Rouda, Petrie-Norris near primary election finish line

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Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) and Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) are campaigning for reelection. (Photos by Daniel Langhorne)

A pair of high-profile Laguna Beach Democrats are seeking reelection by coastal Orange County voters Tuesday.

In 2018, Rep. Harley Rouda of the 48th Congressional District and Assemblywoman Cottie-Petrie Norris of the 74th Assembly District unseated incumbents in districts that were historically Republican-dominated and continue to lean red.

Rouda’s district is split 38% Republican, 32% Democrat, and 24.7% no-party preference, according to the Orange County Registrar of Voters. Petrie-Norris represents a district that’s 35.4% Republican, 33.7% Democrat, and 25.7% no-party preference.

Rouda has staked his recent reelection on pushing back against an administration that’s resistant to the science of climate change, nudging the Federal Aviation Administration to reform the satellite-based guidance system, and calling on the U.S. Senate to pass legislation to end gun violence.

“I’m proud to be a gun safety candidate because it’s past time for leaders to protect our families from violence,” Rouda wrote in a Facebook post last month.

In 2018, the former business attorney switched parties and was part of the Democratic sweep of Orange County’s congressional districts. Rouda endorsed former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg for presidents.

Rouda’s likely Republican challenger in November is Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel. Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel. In January 2019, President Donald Trump appointed Steel as co-chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The panel is charged with interfacing with federal agencies to improve the health, education, and economic status of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

On Monday, Rouda joined 23 members of Congress in signing a bipartisan letter to U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro requesting a report on lapses in TRICARE health benefits for National Guard and Reserve personnel and their families.

“Too often, our brave National Guard and Reserve personnel and their families experience issues accessing the health care benefits they earned serving our country — it’s unacceptable,” Rouda said in a prepared statement. “The least we could do for our soldiers is to cut through the red tape and find out why these lapses in benefits are occurring. I look forward to reading the Comptroller General’s report and finding common-sense solutions to right these wrongs.”

Petrie-Norris has prioritized bringing state resources to Orange County to mitigate Laguna Beach’s very-high wildfire risk, advocated for revitalizing the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa as part of the county’s solution for emergency housing, and secured $2.9 million to end Veteran homelessness in Orange County through a partnership with OC United Way.

In October 2019, Laguna Beach announced it would receive $1 million earmarked in the state budget to create additional fuel modification zones that separate homes and evacuation routes from the wildfire-prone vegetation growing in open spaces.

“Over 70 percent of our Laguna Beach neighbors live in a High Fire Hazard Severity Zone, and we’re working to mitigate this risk,” Petrie-Norris wrote in a prepared statement in October. “I am proud to have partnered with Mayor [Bob] Whalen to secure $1 million in state funds to protect lives, property and our community.”

Laguna Beach hasn’t received the funding and is waiting to hear back from the State Natural Resources Board on next steps.

Fred Smoller, professor of political science at Chapman University, said both Laguna Beach locals face competitive races in November because voter registration is stacked against them.

“They have an advantage because they are incumbents and I’m sure they’ve worked really hard to strengthen their reelection prospects,” Smoller said.

Considering the history of devastating wildfire in Laguna Beach, it’s understandable why voters would appreciate Petrie-Norris’ track record of securing state dollars for fire prevention in her district, Smoller said.

“Constituents want to see that their elected official is going to go bat for them,” he said.

Petrie-Norris is running against two Republican challengers: Newport Beach city councilmember Diane Dixon and deputy district attorney Kelly Ernby.

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