Year of the Woman? Not When It Comes to Orange County’s Congressional Races

Courtesy Dr. Mai Khanh Tran for Congress

With less than a month to go before the June 5 primary election, “The Year of the Woman” in Orange County congressional races is sputtering.

There are 15 females on ballots for five of the seven Orange County congressional district elections. Two of these candidates are incumbents, one of whom appears to have a lock on eventually being re-elected and another who is being heavily targeted by the opposition party but will probably reach the November general election.

Of the 13 remaining women on the ballot, two have withdrawn and the other 11 have tough fights ahead to advance past June. Many of these same females, energized by the #MeToo movement, the 2017 Women’s March and a philandering groper in the White House, announced their candidacies to great fanfare. Some are in Orange County congressional districts that Hillary Clinton had won.

But the only female candidate to win her local Democratic Party’s endorsement is 38th district incumbent Linda Sánchez (D-Lakewood), who is barely considered part of the Orange County delegation as La Palma is the only non-Los Angeles County territory she represents. Sánchez, the sister of history-making former Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove), only faces one opponent in June: Republican Ryan Downing, who was crushed by the incumbent in November 2016.

Two female Democrats are on the ballot for the 39th congressional district that includes Fullerton, La Habra, Brea, Buena Park, Anaheim Hills, Placentia, Yorba Linda and parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties: Dr. Mai Khanh Tran and Suzi Park Leggett.

Emily’s List, the powerful political-action committee that helps to elect pro-choice Democratic female candidates to office, came out early in support of Fountain Valley pediatrician Tran, who is also endorsed by the Feminist Majority Foundation. Her campaign got another jolt when the 39th’s incumbent, Ed Royce, announced his retirement after having served in Congress since 1993.

Tran did not get the endorsements of the California and Orange County Democratic parties, but neither did anyone else in that race. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the PAC that raises donations nationally for local elections, recently asked Tran to end her campaign because the DCCC Red to Blue program had endorsed the deep-pocketed Gil Cisneros.

In a recent fundraising email, Tran explained her answer to the DCCC: “I told them, ‘How can you ask me, the only capable, qualified candidate who has been running for 10 months, who has outraised everybody, to withdraw? All so you can support a former Republican?’”

The National Republican Congressional Committee split the baby (and the sexes) in the 39th, labeling as “Hot Contenders” Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson and Royce protégé Young Kim, who served one term as a state assemblywoman. Sophia Alexander, an American Independent, and Karen Lee Schatzle, who has no party preference, are also candidates.

Mimi Walters (R-Irvine) is the incumbent in the 45th congressional district, which covers Irvine, Tustin, Villa Park, Orange, Anaheim Hills, Laguna Hills, Lake Forest, Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo, and parts of Aliso Viejo and Laguna Niguel.

Courtesy Mimi Walters for U.S. Congress

Democrats are trying to switch the 45th from red to blue because Clinton carried it in November 2016. Walters has a formidable Democratic opponent in Katie Porter, a UC Irvine law professor and protégé of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), who also has been endorsed by Emily’s List. But Porter’s party is backing another UCI Law professor, Dave Min, a former aide to Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York).

Every candidate has a penis in the 46th (Anaheim, Santa Ana and parts of Orange) and the 47th (Garden Grove, Westminster, Stanton, Los Alamitos, Cypress, Long Beach and Catalina Island), including incumbents Lou Correa (D-Anaheim) and Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), both of whom the Democratic Party endorsed.

The 48th makes up for that slight with the names of four women on the ballot: Republican Shastina Sandman and Democrats Laura Oatman, Rachel Payne and Deanie Schaarsmith. However, Oatman and Payne have withdrawn, citing the possibility that with so many candidates in the race, Democrats could cancel one another out and lead to an all-Republican November run-off. Under California’s “jungle primary” system, the top two vote-getters move on to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

That’s a real possibility, as the 48th’s incumbent, Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), has led in the polls, followed by fellow Republican Scott Baugh and Democrats Harley Rouda, Omar Siddiqui and Hans Keirstead, who is endorsed by his state and local party.

The 49th district, which is open thanks to the retirement of Darrell Issa (R-Vista), covers Dana Point, San Clemente, Camp Pendleton and mostly northern San Diego County communities. It’s another red-to-blue project because Issa barely beat Democrat Doug Applegate in 2016.

Applegate is among four Democrats running this time. Another is Sara Jacobs, who is the granddaughter of Qualcomm’s billionaire co-founder. She was in dead last in a recent poll that also showed Applegate losing support while the two other Democrats, Paul Kerr and Mike Levin, picked up some.

Leading the poll was state Assemblyman Rocky Chávez (R-Oceanside), who joins eight other Republicans on the ballot, including two women: former Assemblywoman and Dana Point mayor Diane Harkey and Kristin Gaspar, who chairs the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

There is another woman in the race: the Green Party’s Danielle St. John.

The Orange County Business Council (OCBC) and Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) recently teamed up for a white paper titled “Retail Land Use in Orange County: An Examination of Future Potential.” It suggests that shopping centers filled with empty stores that have closed because of competition from online retail can be repurposed as housing developments.

“As e-commerce takes over the economy, we need to look forward, not back,” says Hasan Ikhrata, SCAG’s executive director. “Instead of waiting for brick-and-mortar retail to make a comeback, we need to see how else we can utilize land to meet our changing needs.”

Adds Wallace Walrod, the white paper’s co-author and the OCBC’s chief economic adviser, “Segments of Orange County’s retail sector have only partially returned to their pre-recession peaks. That reality, however, creates transformational opportunities for reinvestment and reuse. The region is presented with a very rare opportunity to rethink conventional wisdom about retail land use and consider ways to meet other needs through adaptive reuse.”

None of that rings false to me, although I do wonder where these future residents are supposed to work given the loss of retail. Then there is this: The OCBC and SCAG previously teamed up to present research that showed “Orange County would lose the opportunity for 68,000 jobs, $7 billion in economic activity, and $450 million in annual state and local government tax revenues from a profitable commercial airport operation at El Toro.”

Of course, voters rose up and rejected the building of a 24-hour, international airport at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. It’s now the site of the Orange County Great Park.

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