OC Political

A right-of-center blog covering local, statewide, and national politics

Will the Fullerton Recall Succeed?

Posted by OC Insider on April 5, 2012

In OC Republican circles, the group consensus seems to be that the success of the Fullerton recall is a foregone conclusion. But is it?

Tony Bushala, the Fullerton developer and owner of the Friends for Fullerton’s Future blog, has spent at least $173,000 ($20K of it from his brother George) to qualify the recall against Fullerton councilmembers Don Bankhead, Dick Jones and Pat McKinley. Due to the timing of when Bushala turned in the signatures, the recall and replacement special elections will be consolidated with the June 5 primary.

Bushala has formed a new committee, Fullerton Residents for Reform, which will be the funding vehicle through which he pays for mail supporting his chosen candidates.

It’s easy to understand why people think the recall is a foregone conclusion: Bushala is a multi-millionaire who is completely focused on the recall, is willing to spend huge sums on it, and the recall targets are old and tired. Plus, there seems to be grass roots support for the recall.

On the other hand, there may be some wishful thinking by recall supporters. Generally speaking, it’s unlikely voters will recall local elected officials like councilmembers, especially ones they’ve been returning to office for years, unless they a) believe there is something seriously wrong with their city and b) voting for a recall will solve the problem(s).

Fullerton is a great and desirable place to live, and I’d be surprised is a majority of voters there think the city is in bad shape, let alone the train wreck recall supporters make it out to be. Plus, leading indicators of a genuine grass-roots campaign are missing. Many of those who show up for recall events or to harangue the council are from outside Fullerton, and outside Orange County. Grass roots would show up in the form of Fullerton residents making donations, small or large, to the recall campaign, yet a review of the campaign finance disclosures show only two Fullerton donors whose last name isn’t Bushala.

Look at it another way. Their genuine outrage at the tragic and senseless killing of Kelly Thomas aside, Bushala and his group took advantage of that situation to basically get a do-over of the 2010 council elections. The primary issues cited by recall supporters are the Kelly Thomas killing and a decades-old 10% water surcharge that turns out to be illegal.

The District Attorney is prosecuting two Fullerton policemen for murdering Thomas and the city’s movement to end the 10% water surcharge let a lot of the air out of those issues. As far as most voters who pay attention to city government see it, those issues are more or less being resolved, weakening the case that the solution is recalling Bankhead, McKinley and Jones.

Recalls are hard to win. In 2001, three Orange Unified School District trustees (one of whom was under house arrest) were recalled, but only after years of controversy and district actions generated wide-spread parent dissatisfaction. Parents organized and teamed with the teachers union to qualify a recall. Even so, the three trustees were recalled by very narrow margins, even though they didn’t work very hard to save their seats.

There are some similarities between the Fullerton recall and the 2010 recall of Mission Viejo Councilman Lance MacLean. In Mission Viejo in 2009, a vocal group of council critics initiated a recall against MacLean in 2009, in hopes of replacing him with one of themselves. Their signature gathering met with slow going and ultimately one of the recall leaders spent thousands of dollars to hire professional circulators to get it on the ballot. The recall election was held in February 2010. MacLean, who only campaigned actively to against his recall in the last few weeks, was recalled by a paper-thin margin of 19 votes out of 14,721 cast. And even that was rendered moot when recall leader Dale Tyler was defeated in the replacement election by Dave Leckness.

The Fullerton recall campaign leaders may have made a major strategic error by submitting their signatures almost a month before the February 16 deadline. If they had waited until that date, the recall/replacement elections would have been a stand-alone special election, probably in July, in which the low-turnout would tilt the odds in favor of the recall. Instead, the recall has been consolidated with the June primary, in which voter turn-out is expected to be in the mid-40 percent. Turn-out in a stand-alone special election would be half that.

The OUSD and Mission Viejo recalls were stand-alone special elections, in which voter turn-out was 21% and 23.9%, respectively. In both cases, the recalls only narrowly succeeded against politically inept incumbents who only sluggishly contested their recalls.

Which is another similarity with the Fullerton recall, one that argues in favor of its success. Dick Jones, Don Bankhead or Pat McKinley don’t appear to be working very hard to save their seats. Jones’ council term ends this December, so he may not care one way or another. Fullerton voters recalled Bankhead in October 1994, and then voted him back on the council a few weeks later, so he’s probably adopting a que sera, sera attitude toward the whole business.

Even if all three councilmembers are recalled, there’s no guarantee they will be replaced by recall supporters. Their best shot is in the Dick Jones seat, where Friends for Fullerton Future blogger and close Bushala ally Travis Kiger is running. Kiger has some big advantages: he can use his planning commissioner title, and he is the only replacement candidate in that seat who paid for a candidate statement in the sample ballot. If Jones is recalled, Kiger is almost certain to replace him.

