National eyes are on multiple Orange County House races that could be the deciding factor in which party controls Congress next year. Scandals have rocked city councils, leaving the future makeup of those governing bodies in the balance. Voters are tasked with deciding a bevy of ballot measures, more than the two statewide sports betting ones with ads permeating the airwaves.
With less than a month to go until Election Day, we know all of the choices voters face can be a little overwhelming. Here’s a look at seven races we’re watching this cycle, and why they are important.
One of those closely-watched House races is CA-45 where Republican incumbent Rep. Michelle Steel is battling Democrat Jay Chen for the seat.
The newly-drawn C-shaped district, centered around Little Saigon, includes Placentia and Fountain Valley in Orange County and sweeps up to Cerritos in Los Angeles County.
It’s a contest that has underscored the complexities of race and the impact China has on the local Vietnamese American voters in the district – many of whom voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020 largely because of his anti-China rhetoric.
“The most interesting thing about the district is the demographic makeup. In most parts of the country and even in most parts of California, Asian Pacific voters don’t get nearly the attention that other underrepresented groups receive,” said Dan Schnur, a former campaign consultant who teaches about political messaging at USC and UC Berkeley. “But this district was specifically created for this purpose, and what’s taking place is a fascinating look at the divisions within these communities.”
In the primary, Steel, who is Korean American, accused Chen, who is Tawainese American, of mocking her accent, something he has vehemently denied.
This go-round, Steel has spent recent days ramping up accusations that Chen supported “Chinese Communist Party Confucius Institutes in our schools” – referring to China-backed institutes that supporters say promote Chinese language and cultural programs but opponents allege are fronts for more nefarious activities, like espionage. The accusation stems from a 2010 vote Chen took while a school board member.
(As of April, there were only 18 such institutes in the U.S., according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.)
Meanwhile, Chen’s campaign recently accused his opponent of stooping to a “new low” after voters received mailers depicting him in a fake classroom holding a Communist Manifesto with prominent communist leaders adorning the walls.
“Completely aside from their policy differences, the two candidates are talking in fundamentally different ways about their heritage and their experiences. Red-baiting is certainly a very visible example of that. It seems like those differences permeate almost everything the two candidates are talking about,” Schnur said.
Democrats are expected to have the advantage in the district that includes Irvine.
If re-elected, Choi said his top priority would be “to reduce the cost of living for California’s families, specifically when it comes to gasoline and energy prices.”
For Petrie-Norris, her main priorities are oversight and accountability in how tax dollars are being used and “creating economic growth and prosperity by encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Board of Supervisors District 5
It’s the race that could decide the party makeup of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
Both women can point to a legacy of local political service.
Foley was the first directly elected mayor of Costa Mesa and has served on a school board, the Costa Mesa City Council and a local Planned Parenthood board.
Bates was Laguna Niguel’s first mayor after it became an incorporated city. She previously served on the Board of Supervisors from 2007-2014 and as well as in the state Assembly.
Although the Board elections are nonpartisan, the two incumbents on the board not up for an election this year are both Republicans. The other two seats on the November ballot (District 2 and District 4) are both runoffs featuring dueling Democrats.
Huntington Beach City Council
With 18 candidates vying for four seats this year, the makeup of Huntington Beach’s City Council has the potential to change this year – drastically.
Of the 18 – whose experiences run the gamut from a community college student, retired police officer, business owners and former council members – none are incumbents. Barbara Delgleize, Mike Posey and Erik Peterson are terming out while Kim Carr is running for state Senate.
Huntington Beach is one of a handful of cities still left in Orange County with at-large elections, meaning voters choose multiple candidates to represent the city on the dais rather than selecting just one from their district.
But perhaps one of the most dramatic races in Surf City this year is that of the city attorney race.
Incumbent Michael Gates faces Scott Field, a former Huntington Beach deputy city attorney who left his post last year after filing an age discrimination lawsuit against Gates and Huntington Beach.
The election cycle has been peppered with multiple lawsuits challenging Field’s ballot designation and the wording for a ballot measure that would give the City Council the power to hire outside counsel and forgo the use of the city attorney.
Mission Viejo City Council
Mission Viejo’s City Council election already would have been one to watch since it’s the city’s first by-district election.
But it’s even more intriguing as all five City Council spots are up this year as the Saddleback Valley city has been mired in confusion over whether sitting council members have overstayed their terms on the dais.
A judge this summer ruled all five spots must be on the ballot, and he later ordered three members from their seats. However, a state appeals court has blocked their removal for the time being.
Incumbents have not been deterred. They’re still campaigning throughout the city, touting accomplishments and garnering endorsements.
Anaheim City Council
The November election could be a pivot point that turns Anaheim in a new direction.
The council will definitely get two new members since O’Neil is running for mayor and District 3 Councilman Jose Moreno is termed out; there are two-person races for each of those seats.
In District 2, Councilwoman Gloria Ma’ae (who was appointed last year to fill a vacancy) faces one challenger in her election bid. And if District 4 Councilman Avelino Valencia wins a runoff for a state Assembly seat, the council will have to replace him in 2023.
The big question is who will notch more victories in November: the business interests that have typically dominated election spending and often propelled their chosen candidates into office or fired-up residents who are eager to clean house after the last mayor departed under a cloud.
Development ballot measures
Ballot measures in two Orange County cities let voters grapple with different aspects of development and the impact on communities.
In Costa Mesa, Measure K is before voters, placed by the City Council in the hope of reversing a near-standstill of the development of new housing and other projects.
Because of a 2016 citizen initiative, most projects in Costa Mesa that need a zoning change and meet thresholds for size or density must go to a public vote; only one project has reached that point, but it has yet to schedule a public vote.
Supporters of Measure K maintain it keeps the status quo in residential neighborhoods while relaxing the requirement for a vote on projects along major corridors and in industrial areas. But opponents are adamant it would rob residents of their right to vote, and thus, have a real say in future changes to their city.
About 10 miles south, in Laguna Beach, the backers of Measure Q want to trigger public votes on bigger development projects along main thoroughfares: Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road.
Proponents say the initiative would better protect the unique look and character of Laguna Beach by giving residents more input on larger-scale developments, which they argue result in more traffic and congestion.
Opponents, however, contend Measure Q is redundant to effective rules and safeguards already in place, including an approval process with multiple opportunities for public input. They worry the measure could have unintended consequences for smaller businesses or projects.
Staff writers Alicia Robinson, Tess Sheets and Erika Ritchie contributed to this report.
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