Chuck Not Amuck

The Orange County Register's editorial board lauds itself as a nonpartisan watchdog of bad government, but its writers consistently betray their Republican Party sympathies. Consider their treatment of two politicians recently embroiled in conflict-of-interest scandals, Chuck DeVore and Nativo Lopez.

Lopez, of course, is a longtime Democratic Party activist whom voters recalled from his position on the Santa Ana Unified School District board of trustees in early 2003. On March 23—three years after Lopez left office—Register reporters Ronald Campbell and Courtney Perkes revealed that a nonprofit tied to Lopez, Citizens in Action, received more than $100,000 in contributions from Del Terra Real Estate Services beginning in the fall of 2000. In turn, Lopez had helped Del Terra secure a no-bid contract to construct schools in Santa Ana. The agreement proved disastrous—Del Terra's cost overruns and consistent delays infuriated voters and speeded Lopez's booting from office.

Why the Registergave such prominence to such an old story might seem perplexing. Lopez, after all, is no longer in politics, contenting himself instead with expanding his nonprofit organization, Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana, and heading the Mexican American Political Association. And shortly after voters toppled Lopez, the SAUSD board terminated Del Terra's contract. Devil gone, problem gone, right?

But the Registereditorial board has long loathed Lopez for his unrepentant support for bilingual education and “pro-Mexicano” agenda. Predictably, the Registereditorial board unleashed some Nativo-hate the day after the Campbell/Perkes expos. “Anyone who still wonders why Santa Ana voters overwhelmingly dumped political activist Nativo Lopez from the school board in 2003 ought to pay attention to the [Campbell-Perkes] article,” the unsigned column huffed. It concluded with the following warning: “We hope this recent article remains fresh in the public's mind should he ever try to bring his divisive racial politics back for an encore.”

While the Registerobsessed over years-old political perfidy, its reporters remained silent on the more pertinent issue of DeVore. On Feb. 28, the Register, following the Los Angeles Times, reported that DeVore accepted more than $74,000 in loans and contributions for his fall 2004 70th Assembly District campaign from residents and managers of El Morro Village. Residents at this seaside community near Crystal Cove State Park were scheduled to leave their cottages on March 31, nearly 25 years after they initially agreed to vacate. In January, however, DeVore wrote two bills that would allow El Morro residents to remain in their paradise by the sea for 30 more years.

DeVore defended the apparent conflict of interest, telling Registerreporter Chris Knap, “It's not exactly shocking that people would give money to people who support them.” But instead of lambasting DeVore like they did Nativo, the Registerremained silent. Its journalists depicted the El Morro story as one of DeVore fighting for normal folk who would “never again . . . have the beach access of a billionaire.” Not even the March 28 revelation by the OrangeCountyBusinessJournalthat El Morro counted as tenants some of the county's wealthiest men, men such as sports mega-agent Dwight Manley, former execs of the Irvine Co., and even Registerpublisher emeritus David Threshie, motivated the Registerto trash DeVore.

Instead, on March 31, the Registerpublished an entry titled “Go Get 'Em, Chuck,” on their editorial blog, Orange Punch. In the post, Registereditorial writer Steven Greenhut praised DeVore for criticizing the relationship between Crystal Cove State Park Superintendent Ken Kramer—who wants the El Morro tenants out so that the state can transform the parcel into a state park—and environmental groups.

“Clearly, Chuck is having fun in Sacramento, and his willingness to rock the boat is good news for OC residents,” Greenhut enthused. To Greenhut, Kramer's association with environmentalists was a reminder that “public servants often have their own interests, and are not—as the media often portrays them—neutral advocates for the public good.”

Funny—Greenhut could've said the same of DeVore.


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