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With County GOP United, Let's Focus on White House

The electorate has spoken with finality on an airport at El Toro; it's time for politicians to move on.

March 12, 2000|HUGH HEWITT | Hugh Hewitt is a professor at Chapman University Law School in Orange and a co-host of KCET's "Life & Times." He can be reached at

Occasionally in politics, victories are so complete, so total, as to silence and shatter the opposition. Most significant of the local votes for understanding the long-term political direction of Orange County is the landslide support for Orange County Republican Party Chairman Tom Fuentes.

Liberal Republicans, rallying around a pro-abortion-rights platform and fueled by what may have reached $1 million in expenditures, targeted Fuentes and his county Central Committee allies for removal. The New Majority counted 11 allies on the current Central Committee, and they ran a slate of 42 candidates, hoping to pick up at least a significant bloc of votes.

They lost a net three seats. Fuentes' slate won 35 of 42 races for the Central Committee, a crushing repudiation of the New Majority and its rhetoric. Fuentes himself, the target of repeated vicious and unfair attacks, was the largest vote-gatherer among the Central Committee candidates. Fuentes, who can remain chairman as long as he wants, sent a magnanimous letter to his opponents before the election inviting them to participate fully in the key fall races.

If the New Majority money players now contribute en masse to Gloria Matta Tuchman's congressional race against Loretta Sanchez and to Lou Lopez's Assembly contest against Lou Correa, then we will know that their protestations of concern for the future of the Republican Party were sincere. If they now take a pass, that will confirm that New Majority was an effort to push for abortion-rights absolutism and higher taxes.

Blowout No. 2 is, of course, Measure F. I was an early and vocal proponent of an airport at El Toro. I believed--wrongly, based upon the results of the flight noise tests--that a primarily cargo-oriented facility could create economic expansion in the region without injuring the neighbors.

The metastasis of that early vision into the community-destroying, round-the-clock LaGuardia at Lake Forest drove Tuesday's results. The county's political center bolted the airport ranks decisively, and it will never return. The issue is decided. Only individuals contemptuous of the democratic process, or those paid to be so, will press on with this doomed plan.

Genuine conservatives cannot be aligned against deep-seated public opinion. Orange County is not an oligarchy, and any effort by local government to litigate this would be deeply disturbing.

The endgame requires two obvious steps.

First, the anti-competitive deal with big labor to prop up the airport must be repudiated. If this needs to go on the ballot, fine. The three supervisors who put this deal in place are good public servants. Admit error and move on. That's what genuine leadership is about.

Second, for the very reasons that an El Toro airport has hit the rocks, expansion of John Wayne--either physically or via the repeal of the curfew on landings and takeoffs--also must be rejected.

Measure F supporters have a unique opportunity to co-opt the last bastion of a pro-airport support--the flight-path population of Newport Beach--by offering to help wage their battle. Rep. Christopher Cox is the key player here. He ought to seek legislation freezing the John Wayne operation in place. Peace could be at hand, and it is long overdue.

Looking to the fall, Orange County is poised to provide a huge assist to Texas Gov. George W. Bush. My twin fears were that the party would be split by the ill-timed putsch at the Central Committee, and that the El Toro issue would linger, inviting a shrewd move by Vice President Al Gore to pledge his opposition to an airport and thus garner a significative slice of defectors in a battlefield state. Both results have been avoided. The leadership of Tom Fuentes is confirmed and stronger than ever, and El Toro is behind us. Now it's on to the main event.

Tuesday may be seen to have been Al Gore's high-water mark. From Florida to Texas, the South is solid for Bush, and competent Republican governors sit atop the state electorates in the swing states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin. The political geography of 2000 tilts GOP, as do the issues of education reform and national defense. If California is in play--and because Orange County is united and energized, it is in play--then the Democrats face an uphill battle behind a deeply compromised and truth-challenged leader.

Of course the campaign will be tough, with ups and downs, but you have to like Bush's chances at this point.

How does Atty. Gen. Chris Cox sound?

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