By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
Speaking Little Evil
What tied the tongue of Supervisor Janet Nguyen's biggest nemesis?
The oddest aspect of the upcoming First District supervisorial election isn't the tired, 1970s-era communist-baiting protests that have once again snarled Little Saigon, its leading daily newspaper and the three candidates. It's not that Republican Dina Nguyen, an adult, couldn't figure out how to properly fill in a simple statement of candidacy. It's not even that Hoa Van Tran, the lone Democrat in the race, used Santa Ana gangsters for his campaign to join the all-Republican Orange County Board of Supervisors.
Nope, what's most puzzling has been the deafening silence of Mike Schroeder, Orange County's most controversial GOP heavyweight activist.
You may recall that for nine recent months Schroeder made it one of his life's missions to publicly torment a fellow Republican, incumbent supervisor Janet Nguyen. He filed and funded lawsuits trying to block Nguyen's special election to the board last February. He questioned her intelligence, honesty and fitness for public office. He prompted law-enforcement probes into her activities—moves that put her campaign in debt, thanks to legal fees. He branded her "cynical and calculated in the extreme." He publicly gloated so much about the 30-year-old rookie supervisor's alleged missteps that a local columnist noted how much Schroeder, an adviser to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, indicted ex-sheriff Mike Carona and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, was enjoying his assaults. And he forecasted Nguyen's future political defeat, ominously telling the Los Angeles Times in May 2007, "It's not all clear she's going to be holding that seat for very long."
Then, in January—poof—Schroeder's intense constant attacks stopped. Next, Trung Nguyen, the Schroeder-backed candidate who lost to Janet Nguyen (no relation) by a mere three votes last year, cited his campaign's debt and backed out of a rematch. Except for making a single, $1,600 contribution to the aforementioned Dina Nguyen (also no relation), Schroeder's allowing Janet to proceed relatively unimpeded—no more lawsuits, investigations, complaints or shopping negative news articles.
To underscore the point: Conventional wisdom currently holds that Janet will likely win the seat, yet Schroeder seems more interested attending Los Angeles Lakers playoff games or planning a lengthy trip to Beijing for the Summer Olympics.
What prompted the county's most colorful, Machiavellian political operative to suddenly lose interest in Janet's being defeated? Schroeder questions my premise: He still dislikes Janet immensely, he tells me, but is remaining mum for "tactical reasons." If no candidate emerges with more than 50 percent of the vote next week, there will be a runoff for the top two candidates. If that happens, Schroeder says, his lack of participation up to that point will allow him to run an independent expenditure campaign against Janet.
"That's why I've stayed away from the campaign," he said.
But Mike, here's the trouble: Nothing would have legally prevented you from already launching an independent expenditure campaign against Janet, perhaps one that would prevent her from making it into a runoff.
Schroeder says not to worry. "She's a self-correcting problem," he said. "What I mean is that she's eventually going to get bounced out."
There's a second, more conspiratorial explanation circulating in Orange County's Hall of Administration: that Schroeder—who served as chairman of the California Republican Party in 1998—retreated only after cutting a secret pact with Janet's campaign in January. Andrew Do, Nguyen's chief of staff, couldn't be reached for comment. But according to the rumor, the conduit was Schroeder's longtime pal and fellow GOP operative Adam Probolsky, who performs polling for Nguyen.
Probolsky laughed when confronted with the rumor.
"There's a big zero chance that that happened," he told me. "I haven't had a discussion with Mike or Janet about the sheriff's issue for months."
However, several insiders who declined to speak on the record insist a deal was made. It went like this, they say:
In January, Schroeder client Carona resigned to fight the FBI's corruption case against him. Before he left, he appointed an assistant, Jack Anderson, to take over as acting sheriff. Several supervisors believed it was important to replace Anderson quickly with someone unconnected to the tainted ex-sheriff. Schroeder told me he opposed the move, preferring to stall any board decision so that Anderson could remain in the job for an extended period of time or even the remaining two years of Carona's term. Backing up Schroeder's plan was none other than Probolsky, who has openly lobbied for Anderson.
But Schroeder, who enjoys sheriff's department privileges as a reserve-unit lawyer, was powerless in January. He needed help. Guess which supervisor created a 3-2 majority alliance that effectively gave him what he wanted?
On June 3, she faces her first re-election battle—you know, the one with Schroeder sitting on his hands on the sidelines. But the day is important for another reason: By heavenly fate or duplicitous earthly scheme, that's when the supervisors are scheduled to vote for Carona's replacement.