist. And maybe her March 20 cover article was a clever indictment of the county’s monopoly daily for its anachronistic subservience to the Republican Party, even in this era when there are more Democrats than Republicans here, and most independents vote Democrat, as witness our 53.5% vote for Biden over Trump.

Why else would Ms. Kang have included TEN Republican women and ZERO Democrats in her piece “Ladies First: 10 Women Who Paved the Way in OC Politics?” Yes, ALL Republicans, from bankruptcy-era Marian Bergeson to today’s racist/racebaiters Michelle Steel and Farrah Khan. And apparently Hanna’s satire went right past her rightwing editors, to whom it all seemed fine and normal. “Copacetic,” as REALLY old conservatives say.

Alternatively, if this WASN’T a satirical prank … then maybe Ms. Kang and her editors really just don’t KNOW any Democrats, which would be kind of sad. In any case, Hanna has left room for yours truly to “pick up the slack” with SEVEN POWERFUL DEMOCRATIC OC POLITICIAN WOMEN THE REGISTER HASN’T HEARD OF. And here goes…

Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva

Sharon’s the one who alerted me to the bizarrely selective Register piece, and she was also a tiny bit miffed that Gabriel San Roman’s October Times piece “Latinas are an Emerging Force in OC Politics” also omitted her – SQS, the highest-ranking elected Latina in the County since Loretta shuffled off the electoral coil. Sharon did NOT say, “What am I, chopped liver?” which would have been undignified and distasteful, but that sentiment would be understandable, and I’m happy to address this gap in coverage of my old friend.

“Paving the way in OC Politics?” Well, that’d be Sharon, paving the way for the big 2018 Blue Wave, the first person to turn a red north OC district blue in decades (in 2012), and the first person to turn a red OC district blue since Loretta in the 90’s, and she did it all as a Latina. Yes, Sharon is a Latina, the Fullerton-born daughter of a Sears appliance repairman and one of ten children. And I can tell you she’s never forgotten her working-class roots, feeling that they make her a different sort of Democrat politician from the Ivy League-educated “Two Tom’s,” Daly and Umberg.

After attending Fullerton College, UCLA and Cal State Fullerton, Sharon began her career teaching at various Fullerton elementary schools while raising four kids. But as her kids grew up and she began paying more attention to city politics as it impacted the schools where she worked, she felt City Council needed a change from the Republican good-old-boys who’d been running the town so long; and after a few years of looking for some candidate to support, she eventually decided to just do it herself. (Shades of Dick Cheney’s VP search but minus the plunder and war crimes.)

So, she was elected onto Council twice, serving from 2004-12, and instituted term limits while she was there. This was when I met her; she signed onto my California Single-Payer Healthcare group. After Kelly Thomas’ gruesome 2011 murder by six Fullerton cops, it was only Sharon and conservative Bruce Whitaker who did anything to get truth and accountability out of the police; the other three councilmembers were recalled for their outrageous callousness and collusion.

In 2012 Sharon set her sights on Assembly, in a district and area where every Democratic candidate for decades had been a pathetic sacrificial lamb. But Sharon COULD DO IT, and did it, beating Chris Norby in 2012, losing to Young Kim in 2014, then winning her seat back for good in 2016. She is preparing now for her final (2024) assembly run, after which she’ll be termed out in ’26. At that time, at this point, she tells me she’s looking forward to doing more gardening, her true love along with teaching.

But WHAT HAS SHE ACCOMPLISHED IN THE ASSEMBLY, why do we like her so much? Most of what she’s done has been in the field of housing, and helping the homeless. She worked tirelessly for years to get an OC Veterans’ Cemetery, first, with a lot of frustration, in Irvine, and finally successfully in Anaheim Hills.

Importantly to us Anaheim activists, she fought hard for years to stop the rent gouging at the senior mobile home park Rancho La Paz; encountering opposition from all sides, she had to tailor that bill narrowly so that it only applies to that particular park, but she earned the gratitude of that whole community, and now Assemblyman Muratsuchi’s AB 1035 is attempting to apply the protections of Sharon’s bill to ALL California mobile home parks!

