All the Kings Horses

As if we didn’t have enough to concern ourselves with the pandemic, now we get to add another wildfire or two on top of that. We’re fortunate to have some of the best firefighters in the country working for us. That’s a post for another time.

If one were to look at the current state of elections in Tustin, one might think we are having a crisis in leadership. I mean, we have 9 candidates vying for 3 council seats with one incumbent running for re-election. It seems to be a trend, though. Westminster has five candidates running for two seats. Westminster is rife with allegations of corruption and back office deals. So, it’s no wonder they have plenty of candidates to seek office.

Like us, the city of Garden Grove has 9 candidates running for 3 council seats and the mayor’s office. Five of the candidates are running for mayor. Garden Grove has little in the way of corruption but has a huge agenda this coming term, contending with issues like the sale of the Willowick Golf Course (which is curiously located in Santa Ana) and the possible economic collapse of the Habor Blvd. corridor.

Besides the number of candidates running, Tustin also shares another commonality with Garden Grove. There is a lot of campaign money, both light and dark, backing the candidates. And that money is one thing that should alert folks to who they should vote for.

I know a good number of readers have already voted. I haven’t been in a hurry to post this I mean, we have less than a week to go before the official “election day”. And, quite frankly, it’s not my job to tell you how to vote. I just want every eligible person in Tustin to actually vote. For those who haven’t voted yet, I have a few things for you to ponder in case you are having trouble making up your mind. I mean with 9 candidates, which I don’t recall us ever having for a single election, a person needs to cut the field down. Now mind you this is my own way of thinking, your mileage may vary.

If there was anyone to cut immediately, it would be Kurt Bensinger and James Peres. The allegations of mismanagement of campaign funds by the FPPC is a good start. Our good friends over at the Liberal OC had quite a bit to say about the letter sent to the DPOC concerning the issue. Bensworth and Peres have denied any wrongdoing (of course) and blamed their campaign finance manager. Their campaign statements and ensuing multiple amendments make it difficult to see exactly what and from where they received contributions. What a hoot. C’mon guys, the buck stops here. You are ultimately responsible for every dollar (or contribution in kind) your campaign take in. If a person can’t manage their own finances, why would one let them manage the city?

Then there is our retread and what looks to be career politician in the making, Beckie Gomez. If the name sounds familiar it’s because she already spent two terms doing virtually nothing on the Tustin City Council except agreeing with the conservative good ol’ boys on almost every issue that came up. She was supposed to be the liberal voice speaking out for the little guy…uh person while the Three Amigos pushed through their agenda of business over community.

What’s worse is, to keep her name politically alive, Gomez got elected to the OC Board of Education to wait out the term limits thing. And now she is back for round two. Her qualifications make her much better suited to her current job. If she returns to the council dais, we can just expect more what we had. Some of what we can expect is, she will be beholden to the county firefighters association, Tustin Police Officers Association and assorted trade unions, all of whom have contributed heavily to her campaign, directly or through PACs.

Speaking of career politicians, there is current city council person and second term candidate, Leticia Clark. Reading the leading line on her campaign website one would think she has been the shining star of the city council. In reality, she hasn’t made any waves and, from the looks of things, we could expect the same from her in the future. There is this: she is probably one of the most educated persons we have ever had on the city council. Maybe if the people of Tustin were to elect a little more of a moderate crowd to the dais, she could better accomplish what she aims for…. I mean, her platform sounds good but she has had four years to work on it and what has she accomplished?

That leaves five other candidates. Of those, we have one candidate who is far and above the rest in campaign donations with an astounding $128,000 in the campaign chest. Actually, it is much more than that because I didn’t include the last minute reports of donations for Lee Fink.

I had a brief social media conversation with Lee concerning the fact that most of his donors seem to be lawyers. Logically, of course, lawyers are going to back lawyers. He has some pretty hefty donors in there that upped his funding but at least we didn’t see any businesses that do business with the city. That’s a big plus in my book. My only concern is the amount of campaign funding (and expenditures) he received. Fink is probably a record holder for the recipient of funds for a small city council campaign. That leads me to wonder if he is just another career politician in the making (move over, Beckie).

Lee is also a homegrown politician, so there’s that.

Another big recipient of campaign funding is Jorge Valdes. Valdes is another lawyer who received a considerable amount of the $90,000 or so he has reported from his peers. However, the red flag goes up when I see the typical contributions from the OC Biz PAC, a purveyor of dark money, and the sizeable number of auto dealers from the Tustin Auto Center who have contributed. Valdes has also received large contributions from the OC GOP, Lincoln Club and -what could only be assumed a dark money outlet- the “Taxpayers for a Sustainable Economy” (I haven’t checked them out yet but I will). Beholden to business or responsible to the community? You have to make that decision.

One person stands out from the crowd. Chris Cusac is a veteran and a local businessman. He appears to be running a largely self-funded campaign and has relied heavily on non-monetary contributions. He owes allegiance to no business or union. And he seems to be the only one who thinks we need a guiding hand and not significant change. From his website: “Cris is running to make sure our community remains as amazing as it currently is.” Chris has the kind of credentials I like to see in local candidates. Tustin Community Foundation, Veterans Advisory Committee, Chief’s Advisory Board, etc. Although he has only been here 6 years, he has made the most of it and I would think he would put a lot of thought into decisions that have to be made in the coming months.

So there you go. I’m not telling you who I voted for (I voted today) and I won’t tell you who to vote for. At least you have a little more information on some of the candidates (some weren’t worth mentioning). Pick wisely. You’ll have to live with them for the next four years. Oh yeah, there is one other thing: For more than 25 years, our city council has been primarily conservative (bad form to say R & D words in a non-partisan race). Maybe we ought to try a slight shift to the left. Consider it anyway. The fate of the city is in your hands.

About Jeff Gallagher

I am a retired peace officer from the 2nd largest law enforcement agency in Orange County. I live in and love Tustin where my family and I have resided for the past 22 years. I am a highly moderate libertarian that despises hardcore Republicans, Democrats and anyone else who is not willing to compromise for the good of the people.

Posted on October 28, 2020, in elections, Local Government, politics, Tustin City Council. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on All the Kings Horses.

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