A new Republican group seeking to recast Laguna Beach's longtime liberal image is making party politics an issue in the traditionally nonpartisan City Council race.
Laguna Beach Republicans, which opened its headquarters on Coast Highway two months ago, recently sent campaign flyers reminding voters that more registered Republicans than Democrats live in Laguna and that all current council members are Democrats. Republican candidates are highlighted in the glossy flyer.
While a county election official said it is not improper or uncommon for political groups to publicize a candidate's party affiliation in nonpartisan races, City Clerk Verna L. Rollinger said such activity is rare in Laguna Beach.
Frank Ricchiazzi, the president, said the group is endorsing no candidates but would like to see at least one Republican elected.
"We would like to see a good moderate conservative on the City Council," Ricchaizzi said. "We do not endorse in nonpartisan races, but we feel it's important to let the 49% of the registered Republicans in town know that they have no representation."
Council members, however, said party affiliation is of no consequence and should not be an issue.
"Certainly, past practices indicate that's not how we run our City Council elections," said Mayor Lida Lenney, who is seeking reelection. "It seems to me, once you introduce partisan politics into the equation, people lose sight of the issues."
Most who objected to the glossy mailers said Laguna voters generally focus on issues and do not split into political camps. Introducing party politics into a small town election is counterproductive, they said.
The three candidates highlighted in the mailer, however, said the flyer was appropriate. One, Steven Leonard, said it is "only fair that Republicans be proportionally represented" on the City Council.
Of the 15,842 registered voters in Laguna Beach, 7,776 are Republicans and 5,986 are Democrats.
"It doesn't make any difference to me because they're not really endorsing anybody," said Nancy Kreder, another highlighted candidate. "They're just letting the Republican voters know who's Republican."