I have a soft spot for politicians, especially Democrat ones, who seriously fight waste and corruption. And Sharon, getting sick of wondering where the hell all the money she acquired for CalOptima was ending up, decided to audit the County’s health plan for the poor. Sharon’s audit led to the resignation of corrupt Supervisor Andrew Do from his chairmanship of the agency, and the revelation that he’d okayed salaries as high as $840 million for administrators, along with other wasteful and hinky shenanigans. Sharon told the Voice, “We have administrators in our public agencies making close to $1 million from public tax dollars. [That] to me is something we should be shining a light on.” Right on, Sharon!

We haven’t agreed with every vote and decision Sharon has made this decade, but as Dr. Jose Moreno has observed, she is always willing to come out in public and explain herself, and listen to her opposition, unlike any number of weaselly politicians of both Parties. And – hey – look at this! Sharon is coming to speak at the Anaheim Democrats Club (with Santa Ana Mayor Pro-Tem Jessie Lopez) THIS VERY THURSDAY, April 6, at 7pm – Anaheim Unitarian Church at 511 South Harbor. All are welcome!

Supervisor Katrina Foley

Wait, “women paving the way in OC Politics?” You must mean like Katrina Foley, not only the first woman but the first PERSON to bring HONESTY and TRANSPARENCY to the Board of Supervisors in decades at least! I’ve been supporting Katrina since she first ran for Costa Mesa Council in 2004, and we made plenty of Good Trouble together around 2010 successfully fighting the sale and privatization of the OC Fairgrounds. (See, “Great Fairgrounds Swindle.”)

In 2021 and again in 2022 she won election to the Board of Supervisors, from districts nobody ever thought a Democrat could win – all while being sidelined and undermined by resentful faux-Democrat Doug Chaffee. Against all odds, Katrina is PAVING THE WAY for women, Democrats AND honest politicians!

Congresswoman Katie Porter

Another female OC politician the Register has never heard of, or maybe doesn’t think has “paved the way in OC politics,” is ONLY THE NATIONWIDE MEDIA SUPERSTAR, Irvine Congresswoman Katie Porter, the Terror of the White Board, first Democrat to wipe the Irvine floor – TWICE – with her opponents, and now boldly throwing it all away in a mad race for Senate! Well… what can we say?? MOST of us have heard of Katie Porter.

Mayors Aitken & Amezcua

Why focus on Farrah Khan, the Republican mayor of OC’s 3rd largest city, when our two LARGEST CITIES, Anaheim and Santa Ana, also have female mayors for the first time in history? I guess, the problem is, simply, that Ashleigh and Valerie are Democrats.

But consider – there is a statewide working group called “Big City Mayors” consisting of the leaders of California’s 13 biggest cities – they make regular trips to Sacramento and DC getting what their cities and counties need – and Orange County is represented, nationwide, by THESE TWO WOMEN. (A few years ago, that was SIDHU and PULIDO!) I don’t know, sounds kind of important and like “paving the way” to me!

Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris

I don’t now a whole lot about this moderate Democrat, but I do know she TWICE beat out Republicans in districts that had only elected Republicans as far back as the memory can remember. And maybe it’s been necessary for her to be moderate and cautious to keep that purple district. But Cottie is the Quirk-Silva of Coastal OC who has won twice now, so CAN COTTIE MAKE SOME BRAVE VOTES NOW? Yes Cottie can!

Memories of Loretta

But by far the most glaring omission, if you’re gonna write a piece called “Ladies First: Ten Women Who Paved the Way in OC Politics,” and you’re gonna go back to the 90’s to include (the apparently decent Republicans) Bergerson and Doris Allen, is LORETTA SANCHEZ. You really can’t get any more pave-the-way than “LO,” who shocked the reactionary county by showing a Democrat, a female Democrat, a LATINA Democrat could win here, beating for that matter a crazy-ass knuckle-dragger named “B-1 Bob” Dornan. It just DID NOT COMPUTE to OC Republicans, they were SURE it had to-a been the “ILLEGALS” voting. But they didn’t, and Loretta just kept winning, for twenty years, until she got characteristically restless, ran for Senate, and crashed up against Mount Kamala.

