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Citizen Politicians? : It's a Refreshing Idea : A New Crop of Problem-Solvers Could Lead O.C.

October 08, 1995

Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez has resigned. Supervisor Roger R. Stanton has said he will not run for reelection. That means two newcomers to a five-member board, and a significant reordering of how the county does business. When combined with fairly recent turnover, the opportunity exists to address the concern many people have with doing business as usual.

For the full four-year term in the 3rd District seat held by Vasquez until a week and a half ago, new blood is needed. That goes for Stanton's 1st District seat as well. Both are up for election next March. A variety of names have been suggested as likely candidates. Virtually all are present or past elected officials, whether on city councils or in Sacramento. That is to be expected, as politicians look to climb the next rung or scramble for another job when term limits evict them from their present one.

But musical chairs will not do for a county still trying to grope its way out of bankruptcy. The devastating loss of $1.7 billion in the investment pool run by former Treasurer-Tax Collector Robert L. Citron left the county reeling. Weeks after the bankruptcy filing, two new supervisors came aboard. So if Stanton declines to run again as he said--and he should bow out--four of the five supervisors in March will have been in office two years or less. That is a sweeping change. Supervisors have stayed on the board for a decade or more, usually running for reelection with only token, if any, opposition.

One good outcome of the post-bankruptcy period has been greater citizen involvement. The motivation of many was outrage over what elected officials had gotten them into; but they spoke up and took a new interest in government. Another benefit was the public involvement of the business community in the recovery plan worked out in Orange County and Sacramento. Again, people with a stake in the community stepped forward and put forth proposals for debate.

That involvement should continue. Rather than politics as usual and a tired parade of familiar faces, let us have some refreshing candidates for supervisor. There are men and women in the county who can summon the financial resources along with their messages to compete with the entrenched and all-too-familiar politicians.

Let them look to William J. Popejoy as an example of the citizen entering the realm of public service. He was a breath of fresh air during his brief stint as the county's chief executive officer. Running a government is different from running a business, but there is no automatic bar to civic-minded people from the private sector making the transition to public service.

A fresh look at the county's problems and possible solutions clearly is needed. The current discussions of whether to change the county's government to a charter form, whether to increase the number of supervisors or make the position part time also have been helpful. Gov. Pete Wilson will appoint someone to serve out the remainder of Vasquez's term. One way he could encourage good candidates to step forward would be to appoint a caretaker, someone willing to forgo the advantage of incumbency.

Recent elections across the nation have shown voter unhappiness with politics as usual, and with the usual politicians. Term limits are another example of the desire for change. Political realities might suggest that only a certain few realistically can become supervisors. But Orange County residents should recognize that these are interesting times, when the voters may prove willing to deliver their own surprises on Election Day.

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