Thursday, June 8, 2006

Local elections (OC edition)

Despite being a property-owning Seoul taxpayer, I wasn't eligible to vote in last week's local polls here in the Land of Morning Calm, but this past week I was able to do the next best thing: vote absentee for the slew of local elections in the County of Orange in the Great State of California.

As an American citizen, it is my duty and privilege, about once or twice every other year, to put pen to paper and determine the destiny of a bunch of people whose names I've mostly never heard of. Awesomely powerful is the citizenry.

Being a legal resident of the Land of Tricky Dicky and Mickey™, I am tasked with choosing leaders who will make decisions that could affect future plot lines of "The O.C." It's a responsibility I take very seriously.

The June 6 poll was mostly primaries, but in typical California fashion, there were some ballot initiatives as well (we don't trust Sacramento to do all our bidding; also, we like to sneak some things by as a way of teaching those who don't vote a brutal lesson).

Anyway, it is important, and after spending an hour at Lavazza filling it out, I had my daily jog swing by the post office inside Yongsan Garrison where I dropped it off. I'm reasonably certain it reached Santa Ana in about three days, unless a Republican was manning the Stateside Mail slot.

First on our hit list was who should be the Democratic candidate for governor — essentially who should be running against The Gubernator
in November. Although State Treasurer Phil Angelides got the endorsement of the state party, I voted for his strong competitor, State Controller Steve Westly (left). This may or may not have to do with the fact that — purely coincidentally — my mother and I ran into him and his wife on line at the Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto) on the Island of Capri (CAH-pree) during our trip to Italy in 2004.

A really nice guy who talked with us for about half an hour; he had told us he probably wouldn't run for governor if Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to run for re-election, but The Ahnuld's popularity is pretty low right now, so I guess he figured he'd give it a shot. One thing I liked about Mr. Westly (who gave me his card, too) is that he said he thought the Governor was someone he could work with, unlike a few of his Democratic allies.

Oh, and the Blue Grotto was nice, too. Indescribably amazing, actually.

There were several other state offices — Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Controller, Treasurer — where I didn't know enough about the candidates so I did the right thing and left it blank. I did vote for current Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante for Insurance Commissioner, largely because I felt sorry for him losing to Ahnuld during the recall.

Oh, yeah, and I did vote for former Governor Jerry Brown (currently Mayor of Oakland) for Attorney General. He deserves my vote just for having dated Linda Rondstandt, who was quite a hotty in her day (
below). (Linda Rondstadt was later romantically connected with Plow King owner and proprietor Barney Gumble of Springfield).

For some reason in Orange County our sheriff and coroner are the same person. That should make for interesting plot lines when they start to make CSI: Orange County. This was actually the race that was getting the most press because of the scandal in which the incumbent, Michael Carona (Carona the Coroner...nice ring to it) and his cronies found themselves. Both opponents focused on this, and one of them demanded that Carona resign.

Essentially, both of the challengers were running on a platform of not allowing their friend's son to rape 16-year-old girls.

Carona said in his bio/platform that "residents of Orange County are safer today than they were eight years ago" when he took office. I know I'm safer, but that may be because I live in Korea.

One of his opponents, Bill Hunt, says that violent crime in sheriff-patrolled areas (i.e., areas not part of some city plus areas where policing is contracted out to the OC Sheriff's Department) skyrocketed 30% (he doesn't say from when...could be from 1850 when we achieved statehood, or 1890, when OC broke off from L.A. County) and homicides have increased 26%.

So, one of these men is lying. I'm not sure which one, so I voted for the third guy, Robert Alcaraz, who used to be a Deputy Sheriff, and as a bonus, did
not invoke 9/11 in his little blurb. (There was a fourth guy, but when he said he said he spent three decades in "the largest Sheriff's Department in the nation," I knew he wasn't talking about OC, and we don't need no carpet-baggers.)

For US Senator I chose incumbent Dianne Feinstein. Duh. She has the best chance of beating a Republican challenger in November. For US Represenative, it was a choice between two people I don't know. Unfortunately, they didn't offer a bio for the Voter Information Pamphlet. I thought about leaving it blank, but in the end I wrote myself in. I doubt I won, but stranger things have happened. Well, no, stranger things than that have not happened, but I will keep my cell phone on during business hours in Sacramento, just in case.

For State Senate, for some reason it seems we were actually voting not for the Democratic nominee but for who will go to Sacramento as the actual State Senator — it was a Democrat versus a Republican, which would be odd if it were a Democratic primary (did the GOP railroad through a bill requiring a Republican be on all ballots as part of Homeland Security?).

The Democrat is a school teacher who talked up the importance of good education and "meaningful education reforms in Sacramento" (Sacramento is our capital, by the way, just in case you were wondering why I keep referencing that city; if you are an actual Californian and did not know that, I urge you to not vote or operate heavy machinery in the future). The Republican is a State Assemblyman who talked about illegal immigration right out the gate — "It's my first priority."

