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Photo by Jack GouldCurt Pringle would like to be the next mayor of Anaheim.
Although the former state Assembly speaker grew up in Garden Grove, he moved to Anaheim six years ago and thinks being mayor would "be a fun job."
Republican loyalists say Pringle, a conservative Republican, has a lock on the mayor's office because popular Mayor Tom Daly, a Democrat, can't run for re-election due to term limits. But the more Anaheim voters know about Pringle and his powerful friends, the less they may want to vote for him in November.
One of Pringle's friends is Enron, the Texas-based oil company whose infamous collapse left thousands of employees stranded without retirement savings. Three years ago, he lobbied Anaheim on behalf of Enron Capital and Trade Inc. The goal: to win a contract to maintain electric lines operated by the city-owned Anaheim Public Utilities.
"For a few months in 1999, I did some consulting for Enron," Pringle told the Weekly in an almost rehearsed tone. "The lobbyist for Enron in Sacramento knew I left the Legislature and was living in Anaheim, so they called me [because] the city of Anaheim had sent out some requests for proposals for ways they could save money."
Pringle may appear nonchalant now, but he was much less blasé about his relationship with Enron while he was actually trying to convince Anaheim to privatize its electrical utilities. "Enron thinks Anaheim will be a flagship," he told the Orange County Business Journal in August 1999.
City officials disagreed. Citing Enron's lack of a viable "business plan," the Anaheim Public Utilities board voted 6-0 against selling off its electrical lines to either Enron or Southern California Edison, another company that bid on the project—despite the fact that Enron offered Anaheim an extra $1 million bonus to sweeten the deal. Federal officials are investigating Enron for allegedly conspiring to inflate the cost of energy it sold in California.
Pringle is also close to Timothy R. Busch, founder of the Busch Firm, an Irvine-based law and estate-planning legal partnership. Busch also owns Pacific Hospitality Group, which in turn owns and operates the Crowne Plaza Resort in Garden Grove.
Busch's hotel is situated on land seized from private owners through a taxpayer-funded city redevelopment project. Hundreds of senior citizens were forcibly relocated from a nearby mobile-home park to make room for the hotel. Besides free land, the Crowne Plaza also receives millions of dollars per year in public "financial assistance."
Over the past several years, Busch has been Pringle's most generous campaign contributor, providing $40,000 to his failed 1998 bid for state Treasurer alone. Busch is also Pringle's silent partner in Pringle & Associates, the lobbying firm Pringle opened three years ago with start-up money from Busch. The relationship is literally a close one: Pringle & Associates leases office space from Busch and is located inside the Busch Firm's Irvine headquarters.
Yet Pringle downplays his connection to Busch. "I have a business that he invested in and have a variety of clients, none of which are his," he said. "We just built a friendship over a few years while I was in office, and after I left office, we discussed ways we could work together. . . . He had space that I could rent, and that's why I'm located in his office. . . . But I have never done any work on behalf of his hotels—nor has anyone in my company."
Busch is a former board member of the Claremont Institute, a conservative policy group that, among other things, supposedly opposes government use of eminent domain against private homeowners—exactly the process Busch leveraged to create Garden Grove's Crowne Plaza Resort.
Pringle disagreed that Busch's involvement in the Garden Grove redevelopment project is hypocritical, but he said his plans for Anaheim as mayor would include "things that are opposite from redevelopment."
"I want to look at ways to carve off certain taxes that are already being paid to go to local governments," he said. "The biggest challenge facing Anaheim is to ensure that mature neighborhoods within the city are maintained and enhanced and to ensure that the city has a strong financial base within present funding formulas and potential future ones."
While Pringle may have failed to help Enron turn Anaheim into a "flagship," he did play a crucial role in paving the way for Enron and other companies to make huge profits in California. An early, outspoken advocate of turning California's energy market over to bidding by private companies, then-speaker Pringle in 1996 personally led the state Assembly in passing the disastrous bill that ultimately caused last year's energy crisis.
That's not how Pringle puts it, of course. He claims that the problem wasn't too much deregulation, but rather not enough. "I think the state Legislature made some significant steps in deregulation in 1996," he said. "Unfortunately, I wasn't around to help them take additional steps. The first step was passing the first deregulation bill in the country to allow for greater competition in the energy markets."
Pringle blames California's energy crisis on environmentalists, Governor Gray Davis, the Public Utilities Commission—everyone but himself. "There is plenty of blame to go around in a post-deregulation environment," he said.