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Voters Keeping Incumbents, Dispute Policies

No local officeholders are in danger. Supervisors' Measure G trails rival H on tobacco money, while Newport's anti-growth push leads but Brea's, San Clemente's still undecided.


Orange County voters, dissatisfied with local decision makers, appeared to reject plans to steer tobacco settlement funds to pay down bankruptcy debt and wrestled with slow-growth measures in three cities early today.

Yet they appeared content enough with the current crop of officeholders to bring them back for another season.

In late returns, voters snubbed the Board of Supervisors' plan to use the county's $750-million windfall from the national tobacco settlement to pay down bankruptcy debt, leaning instead to devoting 100% of the money to health care and public safety.

The fate of the slow-growth measures, bitterly opposed by the Irvine Co. and other developers, remained uncertain in Brea and San Clemente but voters in affluent Newport Beach came down strongly in favor of controlling development.

In the presidential sweepstakes, Republican George W. Bush was trouncing Vice President Al Gore in Orange County, early results showed.

When network declarations of Bush's victory hit the county GOP headquarters at the Sutton Place Hotel in Newport Beach at 11:19 p.m., the ballroom exploded with wild cheers, vertebrae-popping hugs and a rabidly happy chant of "Bush! Bush! Bush!"

"The liberal left has been relegated to the dust bin of history. Let the party begin," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), who was in full celebration mode by midnight.

There were tears, not cheers, up the road at the county Democratic headquarters at the Disneyland Hotel.

Alvin Hulse, 44, of Westminster broke into tears in the ballroom when television declared Bush the president-elect.

"The country has spoken, but unfortunately, we're taking a step back to the failed policies of the '80s," Hulse said. "Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the election."

Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove, the county's sole Democrat in Congress and co-chair of the Democratic National Committee, said that if Bush takes the White House, the Democrats may be facing a bumpy few years in Washington.

Sanchez was on her way to cementing her own reputation as a tough campaigner, and in early returns was cruising to victory over Republican Gloria Matta Tuchman.

Every Orange County incumbent running for Congress, the state Senate and Assembly--an exclusive club with a dozen members and dominated by the GOP--was enjoying a comfortable lead in early returns Tuesday evening.

The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Rep. Tom Campbell of San Jose, was trailing badly to Democratic incumbent Dianne Feinstein statewide, but received a warm welcome in Orange County, where he enjoyed a hearty lead.

Despite Tuesday's sunny, wind-swept skies, turnout in the county appeared to be only moderate--stunted by the absence of a hotly contested statewide race or a viscerally contested initiative.

Early returns showed only about a 52% turnout, according to Registrar of Voters Rosalyn Lever. Of the 1,342,746 voters registered in the county, 138,799 voters--or 10.3%--voted by absentee ballot.

In 1996, the last presidential race, 61.8% of Orange County's registered voters went to the polls, a severe drop-off from the 1992 election when an impressive 83.3% cast votes, county elections figures show.

Measure H, which would set aside 80% of the tobacco windfall for health care and the remainder for public safety, was winning big in early returns.

To be adopted, the measure must receive more votes than competing Measure G--placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors. As of late Tuesday, Measure G lagged far behind. Under the tobacco settlement, the county will receive $750 million over the next quarter century.

The local anti-growth initiatives in Newport Beach, Brea and San Clemente continue a recent anti-development trend in Orange County, grass-roots campaigns that buck the county's conservative image and reveal a burgeoning discontent with policies set by local leaders.

Measure S on the Newport Beach ballot, which was leading by a comfortable margin, would require voter approval of all city developments that would significantly increase traffic and housing density.

"It's an opportunity for people in this community to make a statement about the quality of life here," said 16-year resident Janice Nikula, 46. "This is an opportunity for people to say 'Stop!' "

Voters in San Clemente were considering a partial moratorium on development, and in Brea a measure to tighten hillside development. Both of those measures were behind early Wednesday morning.


Times staff writers Meg James, Hector Becerra, David Reyes and David Haldane and correspondents Sharon Nagy and Alex Murashko contributed to this report.

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