He says he voted for border police enforcement, voted to remove taxpayer funded benefits for illegal aliens, and voted against driver's license for illegal aliens. He ran for office "to protect our quality of life and family values."

Fine, except that when I was actually present in OC, these were often code words by some White people for reining in the Latinos and the Asians (there aren't a lot of Blacks in Orange County). Illegal immigration is a problem, but it's not typically solved by people who see these issues as us-versus-them, especially when "them" is assumed to be anybody of color.

For Superior Court Judge in our district there were three people running but only one had a platform/bio. She has led a team that prosecutes drunk driving homicides (well I should hope they're prosecuted), and she also prosecuted sexual predators, child molestors, and rapists. So far, so good: these people should be prosecuted.

But then she mentioned her support of the death penalty and I just decided I couldn't vote for her. I did that twice with Clinton and I just can't do it anymore. By the way, she mentions doing volunteer work in her parish, which would mean she's a death penalty-supporting Catholic. Hmm...

Not having a clear idea who to vote for, I wrote in the name of a friend from UCI. She's a lawyer. I think she'd make a good judge. I should call her and give her a heads-up, just in case.

Next up was County Supervisor. One guy was a teacher who supports protecting Orange County's wetlands (in Bolsa Chica, around Huntington Beach). Lots of politicians mentioned protecting OC wetlands; I think it's required by law. This guy ended his platform with, "A vote for me is a vote for you." I was tempted to cut out the middle man and just vote for myself again. His opponent was very proud of being a union buster, like he's some tough guy from Chicago or the Bronx. Come on, this is Orange County...unions hold potlucks and go bowling. Going after OC unions is about as classy as attacking Medicare drug plan protestors with baseball bats.

Both of them mentioned cleaning up the mess from Orange County's infamous $2 billion bankruptcy back in 1994. It was then the largest municipal bankruptcy in world history. The lesson learned: don't trust a Democrat to handle large sums of cash. Anyway, we're apparently still reeling from this. I think I'll stay away a while longer.

For Assessor, there were two guys running against the incumbent. Neither seemed to like the incumbent much. The first one asked, "Has your church ever had to file a lawsuit because the assessor's office denied its property tax exemption?" The answer for me is no. Had he also asked about temples and/or mosques, I might have been more willing to get behind this guy. I'm not a practicing Muslim or Jew, but some of my best friends have been, and I just think inclusion is the way to go on religion in the US. Seriously, it sounded like it was code of some kind, and I don't go in for tolerating intolerance.

The other guy sounded fine (he was a Navy S.E.A.L., though I'm not sure what that has to do with being a County Assessor), except that he voted
against the El Toro Airport.

The El Toro Airport issue was one of the great dividing issues between North/West Orange County and South/East Orange County. Basically, a vast Marine Corps Air Station was closed down and Southern California planners (not just in OC, but in neighboring Los Angeles County, the Inland Empire, and San Diego) thought that this would be a perfect place for a desperately needed international airport.

But in a classic case of NIMBY (not in my backyard), the residents in South County (southern/eastern OC) rose up against the plan. Airport noise, planes falling from the sky, cheesy television shows centered around the area, etc., etc. Geez, it's not like their homes weren't
already built around an existing military air base! Bunch of whiners (and I'm from Irvine, by the way, just a few miles from El Toro).

Anyway, I think I ended up voting for the incumbent. (El Toro ended up becoming Orange County Great Park. [UPDATE: A park with a huge orange balloon.])

For District Attorney, there was only one person running. This means either OC's political elite are entrenched, there are too few competent people among OC's three million residents, or the Voting Registrar is too hard to find.

I voted for the incumbent.

Without any bio/platform information on the one guy running for Auditor, I thought about voting for myself, but I wouldn't know what I was doing if somehow I really ended up with the job (like if the guy died or was arrested in some bizarre sex-and-drug scandal or something). I did write myself in for County Superintendent of Schools, but only because I didn't care for the platform of the other two. Having grown up in OC schools, I could show them a thing or two about how much our school system sucks eggs.

I voted yes to all three — expanding pre-school education with a 1.7% tax on individual income over $400,000; constructing and renovating public libraries; and prohibiting the County's use of "eminent domain" to forcibly acquire property from one private party to give to another private party.

So there you have it, the mundanity of voting in Orange County. I wish it were more exciting than that, but it's not. Anything interesting that happens in Orange County has all been rehashed on "The O.C." In season 1. In the first four episodes. The rest of us lead humdrum lives. But as a reward for reading this far, I will give you another picture of Linda Rondstadt.

P.S. The guy I met in Capri, Italy, narrowly lost the nomination. But after Arnold Schwarzenegger beats the pants off Angelides in November, I think Mr. Westly will be back in 2010.

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