Attention, Irvine Voters! Mark your calendars. There is yet another important election on the horizon — and Irvine voters may again make the decisive difference in who actually wins.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors set a March 12th special election date to fill the vacancy left on the five-member Board when 3rd District Supervisor Todd Spitzer won last November’s election to become Orange County District Attorney.
Irvine, with nearly 300,000 people, is by far the largest city in the sprawling 3rd Supervisorial District, which stretches inland from Irvine to include Tustin, Orange, Villa Park, and Yorba Linda in north County. While more than a dozen potential candidates initially expressed interest in the race to fill the vacant seat, most backed out, leaving just three leading contenders — all experienced politicians — in what is shaping up to be a highly partisan special election. Former U.S. Representative Loretta Sanchez, a Democrat, will be taking on Irvine Mayor Don Wagner and former Anaheim City Councilmember Kris Murray. Both Wagner and Murray are Republicans.
Although the five County Supervisor seats are supposed to be non-partisan, political party affiliation appears to be a growing factor in “non-partisan,” local elections. Sanchez is expected to have strong support from the Orange County Democratic Party.
It is unclear what role the Orange County Republican Party will play in helping Wagner or Murray. Both are conservative Republicans, supported by business interests and, in Wagner’s case, heavily supported by land developers.
Since nearly half of all the voters in the 3rd Supervisorial District live in Irvine, the special election winner will have to do well from one end of the City to the other. As the Mayor of Irvine, Wagner should have “home turf” advantage. But if the race becomes highly partisan, Loretta Sanchez — whose old Congressional District used to include a small part of Irvine — could do surprisingly well. Registered Democrats in Irvine now outnumber Republicans, 45,000 to 32,000. Anti-Trump sentiment in Irvine is very strong, and still growing. As one political consultant familiar with the race put it, “Wagner and Murray, both Republicans, are pretty much stuck with Trump, whose immigrant-bashing policies are especially unpopular in Irvine.”
Under State law, the County Board of Supervisors is responsible for certain law enforcement functions, including the Sheriff’s Department and local jails. The Board is also responsible for the administration of a vast array of State-mandated health, welfare and social service programs.
Recently, the issue of homelessness in Orange County — and the County Supervisors’ failure to effectively deal with the problem — has been a matter of major public interest and controversy. To the frustration of many, including Federal District Court Judge David Carter, who is overseeing a major lawsuit against the County on behalf of the homeless, the current Board has shown little in the way of problem-solving leadership or even competence.
Four more Republican candidates
Four more Republican entries into the race for Supervisor are: Larry Bales, a Republican maverick, Vietnam veteran and anti-corruption activist; Deborah Pauly, a former City Councilmember and long-time conservative activist in the Orange County Republican Party; Katherine Daigle, a long-time Republican who most recently challenged Wagner in the 2018 Irvine Mayoral election; and Kim-Thy Hoang Bayliss, a lawyer and first-time Republican candidate.
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