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Blue State/Red District

Blue State/Red District: What Do the Suburbs Want?

Seven Republican congressional districts in California went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. CA-4 was not one of them but Democrats are hoping to unseat Tom McClintock in November.

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Kelly Candaele

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CA-4’s Gold Country counties are recipients of an urban exodus fueled by affordable housing, a desire for good schools and the expansion of high-tech jobs into suburbia.


 

On the day of her funeral, Barbara Bush’s image beamed down from an electronic billboard along Interstate 80 outside of Sacramento, along with a quote: “Believe in something bigger than yourself.” Her image and words lasted five seconds before an insurance ad flashed up.

As an unofficial welcome to California Congressional District 4, which includes suburban and exurban Placer and El Dorado counties, plus several other rural and sparsely populated counties, the former first lady’s image is apt. Her husband and son both carried the district by wide margins in the presidential elections of 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2004. While no friend of the Bushes, Donald Trump won the district with 54 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 39 percent.


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There are seven congressional districts in California with Republican incumbents that Clinton won but CA-4 is not one of them. What gives Democrats buoyancy here is the general chaos of the Trump presidency, along with positive results of special elections elsewhere in the country, and some solid-looking candidates running in the CA-4 Democratic primary. Conservative Republican Tom McClintock, who actually lives 15 miles outside of District 4, first won the seat in 2008, when his Democratic opponent got within 1,800 votes. In the last four races, he has beaten every challenger by at least a 20 percent vote margin.

If CA-4 is dicey as a flippable district, part of the reason is because of demographics (it has relatively few Latinos or Asians) and because, in many ways, McClintock’s hard-line anti-immigration policies and close hewing to President Trump fit the district’s conservative tilt. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, over 26,000 people in CA-4 were enrolled in an Affordable Care Act (ACA) health plan in 2017 and another 49,000 gained coverage from the expansion of Medicaid. McClintock voted against the January 2017 congressional budget resolution to repeal Obamacare – a resolution that Trump supported – only because it did not go far enough in repealing the ACA. The political analysis site FiveThirtyEight has McClintock, some of whose largest contributors are real estate developers with projects in his district, voting in line with Trump’s wishes about 86 percent of the time.

Main Street, Placerville.

McClintock has shown no sympathy for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students, describing the program as an “unconstitutional usurpation of legislative authority,” and he is a reliable vote against a woman’s right to have an abortion. The large mega churches that often accompany suburban sprawl, like Bayside Church in Granite Bay, with its 12,000 members, help anchor the district’s culturally conservative base with a mixture of Christian/New Age uplift and entrepreneurial flair.

On a recent Friday afternoon, while watching her son play Little League baseball at a Roseville park, Heather McCarthy reflected on why she has become increasingly active in politics. “I’ve never been concerned that our political system could be taken over by billionaires and corporate interests,” she said, “so it has been a wake-up call for me.”

McCarthy, a Roseville real estate agent, participated in the Sacramento Women’s March last January, but has not followed the congressional race closely. She has a college degree, is not particularly ideological and is concerned that the Trump tax reduction, which McClintock supported, will mainly benefit the wealthy and explode the deficit. “I don’t think the average person realizes how disproportionate the benefit is, or how the Republican Party that used to be fiscally conservative has abandoned that.” she added.

Two articulate women candidates, Jessica Morse and Regina Bateson, have experience in policymaking and have demonstrated an ability to attract supporters and raise money, and now lead a field of four Democratic primary contenders. In rural Calaveras County, where Mark Twain invented his story about jumping frogs, ordained minister and Democratic Party activist Mickey Williamson outlined the long-shot logic of her party’s campaign at a park in Angels Camp. Williamson says the political atmosphere feels different this year: “The [Democratic] candidates are moving up and down the district, events are happening, thousands of dollars are being raised. It’s just a different ball game than we have ever had before.”

Robin McMillan Hebert.

Williamson has a worry, however: That after the June 5 primary, supporters of the losing candidates will stay home, replicating some of the internecine fighting that characterized the Clinton/Sanders contest and which continues to roil the Democratic Party throughout the country.

While most of CA-4 is rural, the key geographic areas where the majority of voters live, and where elections are won or lost, are found along the I-80 and I-50 corridors — places whose dairy farms and orchards not too long ago reached to the outskirts of Sacramento. The cows have been replaced by “Tuscan”-style housing estates with names like Serrano Village, and by retirement communities, large retail centers, high-tech business parks — and relatively few people of color. Over 70 percent of the congressional vote will come from here.

Ricardo Calixtro holds a Bible as he stops to talk in front of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church after services one April Sunday. An anti-abortion banner hangs on the front of the church asking for prayers for the unborn. He says that the abortion issue is the first priority for him and that it would be difficult to vote for someone who does not share that position.

Calixtro, a registered Democrat who lives in Murphys, a town tucked in the Sierra foothills, works three jobs as a bartender, baker and house cleaner. “I don’t mind working hard,” he says, “but it’s hard for a regular Joe trying to make it on minimum wage.” Calixtro voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary and, later, for the Libertarian Gary Johnson for president.

When told that McClintock agrees with him on abortion but is opposed to raising the minimum wage because it would “hurt minorities,” Calixtro becomes speechless for a long half minute. “Wow, that’s a tough one,” he finally responds. He says he is contemplating leaving the area for better opportunities: “I’ve heard Oklahoma and Kentucky are good states to live in right now.”

Calixtro is not the stereotypical working-class voter duped by “cultural” issues instead of watching out for his own economic interests. Yet President Trump has triggered feelings and responses that are pulling many voters away from single issues like guns and religion that previously determined their vote.

