Orange County Democrats got a $10,000 boost this week in their effort to stage a recall of Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove), who won his 72nd District seat last November by less than 900 votes after a bitter $1.9-million campaign that remains under a legal cloud.
County Democratic Party Chairman Michael J. Balmages said Thursday that a couple who donated the money--and who want to remain anonymous for the time being--were upset at the hiring of uniformed security guards on Election Day at 20 largely Latino Santa Ana precincts in the 72nd District. The guards were hired by the county Republican Party at the request of Pringle's campaign manager.
"They pretty much expressed outrage at the thought that Pringle would have hired these security guards," Balmages said of the donors, whom he described as a married couple. Their names will eventually have to be declared on the party's political finance report later this year. "They said, 'We want to do anything we can.' "
Balmages said the donation--huge by county Democratic Party standards--will provide seed money for a feasibility study of a recall effort.
The guards incident, which was widely criticized not only by Democrats but by Republican Party leaders around the state, has resulted in two ongoing law enforcement investigations. Also pending is a civil lawsuit seeking to overturn the election on grounds the guards allegedly intimidated first-time Latino voters and kept them away from the polls.
Thomas A. Fuentes, the county GOP chairman who also is a defendant in the lawsuit, has said the guards were hired because of rumors that Democrats would bus in illegal voters to tip the election in favor of Democratic candidate Christian F. (Rick) Thierbach.
Democrats were upset when Pringle topped Thierbach in the only legislative or congressional district in the county where it is thought a Democrat has a chance of winning. Thierbach lost despite voter registration favoring Democrats 53% to 35% over Republicans--nearly the reverse of the two parties' margins in the county as a whole.
The security guard issue has provided a powerful rallying point for county Democrats, who last month won support at a state Democratic Party convention in Sacramento for the recall effort. Declaring "never again" in English and "nunca jamas" in Spanish, delegates to the convention agreed to provide money to recall Pringle or prepare to unseat him in the 1990 election.
And, in what amounted to a test of the effectiveness of the security guard issue as a local fund-raising tool, the county Democratic Party raised more than $2,000 in small donations in December from a letter sent to only a few hundred Democrats around the county.
"The issue is a powerful emotional issue, and I think if we don't use it to raise money, we're making a mistake," Democratic activist Mike Ray said.
Democratic stalwart Richard J. O'Neill of San Juan Capistrano said he thinks that about $100,000 will be needed for a recall effort, not counting the money to be spent by candidates running in a simultaneous special election to replace Pringle.
O'Neill said the $10,000 donation gives new life to the recall effort. "It means it's for real," he said. "If people are that much excited about it, we can raise that $100,000 easy enough."
Meanwhile, Democratic candidates are lining up to run against Pringle, either in a recall or in the 1990 election. Santa Ana Councilman Miguel A. Pulido said he is considering a run. And Santa Ana businessman Jerry Yudelson, who lost his congressional race against Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) last November, said Thursday that he will announce the formation of an exploratory committee in 2 weeks.
"I think there's going to be a firestorm of protest votes over the Republicans' actions in Hispanic precincts," Yudelson said. "A lot of people who supported Pringle last time are going to sit on their hands this time. . . . So I think it's a very winnable seat for a Democrat."
Even Thierbach would not rule out another run in the 72nd District.
"It's in my blood," said Thierbach, who added that he is still recovering from the last election. "If I had to make a decision today, obviously I wouldn't do it. In the next 3 months, I would say no. But 6 months from now, who knows?"
The Democratic primary may even attract a couple of Republicans willing to switch parties, including Robert R. Thompson, 71, associate director of the Golden State Mobile Home Owners League. Thompson has said he is upset about the security guard and other issues and will stage a candidacy if there is a recall against Pringle.