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Janet Q. Nguyen (born 1976) is the County Supervisor from the First District of Orange County, Californiamarker. She won her seat following a historic special election where two Vietnamese-American candidates received half of the total votes cast in a field of 10, separated from each other by only 7 votes. She was sworn in on March 27, 2007, after a lengthy court battle. She won a full, four-year term in 2008 in another historic election when all three major candidates were Vietnamese Americans.

She is the youngest person to be elected to the board of supervisors, the first woman to be elected from the First District, and the first Vietnamese-American county supervisor in the United Statesmarker. Prior to her election to the Board of Supervisors, she served as a city council member for the City of Garden Grovemarker.

Personal life

Nguyen was born in Saigonmarker, Vietnammarker. Her family joined millions of others in becoming boat people when she was five, coming to Californiamarker in 1981. They first lived in San Bernardinomarker, but settled in Garden Grovemarker in early 90's. She attended the University of California, Irvinemarker, at first to become a doctor but later majored in political science after she was inspired by then-Supervisor Bill Steiner. She is married to Tom Bonikowski.

Special Election 2007

The election of Supervisor Lou Correa to the California State Senate in the 2006 election left his supervisorial seat vacant. Ten candidates filed for the seat in the February 6, 2007 special election, including three Vietnamese Americans, who are all Republicans. While the 1st District Supervisorial seat is officially non-partisan, the leading candidate was California State Assemblyman Tom Umberg (who had just left office two months before), a Democrat who had the full support of the labor unions. While the Republican Party did not endorse a candidate, most party leaders were backing Carlos Bustamante.

With three Vietnamese-American candidates, the large Vietnamese-American community who comprise a quarter of registered voters in the First District was galvanized. Janet Nguyen's main opponent, Garden Grove Unified School District Trustee Trung Nguyen, had the support of State Assemblyman Van Tran. Issues that the candidates discussed included illegal immigration to the United States, one that county supervisors do not have the authority to affect.

The debate was more heated within the Vietnamese-American community, with accusations flying back and forth between the two Nguyen camps. Trung Nguyen was insulted as a "fob" and his campaign photoshoped Trung Nguyen in a photo next to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger while Janet Nguyen was criticized for not being fluent in Vietnamese. Pundits speculated that the three Vietnamese-American candidates would split the Vietnamese-American vote, allowing Umberg to easily win election.

With high absentee voter turnout among the Vietnamese-American community, it became clear on election night that Janet Nguyen and Trung Nguyen were leading. Umberg and Bustamante were in third and fourth place, respectively, and quickly conceded defeat. At the end of the night, Janet Nguyen was leading by 52 votes. When all the votes are counted on the following day, however, Trung Nguyen was leading by seven votes. Janet Nguyen requested a recount, and the final result was 10,919 votes for Janet Nguyen and 10,912 votes for Trung Nguyen. Janet Nguyen was certified the winner.

However, Trung Nguyen's lawyers filed lawsuit challenging the recount, alleging that the Registrar of Voters improperly voided votes for him and awarded votes to Janet Nguyen in the recount. The Board of Supervisors postpone inaugurating Janet Nguyen pending the lawsuit. On March 26, she was named the winner, winning by just 3 votes. She was sworn into office on March 27, 2007.

After losing the lawsuit in the Orange County Superior Court, Trung Nguyen's lawyers filed an appeal to the California District Court of Appeals. The District Court of Appeals ruled against Trung Nguyen and upheld the Superior Court's decision. Refusing to stop there, Trung Nguyen's lawyers filed an appeal to the California Supreme Court. The California Supreme Court denied to hear the appeal.

2008 election

While special elections for Orange County Supervisor are decided by plurality vote, regular elections for Orange County Supervisor are decided by majority vote. Should no candidate capture a majority of the vote, then the top two candidates advance to a run-off election.

In light of the closeness of her initial election in 2007, it was widely expected that Janet Nguyen would be forced into a November 2008 run-off election. However, Janet Nguyen won 56.6% of the vote in the June 2008 election, avoiding a November run-off. Garden Grove Councilmember Dina Nguyen, a fellow Republican who received the strong support of Assemblyman Van Tran and his machine (including former candidate, Trung Nguyen), won only 27.7% of the vote while Democratic activist Hoa Van Tran won 15.7% of the vote.

A controversial vote

The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted against proposed restaurant rating systems in December 2008. "Supervisor Janet Nguyen opposed any change to the system, saying restaurant owners already face "hundreds of regulations," according to the Los Angeles Times. [444820]

It turned out that Nguyen had a reason to vote against the ratings. "Her husband and chief of staff are co-owners of a sandwich shop in Stanton and she reports income from her husband's food-related job on her public disclosure," according to the O.C. Register. [444821]

Nguyen's husband, Tom Bonikowski, and Chief of Staff, Andrew Do, c-own a Lee's Sandwiches franchise, according to the Bolsavik blog. [444822]

"Inspectors found major and minor health violations (pork stored at improper temperatures; signs of vermin) at Bonikowski's Stanton franchise this past July. In fact, all of the Lee's Sandwiches listed in the county's database have been found to have major and minor violations during inspections this past summer," according to the O.C. Weekly. [444823]

Nguyen also collected over $12,000 from over 20 restaurants and food companies in 2008. Many of these businesses have been cited for health violations, according to the Orange Juice blog. [444824]

Electoral history

  • 2007 Orange County Board of Supervisors, 1st District
    • Janet Nguyen (R), 10,919 - 24.1%
    • Trung Nguyen (R), 10,912 - 24.1%
    • Tom Umberg (D), 9,725 - 21.4%
    • Carlos Bustamante (R), 7,460 - 16.5%
    • Mark Rosen (D), 2,181 - 4.8%
    • Brett Elliott Franklin (R), 1,739 - 3.8%
    • Kermit Marsh (R), 1,335 - 2.9%
    • Larry Phan (R), 417 - 0.9%
    • Lupe Moreno (R), 383 - 0.8%
    • Benny Diaz (D), 273 - 0.6%

  • 2008 Orange County Board of Supervisors, 1st District
    • Janet Nguyen (R), 21,350 - 56.6%
    • Dina Nguyen (R), 10,465 - 27.7%
    • Hoa Van Tran (D), 5,928 - 15.7%


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