Four-year Laguna Beach resident Ari Grayson will challenge Republican incumbent John Moorlach for California’s 37th Senate District in the November election.
In the wake of his decision, Grayson recently resigned as president of the Laguna Beach Democratic Club and signed off as co-host of the KX 93.5 radio talk show “Laguna Round Table.” For the last two years, he and co-host Jim Kennedy each week interviewed leaders on topical policy issues.
“Good government isn’t just about what you’re saving, it’s what you’re costing people,” said Grayson, in an interview Wednesday, referring to his fiscally conservative opponent’s stance against raising the minimum wage and desire to abolish public pensions.
“If you don’t have disposable income, you don’t create jobs,” Grayson said. “Even Henry Ford understood that.”
Grayson pointed to the innovative characteristics of the electric carmaker Tesla as embodying the keys to California’s economy and future: higher education, environmental stewardship, energy independence and economic vibrancy.
“We are never going to bring back manufacturing jobs. If we are going to have a 21st century economy, that demands an educated population,” he said.
At the party convention in February, Grayson said three Democratic leaders, including state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon and Orange County Democratic Party chair Henry Vandermeir, urged him to contest the race.
“Whenever possible, we try to have a horse in the race,” said Vandermeir, who nevertheless explained that the local Democratic Party focuses its resources on countywide races and only competitive contests with little registration advantage are likely to draw state party backing. “He’s got his work cut out for him,” Vandermeir said this week.
Orange County remains the state’s last Republican stronghold. The contested Senate district spans the coastlines between Huntington and Laguna Beach and reaches inland across Irvine to Orange and portions of Anaheim Hills. Nearly 1 million residents, or a third of the county’s population, reside within the district’s borders. About 41 percent of its 463,000 registered voters identify as Republicans, though Democrats hold slight leads in Laguna Beach and Irvine, data from the county registrar shows.
Campaigning in a district with a 12 percent registration disadvantage “is a matter of idealism and dedication to the two party system,” said Aliso Viejo attorney Steve Young, a Democrat, who has run for Congress and state Senate in south-county districts without success in the last decade. “Frankly, I think they’re heroes,” he said of such long-shot efforts.
Without intra-party opponents in California’s June primary, the Moorlach and Grayson race will heat up in the fall. Young isn’t placing any bets. He thinks the GOP does a better job than his own party of backing long-odds candidates by taking the “long term view,” providing financial support for campaigns that ultimately woo voters into the party.
Grayson’s political counterweight on radio thinks the freshman candidate has a strong grasp of issues. “It’s up to voters to decide if they value a fresh opinion and knowledge of the Laguna Beach area,” said Kennedy, a technology consultant from Irvine.
Moorlach, 60, of Costa Mesa, served a cumulative 20 years in elected posts as county supervisor and treasurer before he won the state office in a special election last March by defeating fellow Republican Donald P. Wagner.
Wagner, a six-year office holder who cannot seek re-election due to term limits, had signaled his interest in the Senate district also, but decided not to take on an incumbent, chief of staff Sam Cannon said this week from Sacramento. Wagner represents the 68th Assembly District, which includes the cities of Anaheim, Irvine, Lake Forest, Orange, Tustin and Villa Park.
Grayson, 55, said he hired Deborah Skurnik to manage his first-ever campaign for elected office. He teaches part time at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona and also works as a design consultant. His doctoral thesis from the University of Michigan spanned the disciplines of architecture, engineering and psychology to explain the affect of light on comfort and well-being.
He says party leadership recruited him because of his involvement in the 70-member Laguna Democratic Club, where he drew attention to progressive causes in recent years with high-level speakers such as activist Tom Hayden and Attorney General Kamala Harris.
“We were preparing Ari to run for City Council,” said Nick Hernandez, who succeeded Grayson as president of the club. “This is perfect. Win or lose, he’ll get a lot of name recognition.”
Photo: Ari Grayson