A number of candidates who ran and lost for Fullerton Council in 2010 are running in the other two replacement elections. Running in the Bankhead seat is Greg Sebourn, a Bushala ally who finished a fairly distant fourth in the 2010 council election. Also running is a Rick Alvarez, who is more or less the establishment candidate. We’ll see if Alvarez can run a strong campaign, and whether Sebourn will run a better campaign than in 2010.

In the McKinley seat, the replacement candidates include Doug Chaffee, Barry Levinson and Matthew Rowe. Chaffee is a Democrat and establishment-type who fell only 90 votes short of being elected to the council in 2010. Levinson is more of Tea Party-type who finished 5th in 2010 with 10.6% of the vote. Rowe is a young-ish, conservative Iraq War veteran.

Even if voters support all three recalls, recall supporters may win only one of the seats. With the exception of Chaffee and Levinson, none of the replacement candidates have shown much ability to raise or loan themselves meaningful campaign warchests. At the end of the day, the election prospects of Kiger, Sebourn and either Levinson or Rowe will largely depend on how money Tony Bushala spends on their behalf through his Fullerton Residents for Reform independent expenditure committee.

All in all, it’s premature to conclude the recalls of Bankhead, Jones and McKinley are sure things. Odds of a successful recall are probably, at this moment, about 50-50.

15 Responses to “Will the Fullerton Recall Succeed?”

  1. Old Man said

    Good, fair analyis. Thank you.

    I, for one, hope Bushala fails. He’s a bully and farce. The only reason there is a recall is because of his checkbook. If Bushala hadn’t paid out the wazoo to hire circulators, his recall would have flamed out fast. Without his millions, Bushala would just be some crank flailing at Dick Jones on his blog and getting stoned, without all these suck-ups and yes-men trailing behind him.

  2. Remember when said

    In 1994, the Fullerton Recalls Committee succeeded in recalling Buck Caitlin, Don Bankhead and Molly McClanahan, but two of the three candidates the committee endorsed lost the replacement election.

    http://articles.latimes.com/1994-10-17/local/me-51374_1_council-members

    Granted, it was a different situation since the replacement election was several weeks after the recall, but still.

    • Billy Budd said

      I read that LA Times link and noticed one of the 1994 recall candidates was David Zenger, who now works in Sup. Shawn Nelson’s office and blogs at FFFF under the name “The Fullerton Harpoon” (and not always on personal time, either!).

  3. I hope the recall succeeds and really don’t think it has anything to do with Bushala. It’s sad that so many people cloud the issue because of his finance ties. While many folks may not like Bushala, he’s certainly entitled to his opinion. His money doesn’t change the fact that the three individuals being recalled absolutely deserve it.

    The real issue is that these three councilmen are an embarrassment to the city they supposedly represent. There’s video after video after video to support this.

    The candidates running to replace the recalled councilmen have very loose or NO ties to Tony Bushala. Just because Bushala has an opinion and is willing to pay to represent it doesn’t mean that the recall is without merit and the replacement candidates are all better options than the persons they propose to replace. The anti-recall machine has done a reprehensible job in stating their case for why they shouldn’t be recalled.

    Their argument is essentially: “I shouldn’t be recalled because Tony Bushala has money.” It ought to be: “I shouldn’t be recalled because I do good things for the people of Fullerton and I’m not an embarrassment.”

    The fact that their slogan is “Fullerton is not for Sale” and not “I’m a good councilman” is pretty telling. They’re jokes and they know it. I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t see straight through this.

    Here are three excellent examples just for McKinley:

    1) In response to the Kelly Thomas case: “I can guarantee you that these two officers had absolutely no intention of killing that man that night.”

    Really? How can you be sure? This is why you need to go– you’re biased and have an absolute disconnect from reality. Look at the pictures! How dare you guarantee their intent. The very least you can do is keep your trap shut. You have absolutely no idea what happened that night, but you at least ought to know that what happened wasn’t right. The fact that you don’t is an embarrassment.

    Here’s the interview so you can see it for yourself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAQd8UFC-HU

    2) In response to the Rincon investigation and allegations of several incidents of sexual misconduct, well, there just aren’t words to describe what he did.

