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When There's a Good Race, O.C. Voters Head to the Polls

Tuesday's primary results were somewhat predictable. November's election is another matter.

March 12, 2000|MARK P. PETRACCA | Mark P. Petracca is chairman of the department of political science at UC Irvine

For all the excitement ginned up by the media over Super Tuesday, not to mention the millions spent by presidential candidates to challenge or confirm conventional wisdom, when the votes were counted, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush became the effective Democratic and Republican nominees for president. The 2000 race for White House ended on Super Tuesday exactly where it began more than a year ago. Did we learn anything about Gore, Bush or the California electorate that we didn't know 12 months ago?

Since McCain received more than twice as many crossover votes as did Bush, it's not clear those voters will vote Republican in November. Moreover, in a better test of Democratic strength in the state, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein outpolled all her GOP contenders by 859,589 votes. Though Democrats still have a 10% registration advantage over Republicans in California, neither party holds a majority, which means California is still up for grabs in November.

Now, a few general observations about the California primary and Orange County politics:

California voters will turn out for a good race. Turnout was up across the nation, particularly in California. The combination of an open primary that gave independents their first opportunity ever to participate in the selection of nominees for partisan offices, a highly competitive presidential race between Bush and McCain, and a primary early enough in the schedule to be consequential probably explains the commendable uptick in turnout. Orange County's primary turnout--50.6%--was the highest it's been in 20 years, thanks in no small part to voter backlash against the proposed El Toro airport.

The moral compass of California voters does not always point due north. While allegedly acting to protect the definition and hence the moral sanctity of marriage by the adoption of Proposition 22, voters made it easier to gamble by approving Propositions 1A and 29.

Perhaps with maturity and growing diversity Orange County is becoming more like the rest of the state, though some certainly will want to give a different spin: California is slowly becoming more like Orange County; there's a frightening thought.

In the feigned struggle for the heart and soul of the Orange County GOP, the so-called New Majority--or, per Hugh Hewitt, a bunch of rich white guys--was clobbered by the mighty GOP constabulary led by party commandant Tom Fuentes.

Only seven candidates, endorsed exclusively by this bunch of rich white guys for election to the 42-member GOP Central Committee, won. Twenty-five other New Majority candidates lost.

Two incumbent Central Committee members endorsed by the Fuentes wing of the GOP were defeated by New Majority candidates, and GOP moderates Tom Harman and Lynn Doucher won nomination to the Assembly in the 67th and 72nd districts respectively over more conservative GOP opponents Jim Righeimer in the 67th and Bruce Matthias and Don Bankhead in the 72nd.

It was the only good news for the New Majority all evening. Any way you slice it, with a reputed bankroll of $500,000 to spend on New Majority candidates, serious questions have to be raised about whether anyone in the group received value for their minimum $10,000 per person membership fee.

In the truly epic and ongoing saga of "George Argyros vs. the People of Orange County," the third time was the charm for the people--big time.

In November 1994, Measure A passed by only 18,434 votes and compelled the Board of Supervisors--for political if not legal reasons--to plan speedily for an international airport at El Toro. An effort to derail this effort failed to win voter approval in 1996. But after developing a popular alternative to the proposed airport--the Millennium Plan--and building a grass-roots campaign throughout the county, airport opponents finally succeeded in overwhelming Argyros and his hired airport advocates. Measure F, which requires a two-thirds popular vote for ratification of new or expanded jails, hazardous waste landfills or civilian airport projects, passed by more than two-thirds of the voters, by an incredible margin of 194,849 votes.

Turning a completely deaf ear to the plaintive screams of Orange County voters, Board of Supervisors Chairman Charles V. Smith promised that it will be business as usual for county airport planners: "We're not taking this [the passage of Measure F] as even a glitch in the planning process." So much for majority (or even supermajority) rule on the Board of Supervisors!

California and Orange County politics: often predictable, but rarely dull.

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