ORANGE COUNTY, CA – Scott Baugh, chairman of the Orange County GOP, wasn’t thrilled to hear that the county firefighters union had donated $4,000 to county Supervisor Janet Nguyen’s state Senate campaign.
“I fully expect that money to be going back to the union,” Baugh told me when I called him with the news. “It wouldn’t be the first time candidates have been sent union money and returned it.”
Well, Scott, looks like it’s not going to happen.
Nguyen is the Republican-establishment favorite to battle Democratic former Assemblyman Jose Solorio for the seat being vacated by termed-out Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana. It’s expected to be a tight, heated and costly campaign.
The county party, in what’s been dubbed the Baugh Manifesto, announced in 2010 that it would no longer endorse local candidates who accepted public employee union contributions. The idea is to make sure officials don’t feel beholden to unions when it’s time to negotiate union contracts, particularly on the issue of pensions.
The loophole for Nguyen was that the dictum is for local candidates running for non-partisan office; Nguyen is running for a partisan state legislative seat.
And her consultant, Dave Gilliard, said she would not be returning the union money.
“Janet is proud to have the support of the men and women who are out there risking their lives,” Gilliard said.
If she doesn’t win, Nguyen has two more years on the Board of Supervisors. She has served on the board of the Orange County Fire Authority – which approves employee contracts – and is currently an alternate on the board.
Nguyen has consistently said that she doesn’t play favorites with donors, but Solorio thinks that might be what firefighters have in mind.
“I think they’re hedging their bets and worry that when Janet loses, she’ll still be involved on the Fire Authority board for another two years,” he said.
Solorio’s Senate campaign reports show he received a total of $6,800 from the union in 2011 and 2012. But Orange County Professional Firefighters Association spokesman Joe Kerr said the April 9 interviews with the two candidates resulted in the decision to endorse Nguyen.
“She has intimate knowledge of fire safety in Orange County and has a very thorough understanding of public safety unions,” Kerr said.
When told Nguyen would not be returning the money, Baugh was quick to point out that Nguyen isn’t the first county GOP endorsee for partisan office to have taken union money since the dictum was established – Chris Norby for his 2012 Assembly campaign and Diane Harkey for her current tax board bid.
“My hope is that those running for state and federal offices will not take union money, but the party chairman doesn’t always get his way,” Baugh said. “This in no way diminishes our resolve to defeat Jose Solorio and elect Janet Nguyen.”
Solorio is expected to reap the lion’s share of labor union money, but the firefighters’ donation to Nguyen might make it a wee bit harder to paint him as a union lackey.
BAUGH NOT RUNNING
Meanwhile, in another Orange County Senate district that could open up this year, Baugh has removed himself from the early jockeying for position.
If state Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, is successful in her bid to replace retiring Rep. John Campbell, it would necessitate a special election to fill her seat. Baugh had expressed an interest, but now says he can’t afford to take the time away from his business and family.
Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, also has expressed an interest in the seat, a candidacy Baugh said he supports.