Jim Righeimer is the new mayor of Costa Mesa. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot / December 13, 2012)

'Ridiculous lawsuit'

"One day it dawned on me, these political issues," Righeimer says. "I understand them. I follow them. I watch them. I know when people are being snookered."

That's how he describes his entry into politics, which for him seemed like a natural step from his business leadership roles.

Before moving to Costa Mesa in 2006, for 18 years Righeimer lived across the Santa Ana River in Fountain Valley, about a mile from his current home near the Mesa Verde Country Club. He says the manicured, upscale Costa Mesa neighborhood reminded him of his hometown Lincolnshire.

In 2000, Righeimer ran for the state Assembly's 67th District. He lost in the open primary to Tom Harman, though not without an unofficial recount.

It took a ruling from a federal judge in Sacramento to determine that Righeimer's constitutional rights weren't violated by the open-primary system enacted with the 1996 voter approval of Proposition 198. Righeimer contended that if the race counted only Republicans, he would've edged out Harman, who ended up getting voter support from Democrats and independents.

"The party is who we really are. It's what we're all about," Righeimer told the Huntington Beach Independent at the time. "And I felt that the Republican voters here had made their choice and [I] owed it to them to see the whole thing through."

Harman, however, took offense. According to the Los Angeles Times, the California GOP supported Righeimer and challenged Harman, who went on to serve the 67th District from 2000 to 2006.

"I am greatly disturbed by the fact that the California Republican Party and its state chairman, John McGraw, supported and encouraged this totally unnecessary and ridiculous lawsuit," Harman told The Times.

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Loyalty to his friends

Baugh, who doesn't do business with Righeimer, only sharing the Newport office suite, met him some 18 years ago. The have been "great friends" ever since.

After returning from Sacramento during his Assembly terms, Baugh recalls a determined Righeimer meeting him on Thursday nights. They'd work 'til the wee hours to the point where "our wives would call and wonder when we were gonna finish up," Baugh says.

"There's a loyalty for his friends that is second to none, deeper than anything I've seen in people," Baugh adds. "I don't know where he gets it, but it's deep."

He says Righeimer, a real estate expert, is "the kind of friend that everybody wants. He'll bend over backwards and sacrifice to help his friends out of any situation."

There was a time when Baugh needed help with a property he had in Fort Bidwell. Getting to the remote Northern California town involved a flight to Reno, then a drive four hours north.

"He went with me," Baugh said. "We did an overnight trip ... it's just another example of a guy who sees his friend struggling with a transaction."

Righeimer is generous with his time, Baugh said. "If you had a nickel for every hour he's helped his friends, he'd be a wealthy man."

Former Daily Pilot Editor Tony Dodero met Righeimer in the early 1990s and years later made him a conservative columnist.

"I have a lot of good friends who dislike him, and I just have to agree to disagree with them," Dodero says. "I like him a lot, and I think he's a stand-up guy ... he knows that I don't share his politics. I don't think that's ever made a difference to him."