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It’s October, so there are quite a few independent expenditures being conducted to influence the outcome of the mayoral and council races, as well as the balloting on Measure L (which would replace the current at-large council election system with by-district elections. A bad idea).

One IE campaign in particular bears particular attention, and that is the mail campaign being waged against Mayor Pro Tem Kris Murray and Councilwoman Gail Eastman. The vehicle being used is a campaign committee called the California Homeowners Association (CHA), and the funding for the hits is coming from the Tait Family Trust (Tom Tait’s parents) and Fieldstead & Company (quirky Home Savings heir Howard Ahmanson).

On October 10, both entities deposited identical amounts into CHA: $49,750. That’s $99,500 altogether.

So far, CHA has spent $50,103 so far on three hit pieces against Murray and Eastman. They’re entirely predictable and closely hew to the line of attack Tom Tait has pursued for the last two years: the GardenWalk agreement (“$158 million giveaway“), on a 2012 MOU with city employees (which Anaheim Insider posted about yesterday) and falsely accusing them of eminent domain abuse regarding the Anaheim Rapid Connection streetcar.  [Note: even though the three mailers attack both councilwoman equally, only $16,024 of the $50K is attributed to hits on Murray, rather than split evenly.]

That leaves just under $50,000 in the CHA till for Anaheim purposes. Whether that will be used to continue hitting Murray and Eastman, promote Tait and/or Vanderbilt, or hit Lucille Kring remains to be seen.

What is beyond dispute is that Team Tait is pulling out the stops to take out the mayor’s council colleagues. There’s something surreal about the OC Republican Party’s Local Elected Official of the Year waging a very expensive war to take out his two Republican council colleagues – especially when one considers that if Tait is successful, the most likely result is the election of the most left-wing Democrat anywhere in Orange County local government.

There are only two other council candidates running viable campaigns: James Vanderbilt (whom Tait has officially endorsed) and Jose Moreno (Tait has told people he is also supporting). It’s a measure of how desperate the mayor to claim even a ramshackle majority that he’d support replacing one of his conservative Republican with left-winger Jose Moreno, a practitioner of racial-identity politics whose sees government’s role as the re-distributor or of wealth and has never met a tax he wasn’t “open to.”

Some might object these mailers are not Tom Tait’s doing; that it’s an independent expenditure funded by his parents and Howard Ahmanson.

This IE ought to be an embarrassment for Ahmanson, which is saying something of late. The long-time conservative Republican re-registered as a Democrat in 2009, citing the state GOP’s stance against any tax increases during that year’s budget battle and calling “it just a very silly issue.”  

In addition to helping fund the Tait scorched earth campaign against Murray and Eastman, Ahmanson this year has also donated $1,500 to Gov. Jerry Brown’s re-election campaign, gave $4,100 to Karina “Karina” Onofre’s AD74 campaign (I’m not sure if that was before/after she switched her registration back to Democrat from Republican, and $4,100 to Democratic Assemblyman Steve Fox (who holds a traditionally GOP seat).

Ahmanson has also given $3,600 Democratic Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who is fighting fr her life against Republican Young Kim in what is considered the GOP’s top prospect for ending the Democratic super-majority in the Assembly (then, two weeks later, he gave $4,100 to Young Kim’s campaign).

In a way, Ahmanson funding a campaign to replace a conservative Republican councilmember with a left-wing radical isn’t completely surprising. 

[Side note: in may, Ahmanson also donated $500 to Dayan Mathai’s campaign for Superior Court. Mathai’s sister is Mishal Montgomery, Mayor Tait’s council aide and right hand].

WILL IT WORK?
I doubt it. $100,000 seems like a lot of money for an IE campaign. In fact, it is a lot of money. But it needs to be put into the broader perspective of this council campaign in order to soberly judge whether it will be successful. 

The odds favor re-election for Kris Murray and Gail Eastman. Incumbency is a huge advantage, and Mayor Tait knows. To the extent voters like the way things are going and life in their city, they tend to reward incumbents with their votes. It is very rare for an incumbent in Anaheim to lose, and I can’t recall an example of it happening in at least a quarter century (with the single exception of Richard Chavez being edged out by the returning Lucille Kring in 2006). 

Eastman and Murray both have greater name ID than Vanderbilt and Moreno. This is Eastman’s third time on the city-wide ballot in the last six years, and Murray’s second. Vanderbilt and Moreno also been on the ballot, but only in those parts of the city within Anaheim City School District boundaries. And running as trustees of the lowest-performing school district in the city doesn’t necessarily resonate with voters who generally think things are good in Anaheim.

Vanderbilt is completely self-funding his campaign, and has spent $113,000 so far. realistically, however, he’d need to spend at least twice that amount, and probably more, to dislodge either incumbent. He comes across as competent to do the job, but voters generally want a more compelling reason than that for replacing an incumbent who has actually been doing the job. That’s not a knock on Vanderbilt. It’s just reality.

Murray and Eastman have built sizeable warchests to fund robust voter communication programs. and solid accomplishments to communicate. They also have a wide array of endorsements from trusted messengers.

It’s questionable whether the particular hits will work. The Tait Family Trust funded scorching attacks mailers against Jordan Brandman in 2012 – blasting him for the “$158 Million Giveaway.” Brandman was the top-vote getter, even finishing ahead of two-time councilwoman Lucille Kring. He carried the Anna Drive precinct, which we’re told boil with resentment against these “giveaways.” 

Furthermore, there have been at least twice as many independent expenditures in support of Eastman and Murray as Team Tait attacks — and that isn’t counting IEs against Jose Moreno and Vanderbilt.

I have had numerous conversations with many Orange County Republicans about Anaheim in Wonderland. Many have a mental file folder labeled “Things Tom Tait is Doing That I Don’t Like” into which the things like joining the Left’s to push for by-district elections (paving the way for Democratic city council) are filed and forgotten. One friend recently characterized the Team Tait campaign to defeat Murray and Eastman as “payback” for their endorsement of Lucille Kring for mayor. After pointing out their endorsement of Kring came last, I posed this question: “If Lucille Kring had never run for mayor, do you have any doubt Tom Tait would still have recruited two candidates to run against Kris and Gail?” I do not. In the final analysis, this $100,000 bombardment of two good Republicans should be judged against what would be the result of it succeeding: the election of a radical leftist to the city council of Orange County’s largest, most important city and opening the door to further Democratic inroads in Anaheim.