Like The Who’s “My Generation,” people liked to “put her down,” but I always stuck up for her. Because I’d noticed that despite her ditzy, Valley-Girl persona and “Blue Dog” reputation, all her important votes were great, brave, and progressive. She may have scheduled a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion and sent out inappropriately sexual Christmas cards, but what I cared about was:

  • She voted against the Patriot Act
  • She voted against the invasion of Iraq
  • She tried hard to get a “robust public option” into Obamacare
  • She opposed both NAFTA and the TPP (defying Democrat Presidents as a populist.)

But still she was considered part of the “Blue Dog,” or conservative Democrat caucus. Once I asked her, “How is that? Your votes don’t seem like the votes of a Blue Dog.” And she winked and said, “Don’t tell anybody this, Vern, but I’m really in the Blue Dogs to spy on them for Nancy Pelosi” (who was considered more progressive.)

And of course as she said this she inched a little closer to me with her hands on her swiveling hips. That’s how she always talked to all men, back before her marriage to Jack Einwechter – my pal Greg Ridge tried to talk her into helping us fight the Fairgrounds Swindle, and after listening to everything he said, she told him, “You have the most beautiful eyes.” Greg snapped back, “Thanks, my wife thinks so too.”

The late Gus Ayer, at a loss for words, used to refer to Loretta as “a force of nature.” In a typical story told at her wedding, she woke up before dawn on an Italian vacation and dragged everybody out of bed to go climb a mountain. When I used to tag along with the Democrat float at the Huntington Beach July 4 parades, she would be running from side to side of the street in her famous short red dress and heels, and dancing with any children who felt like dancing. The local knuckle-draggers used to yell “Baby killer!” at her (for being pro-choice) and sometimes even spit at her; a couple times we had a big guy acting as her unofficial bodyguard to discourage anything worse. She NEVER TIRED.

She’d opposed the war on Iraq, but once we invaded she regularly voted to continue funding the war, she figured that was the responsible thing. The anti-war groups I was part of in 2008 disagreed and tried to get her to stop voting for the funding; we protested outside her office and made our case to her people (and were roundly criticized for that by this blog’s Pedroza and Claudio, which is when I met them.) Once she drove past us, slowed down, and yelled, “Thank you guys for what you’re doing, I’m listening!” And then she began to vote AGAINST funding the war.

Few years later, some of us had a disagreement with her over the DREAM Act – me, Pedroza, Gustavo, and some young “dreamers” wanted her to get behind it, but she wanted to hold out for COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM – she thought that just improving things for the most sympathetic people would take the air out of improving things for everyone – at least her theory made sense. I don’t remember if we convinced her that time.

I played piano at both her wedding and reception (funny story, it was one Melahat Rafiei who recommended me to her.) And that’s when I got to know her husband Jack, a JAG lawyer and really great guy – both times we ended up drinking wine together while everybody else babbled about politics.

In 2016 when my wife Donna ran for Anaheim Council against Steve Faessel, Loretta endorsed her with these kind words:

“It’s exciting and inspiring to see a progressive community activist like Donna Acevedo-Nelson running for Anaheim City Council. Donna is exactly the sort of candidate the district elections reform was meant to encourage. Her commitment to police reform and accountability will strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the community.”

Shortly after that election, Donna and I ran into her at the Santa Ana City Hall, and Loretta gave Donna a big hug. Afterward Donna marveled, “She smelled really good!” Yeah, all these Loretta memories are silly, but the serious things she’s done are history. I should mention, two other ladies in this article also endorsed Donna that year – Valerie and Sharon. THAT’S paving the way.

I’m done. Have a nice day. You too, Hanna. Just remember, There Be Democrats Here.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.