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Race to fill Orange County Assembly seat is calm and quiet

The registrar's office predicts that about three-fourths of the votes in the Jan. 12 runoff to replace Mike Duvall will have been cast by mail. Political experts expect Supervisor Chris Norby to win.

January 04, 2010|By Jean Merl
  • Chris Norby
Chris Norby (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

To call the upcoming special runoff election to replace a disgraced former assemblyman from Orange County "low key" would be an understatement.

Gone are the cutting exchanges between the front-running Republicans that marked last fall's special primary in the strongly Republican 72nd Assembly District. The campaign brochures that once blanketed such communities as Fullerton, Anaheim and Brea have slowed to a trickle. And by the time the polls open Jan. 12, registrar officials predict, about three-quarters of those who will decide the election may already have cast their ballots by mail, as they did in the primary.

The campaign consultant for Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby the overwhelming favorite to win the seat, said the campaign is taking nothing for granted. Norby, 60, is still sending mail to voters, raising money and using phone bank and other volunteers right up through election day, consultant Matt Holder said.

But political experts say the contest is all but over. Norby's opponents are the Green Party's Jane Rands, 43, and Democrat John MacMurray, 63, who -- with little or no campaign money, no candidate forums and few other campaign events -- appear to be relying largely on the Internet to reach voters.

The two special elections had their roots in an open microphone in an Assembly hearing room last summer. Then-Assemblyman Mike Duvall, a married Yorba Linda Republican and family-values crusader, apparently did not realize the mic was live when he decided during a lull in a committee hearing to tell a GOP colleague about his alleged sexual escapades with a lobbyist or two.

The taped remarks were later discovered and broadcast in early September by a television news program. Duvall denied any escapades and said he had been exaggerating. But he resigned the seat, requiring the governor to call a special election.

Because no single candidate won a majority in the five-way open primary Nov. 17, a runoff is required among the top vote-getters from each party with a candidate on the primary ballot.

Orange County Registrar Neal Kelley said the low-turnout elections (18% in the primary, largely through mail ballots) would probably cost taxpayers about $700,000 combined.

Rands, a systems engineer who lives in Fullerton, said she does not accept donations from lobbyists and therefore could not afford the $4,000 cost to get a campaign statement included in the county's sample ballot. She uses her website,, and Facebook to air her positions, including support for more funding for mass transit, expanded use of clean, renewable energy, a water plan based on local water-use polices and conservation, gay marriage and a single-payer healthcare system for California.

MacMurray, a public schoolteacher from La Habra, has run before for the seat. He said the slogan "Let's Keep Jobs in the 72nd" is the "heart and cornerstone" of his campaign. On his website,, he suggests replacing long-gone manufacturing and aerospace jobs with those in electric vehicle manufacturing, modern energy sources, "green chemistry" and recycling. On his website, he calls for the state to do a better job of collecting back taxes and improving education funding.

Norby, who can be found on the Web at, grew up in Fullerton, became a teacher and served on the City Council before winning a seat on the Board of Supervisors in 2002. His main issues -- battling redevelopment agencies and eminent domain abuse, reining in pension costs and opposing new taxes -- fit well with the conservative Republican district. His primary campaign focused on his local government experience and independence from Sacramento insiders and said the combination would enable him to help right the fractious state government.

Republicans outnumber Democrats among the district's registered voters, 43% to 34%, and the district went for John McCain for president in 2008.

During the special primary, the three Republicans on the ballot together captured almost 70% of the vote.

"There is virtually the same group of people voting now as in the primary," Holder, the Norby consultant, said in explaining why the campaign is confident of the outcome. "Not all of those [primary] Republican votes go to Chris, but a big chunk of them do."

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