    Watch it yourself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mg3uCUnivlU&feature=player_embedded

    In the same Inside OC interview in pt 1 McKinley stated that he had no idea how the investigation concluded because he wasn’t the chief at the time. Well, that certainly doesn’t jive with his insensitive and abhorrent comments in this video. He also claimed in the Inside OC interview that instituting the Digital Audio Records for standard use was a big success for him. Ricon turned his off. So did another FPD officer who’s being charged in connection with a suicide in the Fullerton Jail. He can’t keep straight in his head what he has said, what he should say, or what he actually does know. He’s an embarrassment and needs to go.

    3) And finally, the same Inside OC Interview . . . Q: Why shouldn’t you be recalled? A: “I just don’t understand the allegations . . .” Q: Do you have anything to apologize for? A “No.”

    He’s clearly out of touch, arrogant, and has no clue that he’s an idiot. The allegations are simple: You’re an insensitive idiot Pat McKinley. What’s so hard to understand? You have lots to apologize for. Your behavior in these to videos to start with. Next is the ridiculous nationally televised interview you did with CNN. During the height of the Kelly Thomas incident I saw your interview during lunch with my co-workers. 10 out of 10 people were so disgusted by you that they got up from the table and left. I don’t want you representing my city and I sure as hell don’t want you representing it on national TV. Your buddies can go with you. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. ANYONE is better than you.

    • Lippy said

      How very articulate. You don’t like Pat McKinley. You called him a bunch of names. Therefore, he must be recalled! Fullerton voters will find the logic irresistable!

      • On June 5th, Fullerton voters will have two choices.

        Voters accept that sarcasm and deflection are enough to warrant keeping the current council.

        Voters accept that candidates should run on their record.

        Seeing how only the candidates not currently occupying the council are running on their records, this means the recall will succeed– but hey, you never know.

    • Oracle said

      It’s disingenuous to say the recall has nothing to do with Tony Bushala, when the only reason there is a recall is because of Tony Bushala, specifically, because of Tony Bushala’s money.

      If Bushala hadn’t spent $170K on paid circulators, there would be no recall. That is an incontrovertible fact. You can’t have Tony make the recall happen, and then claim he has nothing to do with it. His motives, background and beliefs are legitimate issues in this election.

      • It’s probably more disingenuous to say that the recall has everything to do with Bushala than it is to say that the recall has nothing to do with Bushala.

        The only incontrovertible fact on the table is the number of signatures collected to initiate the recall. While I don’t think that anyone will argue that circulators contributed a good number of signatures, to state that they’re responsible for all of them is false; to state that they’re responsible for a majority is probably stretching it as well. There are a lot of fired up people supporting the recall– to discount their emotion and effort is pretty arrogant.

        If Bushala hadn’t spent $170k* (your number, not mine.) there’s no guarantee that the recall wouldn’t have occurred or that some other civic minded Fullerton resident wouldn’t have funded their own campaign. Bushala’s background and beliefs are not materially important in this election on the plain fact that he’s not running to replace a seat.

        What’s important is the electorate’s opinion of the current council as well as their opinion of those who are running. Deflecting the argument to “Who is Tony Bushala?” is a giant red herring, which unfortunately has found quite a bit of ground. Any voter can easily find many reasons to hate Tony Bushala, recall the incompetent council members, and find a replacement candidate that has little or nothing to do with Bushala.

  4. One Who Knows said

    If Tony Bushala wins, Art Pedroza wins. Do you want Art Pedroza to be a winner?

  5. Allan Bartlett said

    That’s the most ridiculous comment ever OWK.

    • Catlett said

      The most ridiculous comment ever is when Travis Kiger said he was honest, independent and analytical. He has been bought and paid for by Bushala–so much for “indepedent” and so much for “honest.” Analytical is debatable.

    • Chris Emami said

      I have to agree with Allan on this one. This is the same logic as stating that if you have cable, then you will end up reenacting scenes from Platoon with Charlie Sheen.

  6. Carole Santa Maria said

    Carole Santa Maria on May 9, 2012 at 9:19 pm
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    This recall is a just the vehicle Bushala needs to get his own people on the council! No way do I want him or any of his people in my city. He’s trying to take over our town, put his people in positions of power, so he can line his own pockets. He’s a bad man!! Rotten to the core! Travis Kiger is a JOKE and Bushala has him on a leash, following orders, doing tricks, and dangling the “carrot” of being on the council as his reward to continue doing Bushala’s bidding. Kiger is nothing more than a puppet with Bushala pulling the strings!! There are way too many idiots in politics and we don’t want to add to the circus! DO NOT VOTE FOR KIGER OR WHITAKER-KEEP OUR CITY FROM RUIN as we don’t need any more clowns in our town!

  7. […] about the chances of the Fullerton recalls passing in the press, on other blogs, and even a little here and here on this blog.  (It is recalls, plural, by the way, since it’s technically three […]

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