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REPUBLICAN REIGN / Orange County Conservatives and
the Pursuit of Power

A Gallery of Political Standouts

REPUBLICAN REIGN. Orange County conservatives and the pursuit of power . FIRST OF FIVE PARTS

July 07, 1996

Orange County's most influential Republicans owe their status to wealth, connections or the attainment of elected office. A look at some of them:

Howard F. Ahmanson Jr.

In the first five years of this decade, he was one of the state's most generous political donors, giving nearly $4 million to candidates and causes. It was a rift with the city of Santa Ana's Redevelopment Agency in the 1980s that helped launch Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson Jr. into politics. Ahmanson, now 46, who inherited the Home Savings and Loan fortune amassed by his father, stepped in when the city decided to uproot the Orange County Rescue Mission, claiming the move was an intrusion by government into the private sector's efforts to help the poor. Since then, Ahmanson has supported a variety of conservative causes. An intensely private man, Ahmanson rarely speaks to reporters. Ten years ago, he married the former Roberta Green, a journalist who not only helps him with his philanthropic activities but generally acts as his spokeswoman. They live in Corona del Mar and operate Irvine-based Fieldstead & Co., through which they distribute donations.

Jo Ellen Allen

The first vice chairwoman of the Orange County Republican Party, Jo Ellen Allen jumped into politics before she was old enough to vote. Allen's zeal for the game has not wavered. She became a "Nixonette" while living in Canoga Park in 1960 at the age of 14. She went on to get four degrees in political science, including a doctorate, at Cal State Northridge and USC. In 1980, Allen began what became a 16-year stint as California president of the Eagle Forum, a national conservative public policy organization founded by Phyllis Schlafly that promotes traditional family values, a strong national defense and free enterprise. A resident of Corona del Mar since 1977, Allen, 49, moved briefly to Santa Ana and ran for Assembly in 1992, losing to Democrat Tom Umberg. Married with three children, Allen was recently named director of public affairs for Southern California Edison. The interest in politics comes from her father, she said. "He had a very deep love of this country and shared it with us. We grew up wanting to preserve what had been handed to us."

George Argyros

He is the finance chairman of the state Republican Party and perhaps the most powerful man in the county--with the possible exception of Donald L. Bren, majority owner of the Irvine Co. Don't bet against any cause backed by George Argyros, as those opposed to a commercial airport at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station have found out. Argyros, 59, who lives on Newport Beach's Harbor Island, was a personal friend of the late President Richard Nixon, travels to foreign countries with the likes of Henry A. Kissinger, and is independent enough to back any politician he wants, including former Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. The grandson of Greek immigrants, Argyros once owned AirCalifornia and the Seattle Mariners; his wife is active in a host of social causes. He is also the longtime board chairman of Chapman University in Orange, his alma mater.

Marian Bergeson

When she arrived in Sacramento in 1978 as the first Orange County woman elected to the state Legislature, she was dubbed "Marian the Librarian," a nickname derived from her longtime service on behalf of schools and her work as a trustee of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District. By 1992, however, Marian Bergeson was named by the Capitol Journal as the second most effective Republican in the state Senate. Persistence, dogged determination and the ability to negotiate a compromise have always been Bergeson trademarks. The Newport Beach resident rebounded from defeat in a run for lieutenant governor in 1990 and rejection as a nominee for state schools superintendent in 1993. Bergeson was often the lawmaker called on to carry the important but unspectacular legislation in areas such as transportation and local government. Now an Orange County supervisor nearing the end of her political career at age 70, she still wins high marks from most quarters.

Donald L. Bren

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