Photo by Keith MayNear the corner of Halladay Street and Warner Avenue in Santa Ana is an old city yard, now overgrown with weeds. Next door is an elementary school, and next to that is a razor-wire enclosure around camouflaged trucks and trailers belonging to a California National Guard infantry battalion.
Surrounding all this is Delhi, a solidly Latino working-class neighborhood and one of the city's oldest communities. Activists here struggled for years to find funding for a sprawling 26,000-square-foot community center.
But nothing happened until 1998. Then, with Democrat Lou Correa challenging Republican incumbent Jim Morrissey for the 69th Assembly seat, Delhi's community center became an issue. The candidates met at Delhi, more or less the heart of the 69th—a district that includes Santa Ana, Anaheim, Garden Grove, Orange and Fountain Valley. And there they pledged support for the long-lived dream of a community center. Morrissey, a four-year incumbent, called the center his "No. 1 priority."
Residents didn't buy it. Six months after replacing Morrissey with Correa, the money started rolling in. In the summer of 1999, Delhi activists learned that Correa had persuaded the state to contribute $800,000 to the project. Soon after, more than $3 million in additional city and federal grants arrived.
Clearly, Correa knows how to bring home the pork, but it's hardly representative of his years in Sacramento.
Today, Correa—a former investment banker, real-estate broker and business consultant—is running for re-election. His support comes largely from labor unions, the traditional political and financial foundation of the Democratic Party. But his most recent campaign-disclosure reports include several PAC contributions: $1,000 from notoriously anti-union Wal-Mart, $1,000 from district powerhouse Disneyland, $4,000 from energy czar Edison International and $3,000 from cell-phone empire SBC Communications.
The industrial-strength funding is hardly surprising. Correa has never been the "liberal Democrat" derided by county conservatives. He campaigned in 1998 as a man who had "always supported" the state's backward Three Strikes law. But his legislative record has largely been ineffective—especially on issues appealing to the Left:
•Disneyland. Barely a month after Correa's 1998 victory, a man died at Disneyland after being hit in the head with a docking cleat from the sailing ship Columbia. Public criticism of the park was swift, with many calling for tougher regulation of theme parks. At first, Correa retreated to the safety of the Disneyland officials who had served him so well in the election, supporting timid legislation allowing amusement parks to police themselves. Later, Correa changed his mind and co-authored a much stronger bill requiring state inspections, which Governor Gray Davis signed in October 1999.
•Gay rights. Our own Clockwork Orange didn't call Correa "Lou Sheldon's bitch" in July 1999 for nothing. Of the six gay-rights bills moving through the Assembly in 1999, Correa supported only one: Assembly Bill 1001, which added sexual orientation to the list of discriminations banned under the state Fair Employment and Housing Act. Correa voted against bills extending public-employee health benefits to include domestic partners, banning discrimination against public employees and students based on sexual orientation, requiring HMOs to insure domestic partners, prohibiting HMOs from discriminating against patients for sexual orientation, and protecting public school students against discrimination.
•Consumer rights. In August, he moved to gut a bill that would have strengthened the state's lemon law. The bill would have made it easier for car buyers to get automakers to take back lemons, but Correa wanted to do the opposite: his amendment on the pending version of the bill would force car buyers saddled with defective cars to write to the automaker as well as return to the dealership. This added step is especially troubling, considering most of the residents in Correa's district are poor and speak little or no English.
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Then there were two attempts in the past few months concerning local base reuse. Correa lobbied for 100 acres of the old Tustin Marine Corps base for a joint elementary and high school campus for the Santa Ana school district to relieve overcrowding; that effort died in the state Senate. He also sponsored Assembly Bill 1556, which would have blocked the city of Irvine from annexing the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station base and thus permanently killed the county's proposed international airport. That bill also died in a Senate committee.
The alternative to Correa is even more appalling: Republican Lou Lopez, one of the county's loosest cannons. A former Anaheim city councilman, Lopez has always been comfortable with the far-right wing of the OC Republican Party. Lou Sheldon's anti-gay Traditional Values Coalition—which has its headquarters in the same building as the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce—started supporting Lopez as early as 1992, when he first got elected to the Anaheim Union High School board.
He isn't known as one of the GOP's brighter bulbs. During his unsuccessful run for the 4th District Supervisor's seat (he lost to Cynthia Coad, who was well-financed by El Toro international Airport mogul George Argyros), Lopez curiously described his No. 1 priority as "a dress code." Later that year, when he retired after two terms on the Anaheim City Council, the former boxer commented that he wished he had had the chance to "go a couple of rounds" with the Anaheim city manager and city clerk. And during a stump speech at a recent George W. Bush rally in Westminster, Lopez raised eyebrows with his statement that he would win if he could "get Lou Correa in his gun sights" before hastily adding, "Ha, ha, I'm just joking."
The fact that he trails Correa badly in fund-raising is perhaps the best evidence of Lopez's undesirability as a candidate: in a county dominated by cash-rich Republicans, Lopez doesn't even have a tenth of Correa's campaign cash. A 29-year veteran of the Anaheim Police Department, Lopez couldn't squeeze one dollar out of that city's Police Officers PAC, which gave Correa a measly but symbolic $100. Lopez's former buddies also refused to endorse him in the 1998 supervisor's race. Lopez will almost certainly lose on Nov. 7. It's too bad he couldn't lose to a better guy.