Toeing the Line
Perennial Democratic candidate Paul Lucas says he’s still in trouble for playing footsie with the Republicans
It’s difficult not to feel bad for Paul Lucas. The longtime Orange County Democratic Party activist who’s running for Garden Grove City Council Nov. 4 is currently unemployed. Although he’s a water engineer by trade, his last job, which he quit a few weeks ago, was stocking shelves at the Costco megastore just south of the city’s historic Main Street.
“It was just too physically demanding,” Lucas says. “Right now, I’m interviewing with a company that does work on a refinery in Torrance.”
But Lucas’ problems extend far beyond his quest for a new job and mounting the latest in what seems like a never-ending series of campaigns for local elected office. In fact, Lucas claims, a group of political enemies within his own party—people he counted as friends just a year ago—have subjected him to a campaign of harassment and intimidation for months.
According to Lucas, these enemies have posted inflammatory comments about him on blogs such as the Orange Juice Blog—including such personal information about him as his former work site—verbally threatened him and even physically assaulted him. “I’ve been constantly harassed by text and e-mail,” he says. “These bullshit letters being posted [on liberal blogs], outing where I worked, using language that would provoke any unstable person having a bad day to come down and take a shot at me.”
Lucas’ problems with his own party began this April, when he signed a letter stating that in 2006, then-Garden Grove councilwoman and current county Supervisor Janet Nguyen, a Republican, provided him with political dirt on State Assemblyman Van Thai Tran, her biggest political rival. (At the time, Lucas was campaigning against Tran for his assembly seat). In his letter, dated April 21, Lucas accused Nguyen of being an unfaithful Republican. “I find it abnormal that a Republican Garden Grove councilwoman would work behind-the-scenes to undermine a sitting Republican Assemblyman,” Lucas wrote.
It’s possible Lucas was already in hot water with his party when he wrote that letter. In a Weekly cover story about Janet Nguyen (See “Dammit, Janet!” Jan. 18), Lucas criticized Nguyen. Lucas was reported to have had a falling out with Nguyen over his refusal to criticize Dina Nguyen (no relation). In fact, Lucas says, his disagreement had nothing to do with Dina Nguyen, whom he didn't know at the time. But some local Democrats who read that story wondered why Lucas was getting involved in Republican politics. And when Lucas signed the April letter for Van Tran’s supporters attacking Nguyen, his Democratic friends figured he’d crossed the line.
The first sign of trouble came when blogger Art Pedroza accused Lucas of being a “Trannie,” local slang for supporters of Tran. Lucas, Pedroza wrote on Orange Juice, “took a sip from the Trannies' cup of Kool-Aid.”
Chris Prevatt, another party activist, believes Lucas’ political career is over. “Paul Lucas has no one but himself to blame for his failure of a political career,” he says. “He refuses to admit he chose to throw his lot in with Van Tran . . . in a misguided effort to gain support from people who would never support him. He has lied to friends and changes his stories so much we cannot tell truth from fiction coming out of his mouth.”
Prevatt, publisher of TheLiberalOC blog, wrote a May 19 post alleging that Lucas’ letter represented a betrayal of his own party and that he deserved to be reprimanded. “He needs to be told, in no uncertain terms, that to be working on behalf of Van Tran and his allies is to be working against the core values of the Democratic Party of Orange County.”
The same day Prevatt wrote those words, the Democratic Party’s executive board held a meeting to determine whether to reprimand Lucas. The measure failed, according to Melehat Rafiei, executive director of the Orange County Democratic Party, who attended the meeting. “I had a duty to bring this [letter] up to the central committee, and a whole bunch of hoopla went down,” she says. “I don’t care. I had nothing against him and still don’t. I wasted two weeks of my life over a stupid two-paragraph letter he wrote. . . . I think he is a little paranoid. He thinks everyone is out to get him, but no one is. Our goal is to register as many Democrats as possible and get as many as possible elected to local office. Paul Lucas is not on anyone’s radar as far as being a priority.”
Although Lucas came through the reprimand vote unscathed, he’s not in a forgiving mood. He insists he never did anything wrong and denies he had any inappropriate relationship with Tran. “There is no relationship to speak of,” he says. “He’s just a guy I bump into now and again. They asked me if I would come forth with what Janet had told me. I looked at it like, this isn’t going to hurt Democrats at all. It would get Republicans fighting and exhausting their resources.”
He also claims that while that vote took place, he was assaulted by Marc Sussman, a staffer for Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. “They were trying to get me,” he says. “Using Stasi language—‘Confess your sins!’ and all that. So they question me, send me outside and deliberate. I’m out on the landing, and Sussman is going on and on and badgering me. He kept trying to physically accost and restrain me, and I try to push him away, and he tries to step on my feet to keep me from moving away. He fucked up one of my toes.”
Sussman denies he ever touched Lucas. “Paul and I were friends in the beginning of 2008, and I hope we are friends in the end of 2008,” he says. “We need to come together as Democrats and get along and stop all this gossiping and infighting and just work together.”
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).