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It's Gloating Of Partisans for O.C. GOP

November 10, 1994|TRACY WEBER and REBECCA TROUNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

On Tuesday, Republicans swept the Congress, kicked the daylights out of Democratic icons and made history. On Wednesday, they gloated.

There was no better place to see it than in Orange County--the most Republican urban county in California and a place nationally known for its boisterous GOP partisanship.

It is the birthplace of Proposition 187. It is the home of fiery Republicans like Rep. Robert K. Dornan of Garden Grove, the angry emperor of the C-SPAN airwaves, who now has a chance to chair a House Armed Services subcommittee and perhaps, finally, pass a bill. And it is the place where the members of an Assembly delegation, once called "the Cavemen" for their conservative stands, now may be in line for committee chairmanships.

Oh, how they're licking their chops in Orange County.

For so long the outcasts, now Republican politicos are fielding fawning phone calls from admirers across the country. "You really want to know what they say?" crowed Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach before heading out for an afternoon of celebratory surfing. "Yeee-ha!"

After wandering for 40 years in a political desert where leadership of Congress was always a mirage, some Republicans said God is finally smiling. "There's a sense for all these years that we have offered this message and it's been so gratifying to see that now the entire county, the entire state, the entire nation receives and accepts it," said Thomas A. Fuentes, longtime Orange County Republican Party chairman. "Perhaps the response we wanted was a little long in coming."

For the county's long-suffering Democrats, meanwhile, the election results went far beyond the usual humiliation. Longtime Democratic stalwarts Howard Adler and Richard O'Neill count themselves among the bloodied survivors.

"At the end of 1984, there were two Democrats left, me and Dick O'Neill," Adler said. Defeated attorney general candidate "Tom Umberg's back here now, so now I guess there's three of us."

Local Republican consultants who for years have seen their Orange County candidates returned to office, but with little power, were unnerved by the prospect of their clients actually having any.

"I hope they take the responsibility seriously so they don't embarrass us all," said Eileen Padberg, an Irvine campaign consultant. "If I were them I'd be saying, 'Holy Moses, what am I going to do now?' "

Perhaps no politician was rolling in post-election glory Wednesday more than Dornan.

"For a backbencher, this is really sensational stuff," said Dornan, starting his ninth two-year term in Congress. "Most other people would have had an ulcer by now or a heart murmur. Luckily I've got a strong constitution."

He's also got a strong memory for years of slights by local political pundits, particularly digs that he would never sit in the Speaker of the House's chair. Not so, Dornan chortled at high volume: "Bob Dornan gets to sit in the Speaker's chair and tap gently with the opposite end of the gavel and say, 'Will my colleagues please take their conversations into the cloakroom?' . . . See? I've got all the dialogue in my head and I've never been able to use it."

Republicans also will be able to lay claim to the Hill's prime real estate, offices lavishly redecorated by the Democratic leadership, Dornan said.

"We all voted against (the redecorated offices), but now they're all ours," Dornan said. "We are going to own all those little hideaways with their marble floors, tea rooms and ceilings painted by an Italian master."

And when Sen. Ted Kennedy comes back to the Hill, added Newport Beach Assemblyman Gil Ferguson, with more than a touch of spite, he will find "his magnificent chambers are now located in a broom closet."

For Ferguson, who's spent 10 years on the conservative front line in Sacramento, it's pay-back time.

"We were constantly belittled. We were constantly being treated as second-class citizens. . . . The ones from Orange County almost to a man were always denigrated," Ferguson said. "You couldn't explain it to anybody because you didn't want to be a crybaby."

Things will be different now, vowed Ferguson, who plans to vie for the state Senate seat vacated by Marian Bergeson, who will be installed as a member of the county Board of Supervisors in January.

And those "weak" Republicans who cooperated with the Democrats? "Crushed" underfoot by the new conservative force, according to Ferguson.

"That's why I want to go up and win the Senate seat to pay them back," he said. "I'll be their worst nightmare."

But it won't be just the Democrats having bad dreams. Once the initial shock of Tuesday's political earthquake wore off, many Republicans got worried.

"None of us were around when we had control of both houses," fretted Buck Johns, longtime member of the executive board of the conservative Lincoln Club. "None of us has ever been in this position. As a result we have no idea of what we've got ahold of here."

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