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South County Should Soon Have Its Own Voice in Sacramento

December 31, 1991|DAVE LESHER | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

There is a new political power in Orange County, and it should emerge in 1992.

For the first time, the stucco homes and planned communities that sprouted in South County's canyons and hillsides during the 1980s are expected to have enough voting power to send their own representative to Sacramento.

Until now, Newport Beach or San Diego County has held the balance of political power in legislative and congressional districts that include South County. But the latest political maps reflect the new demography between Irvine and San Clemente.

"This area went from farmland to almost half a million people--that's why they will have their very first assemblyman," said Gil Ferguson, the Republican assemblyman for Newport Beach.

In Dana Point, where the 1990 census found a 200% increase in the population during the 1980s, Mike Eggers is hoping to use the mayor's seat as a launching pad to a new Assembly district on the county's south coast.

"My pet line for 10 years has been reminding people that there is life below Irvine," said Eggers, 43, who also serves as chief of staff to Rep. Ron Packard (R--Oceanside). "People down here are looking for somebody you can call without it being a toll call."

Eggers is the only candidate so far to announce his plan to run for the proposed 73rd Assembly District, which stretches along the coast from Laguna Beach to Carlsbad. Ferguson said he expects at least five Republican candidates to enter the primary for one of California's heaviest GOP seats.

To reflect shifts in California population in the last decade, the state Supreme Court is redrawing state and federal legislative districts. The first maps were released earlier this month. There still could be modifications before the court takes final action in late January, but candidates are already using the maps to make their 1992 plans.

Near Dana Point is another proposed Assembly district that could generate a race in which South County would pit its political muscle against a northern rival.

Mission Viejo Mayor Robert A. Curtis said he is thinking about running in the Republican primary in June in the proposed 71st District against Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Santa Ana). About South County's political future, Curtis said, "It's a growing and dynamic community of interest that is voiceless in Sacramento."

Redistricting is expected to cause changes at almost every level of government in Orange County next year. Some other highlights:

* In the Assembly: Republican incumbents Tom Mays of Huntington Beach and Nolan Frizzelle of Fountain Valley are positioning themselves for a primary battle in June. The maps proposed by the court so far have left three Orange County Assembly members in the same district. Doris Allen (R-Cypress) is considering whether to run against her two colleagues or move to another district in Garden Grove.

* In the state Senate: Orange County could lose three of its five incumbents. The new maps would move Sens. Frank Hill (R-Whittier) and Cecil N. Green (D-Norwalk) out of the county. Sen. Edward R. Royce (R-Anaheim) has announced his plan to run for Congress.

* In Congress: Orange County would be represented by six House members instead of the current five under the proposed map. It also would lose Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), who is running for the U.S. Senate. And Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Long Beach) is already facing an opponent in the Republican primary next June--Huntington Beach Mayor Jim Silva.

In addition to reelecting their incumbents, the county's two major political parties will launch efforts to generate votes in California's statewide campaigns for U.S. Senate and the presidency.

There are two U.S. Senate seats on the statewide ballot next year, and both will be of particular interest in Orange County since three of the leading GOP candidates are based locally. Orange County troops are particularly involved in the primary between U.S. Sen. John Seymour--the former mayor of Anaheim--and his GOP challenge from the party's conservative wing, Dannemeyer.

Candidate Bruce Herschensohn, who is running for the other Senate seat, is also headquartered in Newport Beach.

"The primary election will present a challenge to those of us in the party who need to have a unified organization," said Greg Haskin, executive director of the county Republican Party. "I'm just hoping that those candidates who don't win are magnanimous enough to get behind the nominee and make sure that the nominee is elected in November."

Orange County Democrats, who have a sizable pool of nearly 400,000 voters but are still far short of the GOP strength, also see an opportunity for change next year as voters focus attention on the weakening economy. Among people looking for change are some, party Chairman Howard Adler said, who will give new consideration to Democrats.

"My own sense is that it's going to be a year of opportunity for Democrats," Adler said. "I think the people want leadership, and they're not getting it."

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