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LOCAL ELECTIONS

Newcomer vs. veteran in O.C. supervisor race

First-time candidate Donald Ritze works to oust Bill Campbell.

May 30, 2008|Christian Berthelsen | Times Staff Writer

He is a first-time candidate with little money, no campaign mail and no endorsements.

His opponent is a popular politician who has represented the northeast wedge of Orange County for a dozen years in the Legislature and on the Board of Supervisors, is flush with campaign cash and backed by the county's powerful GOP machine.

It is the kind of campaign that highlights all the difficulties faced by any relatively unknown challenger. But that has not stopped Donald Ritze from trying to persuade voters in the 3rd District that it is time for change.

Ritze wants to oust Supervisor Bill Campbell in Tuesday's primary for what he sees as Campbell's poor record -- including twice endorsing the now-indicted former Sheriff Michael S. Carona, brokering the agreement among supervisors that allowed troubled county Treasurer Chriss Street to retain his investment powers and voting to move forward with plans to finance a jail expansion in the district.

"Is this any way for a supervisor that is over the 3rd District to act?" Ritze asked. "He doesn't have the best interests of the 3rd District right now."

Campbell is well known and well liked in his district, which is home to about 600,000 and includes the large cities of Irvine and Orange. After three terms in the Assembly, he was elected supervisor in a 2003 special election with 75% of the vote, and was reelected without opposition to his first regular term the following year.

On the board, his persona is that of the sage grandfather, finding common ground among the often disparate supervisors and guiding the board to compromise solutions that a majority would support.

Ritze was born in Missouri but moved to Orange County as a boy. He is a construction contractor and contract pilot, has coached youth and high school baseball, and recently started an avocado orchard of more than 200 trees with his wife, Sandra, on his property near Silverado Canyon.

He decided to run for office after growing increasingly dismayed over the news headlines in Orange County in recent years, as the sheriff was indicted, financial problems with public pensions and retiree medical costs mounted, and the county treasurer stumbled into a thicket of private and public legal troubles. To Ritze, the problems were evidence of a lack of tough management at the top.

In examining Campbell's record, Ritze began to question decisions: Campbell's vote to give public park land to the Irvine Co. and Campbell's support to fund the expansion of James A. Musick Jail in Irvine by accepting state prisoners into Theo Lacy Jail in Orange, both of which are in the district.

"Why is the 3rd District taking all this liability on prisoners and why is Bill Campbell allowing it?" he asks.

Campbell acknowledged he endorsed Carona and said he misread him. Of Street, the treasurer, Campbell said the county has adequate controls to protect the investment pool. His vote to allow the Irvine Co. to build a drainage facility in Irvine Regional Park, he said, came in exchange for a pledge from the company to drop claims to more extensive rights there. And of the jail plan, he said the county has few options to house a prison population that is already testing the county's capacity.

"I think the principal issue is experience versus a new face," Campbell said. "I believe that I've done a good job representing the district and hope the people will reelect me."

He cited as achievements his vote to allow guards to remove illegal immigrants from the jails, the restructuring of medical benefits for retired county workers that is expected to save $1 billion, and his backing of the successful renewal of a local half-cent sales tax to pay for transit projects.

Campbell's campaign has plenty of cash on hand and has spent lightly on mailers to voters, to buy into slate mailers and put up signs around the district -- about $75,000 so far this year, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Orange County registrar last week. He has nearly $45,000 in the bank.

By contrast, 1st District Supervisor Janet Nguyen, who is facing a competitive reelection battle, has spent more than $300,000.

"It's hard to say I'm campaigning, per se," Campbell said in a recent interview. "I've just been doing my normal thing, which is going to an awful lot of community affairs and events."

Ritze, on the other hand, has spent less than $9,000 -- half of that on an advertisement in the Orange County Register newspaper that was riddled with punctuation errors. ("There isn't anything people don't like about me, except for my spelling," he said.) And he has about $7,500 left.

He has been doing what he can with the resources available. He put up a website, www.dritze.com, and put out about 100 lawn signs, although he has found they tend to disappear. Campaign mail was too expensive, so he has been putting in personal appearances, including entering the chili cook-off Sunday at the Tustin Street Fair, where he will also hand out Ritz crackers -- despite the "e" at the end of his name, it rhymes with the brand of popular snacks.

But he said he would not have it any other way.

"I don't want to take big money," he said.

"I don't want to get into this where I owe somebody something. That's not me. If I have to go into debt to get it, that's what I'll do. There's just too much of big business and unions supporting too many people to get into these offices, and what happens is the taxpayer ends up paying."

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christian.berthelsen@ latimes.com

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