In Orange County in 1988, the natural disasters were few. The human misfortunes were many.
The ground didn't shake too much, and even the drought-parched canyons did not ignite. True, there was the winter storm early in the year that caused the newly rebuilt Huntington Beach Pier to collapse.
But that was nothing compared to the collapse of careers and the tumbling of stature among many of the county's once-towering figures.
It was the year that the mighty fell:
- A rising star in the Republican Party plummeted when he forged a signature on a check in a last-ditch effort to bail out his campaign for Congress.
- A millionaire video producer from Newport Beach was charged with making illegal campaign contributions to failed Democratic presidential hopeful Gary Hart and other candidates.
- An Orange County supervisor, running for Congress, was caught red-faced when it was revealed that she did not graduate from college, as her biographies stated.
- Even the always-powerful Orange County Republican Party took it on the chin when it posted uniformed security guards at polling places in Latino areas of Santa Ana to warn non-citizens not to vote, prompting an FBI investigation into allegations of voter intimidation.
Indeed, 1988 was the election year that many people would like to forget.
In January, the venerable Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach), a six-term congressman, surprised supporters by announcing that he would not run for reelection, which opened the door to a free-for-all that led to a promising young politician's demise.
C. David Baker, Irvine city councilman and former college basketball star, seemed to be the heir-apparent to Badham's seat until C. Christopher Cox gave him a run for his money in the June primary. And when that money began to run short in the final days before the election, a desperate Baker turned to the bank account of a nonprofit health foundation that he directed for an advance on a loan that was a few days late. He wrote a $48,000 check to himself, signing his own name and forging the signature of a judge, a foundation director. He stopped payment on the check shortly after it was written, but the damage was done.
Baker, who was narrowly defeated by Cox, pleaded guilty to a felony forgery count, but a Superior Court judge later reduced the charge to a misdemeanor. The judge ordered Baker to perform community service and gave him a year's probation and a 1-year suspended jail sentence.
"Regardless of what the penalty was today, this will not be over," Baker said on the day he was sentenced. Even when the sentence was imposed, Baker was delivering hot meals to the elderly and working with children. "Some good will come out of this one way or another. I'm not really sure how."
Another legislative seat unexpectedly opened with the death of Assemblyman Richard E. Longshore (R-Santa Ana) the day after voters nominated him for a second term.
That opened up a king-sized contest between Republicans and Democrats for his seat, and that race, too, led to a finish-line stumble.
Sent Out the Guards
In their fervor to see their candidate, Curt Pringle, win, county Republican Party officials not only got out the vote on Nov. 8, they also sent out the guards.
Uniformed security guards were hired by the party to stand watch at heavily Latino polling places to warn people that it was illegal for non-citizens to vote. The Democrats cried foul, and even high-ranking Republicans denounced the move. The FBI and district attorney's office are now investigating whether election laws were violated, and several Latino and labor organizations have filed suit to overturn the election results in the 72nd Assembly District, where Pringle ended up winning by a mere 867 votes.
Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder's election foibles left her with a red face. Running for Congress in the June primary, Wieder conceded under pressure from her opponent that she had left uncorrected a 25-year-old error on her biography that stated she had received a bachelor's degree in journalism from Wayne State University in Detroit. In truth, she was unable to attend college because of family finances. Also under fire from slow-growth advocates for her votes on development agreements, Wieder lost the race.
Karl Stubbed His Toe
Republicans did not have a monopoly on election-year problems. Stuart Karl Jr., the millionaire producer of the Jane Fonda workout tapes, was fined $60,000 and placed on 3 years' probation for making $185,000 in illegal campaign contributions to self-destructing presidential candidate Gary Hart and others.
"To be honest, I'm not sure why I did these things," Karl said after his sentencing. "You're attracted to the lure of being involved. People begin to make you feel important. I should have looked deeper and not done the things I did. . . . "