Two incumbent state legislators, Republican Assemblyman Steven Choi and Democratic Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, are seeking election to the redrawn 73rd Assembly District.

Democrats have a noteworthy voter registration advantage in the district, with the GOP taking third place after voters with no party preference. But the state law that gave California an open primary also dictates that the two candidates with the most votes in the June primary advance to the November election, so Choi and Petrie-Norris are guaranteed to face off again this fall.

The once-a-decade redistricting process, which is intended to balance populations and ensure equal representation for all, shook up many of OC’s Assembly and Senate districts. The new 73rd District covers Irvine, Costa Mesa and Tustin.

Choi is a Korean American immigrant and former educator (he’s taught library science, Korean language and taekwondo) who previously served as a member of the Irvine school board and City Council and as mayor. He’s wrapping up his third term representing the former 68th Assembly District.

Petrie-Norris worked in finance and marketing before she beat the incumbent in the 74th Assembly District seat in a 2018 surprise upset. She was reelected in 2020. Previously a resident of Laguna Beach, Petrie-Norris opted to move to Irvine rather than run in the new 72nd District, where three candidates are fighting for the seat.

If she remains in the Assembly, Petrie-Norrris said she plans to focus on fixing the state’s mental and behavioral health care system, which she says is “fundamentally broken” and intertwined with the homelessness crisis.

The system is insufficient, and it lacks proper oversight and accountability, she said.

“I think there’s an important job for the legislature to do to ensure that that oversight is strengthened and so that the programs and services that do exist are actually providing real support and real relief.”

Petrie-Norris touted her work to get funding for a pilot program that provided aircraft and technology, including fire modeling, to help combat wildfires; funding to expand the program statewide was included in the budget proposed in January.

She also has been active in probing the causes and consequences of the October oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach. One outgrowth of that is a plan for state Fish and Wildlife to annually brief local officials in coastal cities on preparedness, response protocols and resources to recover when a spill occurs; Petrie-Norris also got state officials to fast-track a workshop on spill response protocols and technologies.

The two candidates aren’t aligned on many issues, but Petrie-Norris and Choi both said CEQA, the law that requires environmental review of many development projects, has compounded the housing shortage and should be reformed – though neither said they’d seen a viable proposal for how to do that.

About the 73rd Assembly District

Voter registration: 40.2% Democrat; 26.9 Republican; 27.7 no party preference

Voter demographics: 62.8% White; 22% Asian-American; 14.3% Latino; 0.9% Black

Choi said he favors cuts to other regulations as well. Businesses continue to leave the state due to excessive taxes and regulations, he said, and reducing regulations on housing could help lower the cost and encourage developers to build more.

To help small business, Choi said he proposed the state use some of its massive budget surplus (recently reported at $68 billion) to repay a federal loan to the state unemployment insurance trust fund. Businesses must pay into the fund, so adding interest to the loan debt drives up their costs.

The bill he proposed was rejected in committee in favor of another proposal that would pay off some, rather than all, of the loan, so “partially I think I succeeded,” he said.

Choi also opposes COVID-19 mandates and said the government should provide information and it can make recommendations, but people should make their own decisions on issues such as masks.

While Republican legislators’ power is limited by the Democrats’ supermajority in Sacramento, Choi said their voices are still important.

“We need a good balance of power up here so there will be healthy debate based on the merits of the bills we propose,” he said.