Two incumbent state lawmakers, Republican Congressman Steven Choi and Democratic Congresswoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, are seeking election in the redesigned 73rd Assembly District.
Democrats have a notable advantage in voter registration in the district, with the GOP taking third place after voters with no party preference. But the state law that gave California an open primary also dictates that the two candidates with the most votes in the June primary qualify for the November election, so Choi and Petrie-Norris are assured of compete again this fall.
The once-a-decade redistricting process, which aims to balance populations and ensure equal representation for all, has rattled many OC Assembly and Senate districts. The new 73rd District covers Irvine, Costa Mesa and Tustin.
Choi is a Korean American immigrant and former educator (he taught library science, Korean language, and Taekwondo) who previously served as a member of the Irvine School Board and City Council and mayor. He is completing his third term as a representative of the former 68th Assembly District.
Petrie-Norris worked in finance and marketing before beating the incumbent 74th Assembly District seat in a surprise upset in 2018. She won re-election in 2020. Previously a Laguna Beach resident, Petrie-Norris chose to move to Irvine rather than run in the new 72nd District, where three candidates are vying for the seat.
If she remains in Assembly, Petrie-Norrris said she plans to focus on fixing the state’s mental and behavioral health-care system, which she says is ‘fundamentally broken’ and intertwined to the homelessness crisis.
The system is insufficient and lacks proper oversight and accountability, she said.
“I think the legislature has an important job to do to make sure that oversight is strengthened and that the programs and services that are there actually provide real support and real relief.”
Petrie-Norris touted his work securing funding for a pilot program that provided aircraft and technology, including fire modeling, to help fight wildfires; funding to expand the program statewide was included in the proposed budget in January.
She was also active in investigating the causes and consequences of the October oil spill off Huntington Beach. One consequence of this is a plan for the State of Fish and Wildlife to brief local officials in coastal cities annually on preparedness, response protocols, and resources to be recovered in the event of a spill; Petrie-Norris also asked state officials to expedite a workshop on spill response protocols and technologies.
The two candidates are not aligned on many issues, but Petrie-Norris and Choi both said CEQA, the law that requires environmental review of many development projects, has made housing shortages worse and should be reformed – although neither said they had seen a viable proposal on how to proceed.
Choi said he also favors cuts in other regulations. Businesses continue to leave the state due to excessive taxes and regulations, he said, and reducing housing regulations could help cut costs and encourage developers to build more.
To help small businesses, Choi said he’s offering the state to use part of its huge budget surplus (recently reported at $68 billion) to pay off a federal loan to the unemployment insurance trust fund of the state. Businesses must contribute to the fund, so adding interest to borrowing debt increases their costs.
The bill he proposed was defeated in committee in favor of another proposal that would repay part, rather than all, of the loan, so “I think I was partially successful,” he said.
Choi also opposes COVID-19 mandates and said the government should provide information and can make recommendations, but people should make their own decisions on issues such as masks.
While the power of Republican lawmakers is limited by the supermajority of Democrats in Sacramento, Choi said their voices still matter.
“We need a good balance of power here so that there is a healthy debate based on the merits of the bills we put forward,” he said.