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
Inside a Costa Mesa hotel ballroom on Feb. 20, Orange County’s most enthusiastic conservative activists met to hear candidate speeches and issue endorsements while paying homage to Saint Ronnie and excoriating gays, abortion rights, bureaucrats and, the favorite target of the day, employees’ unions. The meeting of the local chapter of the California Republican Assembly (CRA) began with an invocation that asked God to ensure that “people of good character and faith get elected” and ended three-plus hours later with a whiff of scandal. A handful of members wondered aloud at the meeting: Had Van Tran, a Republican candidate hoping to face Democrat Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez in November, quietly stolen CRA’s endorsement for his primary fight against Quang Pham?
The backing of this group carries considerable weight in OC Republican circles. Ronald Reagan called the statewide CRA, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, the “conscience of the Republican party.” Around here, that means an unswerving adherence to right-wing orthodoxy on hot-button social issues such as prayer in school (for), gun rights (for), gay rights (against), abortion rights (against), etc.
Pham addressed the crowd first, noting he’s a Christian, husband, father and ex-Marine major who emigrated with his family from Saigon at the age of 10. “I’m the only candidate in the race who has run a multimillion-dollar business, the only candidate who has served his country, the only candidate who has worked in health care, and I’m sick and tired of professional politicians,” he said in a series of thinly veiled swipes at Tran and Sanchez.
During a Q&A session, Pham was asked about the extent of his aversion to abortion and gay rights and didn’t give the crowd—one of whom wore a tie crammed with biblical quotes—the red-meat answers they craved. Instead, he stated that while he is pro-life, he feels uncomfortable dictating all decisions made between a doctor and a pregnant woman. Pham also said that while he believes marriage is between a man and a woman, as a business owner, he gives benefits to all his employees, regardless of their sexuality.
“No!” an elderly man yelled while others booed.
“No booing!” yelled back convention chairman Craig Alexander.
When it was his turn to speak, Tran—a state assemblyman from Little Saigon—pounced.
“I am a lifelong Republican with Ronald Reagan principles, and I’m against the gay and lesbian agenda,” he said. “I am a child of the Reagan Revolution. Loretta Sanchez took out my old boss, Bob Dornan, and now his old staffer is going to take her out! Less government! Less taxes! More freedom!”
On Sanchez, he explained, “We need a crusade to take out Loretta Sanchez. She claims she is a moderate, but she votes with [raising his voice an octave] Nancy Pelosi!”
For this audience, Pelosi, Sanchez, Mussolini, Stalin and Castro are ideological soul mates. There was moaning, hissing and more booing. Alexander frowned but didn’t issue another warning.
“What’s your name?” someone in the crowd shouted.
“My name is short, and it rhymes,” he said, smiling. “Van Tran.”
An unimpressed county Supervisor Janet Nguyen, no Tran fan, stood in the back of the room, shaking her head.
By CRA rules, candidates must win two-thirds of the vote at the meeting to grab an official endorsement. When the vote was announced, Tran had 17 supporters—the bare minimum needed. Pham received 7 votes
One of the votes for Tran came from Paul Hegyi. He is Tran’s chief of staff at the state capitol, a longtime resident of Sacramento—according to county-assessor records—and, until recently, a candidate for California’s 10th Assembly District, which includes Sacramento County. To let Hegyi cast his vote, CRA officials declared him a member of the Stanton branch of Orange County’s club, though he is registered to vote in Sacramento. The local CRA website lists all its branches. Stanton is not one of them.
And there’s this: The Stanton branch shouldn’t have been allowed to vote in the 47th Congressional District race because—unlike Anaheim, Fullerton, Garden Grove and Santa Ana—it’s not in the district, according to Pham supporters. According to CRA rules, only members from within a district can vote on the endorsement of a candidate running in that district. At that meeting, the local CRA board declared that even though Stanton isn’t in the district, a portion of unincorporated Anaheim touches that city, so they would allow Stanton delegates to vote in the 47th.
The intrigue deepens if you connect additional dots. Tran is a protégé of Mike Schroeder, a Santa Ana chiropractic-insurance-company owner, a GOP bigwig and arguably the savviest brass-knuckle political strategist in the county. According to campaign records, Schroeder, who lives in Corona del Mar, endorsed Hegyi’s campaign for the Assembly seat and worked with CRA parliamentarian Tim Whitacre in the effort to recall Republican Anthony Adams last year. Schroeder told me he was unaware of any coordinated effort to bring in Hegyi solely to secure the endorsement for Tran.