A dozen of us were sitting on the patio at Original Mike's Thursday night following an OC Young Democrats meeting, engaging in enjoyable inside-baseball political gossip, when Paul Lucas, the Democratic candidate for the 68th Assembly District, pretended to hump a tree to illustrate the kind of hate-lovin' he would inflict on a local Democratic officeholder who—at least at our table—is widely reviled.
But by 2:30 in the morning, when we were sitting at my computer revising his ballot statement—Lucas and OC Democratic Foundation executive director and party-menace Phil Bacerra having designated-driven me home—Lucas found restraint.
"I'm really not comfortable with saying the cost of living is 'outrageous,'" he fretted.
"It is outrageous," we shrieked at him. "Shut up, Paul!"
And Phil and I hooted and chortled with glee as we drunkenly revamped Lucas' ballot statement to make sure it includes all the inanities. Since Lucas wasn't drunk—he's been sober since he was 24 years old—he could drive us anywhere he wants, but he wasn't allowed to play.
A few nights later, outside a private home hosting Lucas' fund-raiser, he told a story—first checking to make sure all of us in the group were young, and making Santa Ana City Councilman Jose Solorio cover his ears—that began with two men at a urinal. Immediately, everyone standing around began to critique the patter: the consensus was that the punch line came too soon and dwindled from there.
Oh, Paul! You had me at "You want a hit of this before I put it away?"
Paul Lucas is that dream consultant's construct: The Guy You Want to Have a Beer With. Except he'll stick to iced tea.
* * *
Paul Lucas was the third guy the Democrats' statewide candidate recruiting committee asked to run for Assembly in the 68th, a weirdly gerrymandered district that stretches from Stanton and Anaheim down to Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, but he was the first one to say yes. It isn't easy getting people to agree to be the Democratic standard bearer in a district that's got a GOP edge of 50 freaking percent—especially when the Democratic Party doesn't think it necessary to help with either money or time. Who's Paul Lucas' campaign manager? He is. Who's his consultant? That's him too. How much scratch has he got on hand? A cool $4,000.
Because of the complete lack of support from the party, Dems in most Orange County districts tend to field wan nonentities for candidates, human sacrifices who file their papers and then wander off unnoticed. (At least none ever literally disappeared, like the guy who ran against Loretta in '02 but bowed out of the race the day after he won the GOP primary.) Paul Lucas is not that guy. Omnipresent in his suit and tie, the 37-year-old water-quality engineer hops from a Young Dems meeting to Stanton Fest—it was very poorly attended, he said, with more vendors than festivants—to networking and hanging out with the kids at Original Mike's. National Democratic Party chief Howard Dean comes to town to meet and greet with the OC Democratic Foundation? Paul Lucas is meet-and-greeting too. LA city attorney Rocky Delgadillo stops in at Muldoon's to wow local Democrats? Lucas is standing at the back. Every other goddamn place I am? Ever? Yes, sir: there's Paul Lucas, campaigning, campaigning, campaigning.
His opponent, Van Tran, the popular sitting assemblyman and highest-ranking Vietnamese-American in the state? He doesn't get back to the district much. Although Van Tran is registered to vote at his parents' home inside the district, mostly he's at the house he owns in Sacramento with his wife. He'd rather you didn't ask about her; he finds it rude when people point out that he's married to a criminal, even if she did only get three years probation for her role in an insurance-fraud ring and for representing herself as an attorney when she's not.
You know who's not a criminal? Paul Lucas.
* * *
Lucas grew up in the barrio in Orange; he's blunt, and he hasn't been sanded smooth. He's a blue-collar guy in a district—Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Stanton and swaths of Westminster, Garden Grove and Anaheim, among others—that isn't the Orange County on television. He tells raunchy jokes. He's kind of funny-looking, like a cross between Alfred Hitchcock and Beaker from The Muppet Show, with a crew cut that's always standing on end. He's a little awkward. People like him a lot.
He cares intensely about education, having gone back late to Santa Ana College and then UC Irvine, sitting on the curriculum council and earning his degree in environmental analysis and design with a minor in urban planning. He uses the degree for an Irvine company tracking runoff and coastal health and building mountains (and methane power plants) out of landfills. He cares about livability in Orange County, about traffic and quality of life—including crime.
"I grew up with a lot of guys who are in jail now, and I'm glad!" he says. "If somebody's a real chickenhead, he should be in jail."
He cares that we're a donor county and wants to bring our taxes back here from the state. He cares about politics and what national memes and myths mean to us at home. He was the vice chair of the Young Democrats for three years and sat on the steering committee of Surfrider. He's done AmeriCorps gigs studying ancient formations in Death Valley for the University of Nevada Reno. He volunteers and volunteers and volunteers. He doesn't like bars—except when Bacerra, who is a menace, goads him into them.
"Then what do you do at night?" I ask, perplexed. "I read," he says, embarrassed.
* * *
At his fund-raiser Saturday night, where he picked up $1,300, maybe 30 people gathered for Mexican food and speeches. Jose Solorio, the Santa Ana city councilman running in the 69th Assembly District, was there; so was Solorio's opponent, Republican nominee RyanGene Williams. Ryan Gene, who's 20 years old, was drinking a Brisk iced tea. "You can have a cocktail, Ryan!" I told him, "We won't tell!" But he thought Solorio might use it to campaign against him. Playing George Mitchell to their Northern Ireland,I asked Solorio if he would resort to such a petty tactic. He thought about it, and, probably realizing he would look like a dick, said no: Ryan Gene could illegally underage-drink. Ryan Gene stuck to the iced tea anyway, even when the Dems—probably Phil Bacerra, who is a pusher—tried to get him to do a shot of tequila with catcalls of "The Democrats all did it!"
The Democrats did not all do it. We're not in college anymore.
Later Ryan Gene told Solorio the story of asking Carlos Bustamante, a Republican on the Santa Ana City Council, for his endorsement. "I have to check with Jose," he said Bustamante told him.
Solorio said Bustamante has yet to ask.
"Van Tran is great," Ryan Gene said. "He's the first person who endorsed me! But when I was in the hospital, Paul Lucas was the guy who came to visit."
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MELTING POINT WRAP-UP
A train wreck of a show, with KJ from Austin exploring the differences between liberals and conservatives, saying liberals—except for me; she said I had a voice like hot honey—were loud and shrill. I, apparently having been taken over by Janeane Garofalo, responded by being loud and shrill for the duration of the show. Michael called in and said libs were liars, thieves and murderers, and that the Pill and IUDs murder eight million souls a year, then said he performs lay exorcisms on liberal judges and priests; co-host Erik Brown told Michael the name-calling wasn't constructive but that Michael made a lot of good points (!) and thanked him for his call. Host Shawn Fago had taken cold medicine and didn't do much of anything, but at least it kept the yelling to a minimum.
Catch Melting Point Sundays at 11 p.m. on KRLA-AM 870.