When a person returns to a place after being gone for 15 years, it’s natural for that person to assume that a great deal will have changed in that period. I certainly did after returning to Orange County in the summer of 2018, but to my amazement I still find myself recognizing far too many names in prominent circles–names of individuals I reported on back in the 1990s and naively thought would by now have slipped quietly into retirement.
Names like Ed Laird.
On Tuesday, Jan. 29, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved Supervisor Michelle Steel’s request to reappoint Laird to another term on the Orange County Visitors Association–an organization that boosts OC tourism.
Laird is a wealthy Republican donor and Huntington Beach businessman who’s been in involved in politics for many years. I first encountered him back in 1998 or so, while investigating his good friend and fellow Republican Dave Garofalo, the former mayor of Huntington Beach who was so cartoonishly corrupt that he’s now banned from ever holding political office again (when the heat really got turned on Garofalo, he even sold his stupid newspaper–the focus of the corruption allegations swirling about him–to Laird).
Laird runs Laird Coatings Corporation, which manufactures plastic coatings, as well as Air Quality Consultants. “We make the paint for Barbie’s lips,” is how Laird once described his company’s work. A Republican who knew Laird once described him to me as “the reason we need an EPA.”
“He’s right on the issues,” the Republican said, “but, sheesh, he makes you glad there’s someone looking over his shoulder.”
Laird is like the dictionary definition of a “political junkie”–a guy who just loved to dabble in power circles. Back in 1998, when he was still returning my phone calls, I got a bit mischievous and asked him if that was the case.
“That is so insulting,” Laird told me. “I believe in the process. We need good government, and I don’t mind paying for good government.”
Oh, believe him–Laird has been paying for what he considers “good government” for the last generation. Here’s a brief rundown of just some of his campaign donations since the mid-1990s, courtesy the Center for Responsive Politics:
• Former U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher: $16,800
• Former President George W. Bush: $1,800
• Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich: $1,000
• Republican Party National Committee: $1,428
• National Republican Party Congressional Committee: $3,000
• California Republican Party: $8,291
• Orange County Republican Party: $4,750
• Lincoln Club of Orange County: $5,750
So why does Laird, whose experience is in chemistry, manufacturing, and ponying up big bucks for far-right wing politicians, want to sit on the Visitors Association? The answer’s simple, really, and can be found on Laird’s application to sit on the OCVA seems to acknowledge this. In the space for the final question–“Please briefly explain why you wish to serve on this Board, Committee, or Commission”–Laird simply wrote, “Love to travel.”
Is there a better explanation from a man who’s spent his life getting what he wanted? Qualifications, shmalifications–Laird’s a rich white Republican dude in Orange County. Yeah, I know Democrats now hold all the congressional seats here, but Laird is proof that as far as county government is concerned, rich white Republican dudes still get what they want.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.