Others are sticking with Trump and McClintock despite the president’s seemingly daily scandals. In Placerville, an old gold-mining town along the route to Lake Tahoe, Trump supporter and former correctional officer Robin McMillan Hebert was concerned that gun rights and public safety were under threat. “I believe in law and order, otherwise there would be chaos — and I don’t believe in chaos,” she said. “Sacramento is a good example. There have been a lot of recent protests there.” A registered Republican, she compares President Trump’s treatment of women to Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy’s. “I’m not going to expect someone to be perfect when I myself can’t be perfect.”

In Roseville, a man who works for the city utility company and is a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, talked about the threat of outsiders.

“I’m tired of seeing cities burning down, and all the lawlessness,” he said, directing traffic for his crew of municipal workers. “It started with Occupy Wall Street.” He added that homeless people were like cats: “If you feed them they keep coming back.”

The man, who refused to give his name, said his wife is a vice principal at a local public school, and claimed she “got emotional” last January and went to the local Women’s March. He believes it was organized “not to defend women but to hate Trump.” He also thinks that homosexuality is morally wrong and is “pushed in your face” by liberals.

He said he supports McClintock but is reluctant to talk publicly about electoral politics because he thinks liberals will “throw a brick” at him if he expresses his opinions. “Now we have to accept transgender. Come on.”

Placer and El Dorado counties are recipients of the flight from cities — an exodus fueled by affordable housing, the desire for good schools and the expansion of high-tech jobs into suburban and exurban environments. Indeed, the suburbs surrounding Sacramento were among the top 25 growth areas in the country between 2015 and 2017.


Retiree: “Men have screwed it up a bit,
let’s put some smart ladies in there.”


The evolution of such suburbs is complex. In general suburbs are becoming more diverse and increasingly polarized economically, and more people are living in them today than in cities.

Following the June primary, Democratic frontrunners Morse or Bateson will have to work to attract significant numbers of Republican moderates and those with no party preference if Democrats are to pull off another Conor Lamb-type upset and topple McClintock. And since registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by over 60,000 voters, many Republicans will also have to stay home in November for such a reversal to occur.

Two local residents — former Republicans who intend to vote for a Democrat — explained why they think it’s possible for a Democrat to win here.

Jack Chittick stands on his front lawn in Sun City, a retirement community in Roseville built by Del Webb. Instead of carpool lanes, Sun City has lanes for golf carts. Chittick, an 84-year-old retiree who was a top executive at the Pirelli Tire Company, points to the hardcore Republicans who walk past his house to the golf course across the street. “I like the cleanliness of this place,” he says, “the golf course, the big homes, the shopping areas and the good hospitals.”

He doesn’t think McClintock represents the average person in the district and wants a congressperson who can make the tax structure fair for the middle class. Reflecting on his life, he admits he got “carried away” with his career as a corporate manager and the values that came with it. “I had achieved everything by myself,” he once believed, “so why couldn’t everyone?” But he had a change of heart when his wife started working with the homeless, and pointed out to him that the challenges they face were enormous.

“Democrats have a 50-50 chance,” he says, handicapping the race. “Men have screwed it up a bit, let’s put some smart ladies in there,” he adds, referring to Morse and Bateson. “I’m sure they couldn’t do worse, and they could do a lot better.”

Bob Toste is another Roseville retiree and former Republican, who “bought into the trickle down theory” before it registered with him that birth determines economic class more than any other factor. He is careful about who he talks to about politics in his neighborhood, especially on immigration issues. Toste wants someone who is sympathetic to the undocumented immigrant students called Dreamers and is angered by McClintock’s vote to repeal Obamacare. “I have good health insurance, having retired from a utility. But health insurance for our nation is very important for me. And trying to go back on that right now is horrendous,” he said.

If the Republican National Committee and its well-funded conservative political action committees pour money into CA-4 after the June primary to shore up McClintock, it will be an indication that the party brand is in deep trouble.

Come November here, Barbara Bush’s billboard admonition might come to pass. Sun City retiree Jack Chittick also wants voters to believe in something bigger than themselves – a change of political heart in District 4.


Video and images by Kelly Candaele.

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Blue State/Red District

Blue State, Red Districts: Investigating California’s Conflicted Constituencies

Our Blue State/Red District series investigates seven red districts that returned GOP incumbents to the House but voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and the policy rifts between congressional representatives and their constituents.

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In 2016, California’s 14 Republican-held congressional districts returned all GOP incumbents to the House of Representatives. However, majorities in seven of those districts chose Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump for president. The districts were located in places long associated with rock-ribbed conservatism: The High Desert, Orange County, interior San Diego County and the Central Valley.

Our Blue State/Red District series investigates those seven red districts, the challenges shaping their destinies and the policy rifts between congressional representatives and their constituents. Our reporters spoke to residents, both Republican and Democrat, to learn which issues they consider important as well as which may be flying under the radar — but could have profound effects on American politics.


CA 49 (Northern and Central San Diego County) — Kelly Candaele. Co-published by International Business Times.

CA 48 (Coastal Orange County) — Judith Lewis Mernit. Co-published by The American Prospect.

CA 10 (Central Valley) — Larry Buhl. Co-published by International Business Times.

CA 25 (High Desert) — Steve Appleford. Co-published by International Business Times.

CA 21 (San Joaquin Valley) — Larry Buhl.

CA 45 (Orange County) — Judith Lewis Mernit. Co-published by International Business Times.

Tomorrow:

CA 4 (The Gold Country) — Kelly  Candaele.


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Blue State/Red District

Blue State/Red District: The Dream Coast Under Pressure

Co-published by International Business Times
Darrell Issa, like the voters in his district, was a man under pressure. He put his finger in the air to test the political winds and then realized it was the ground beneath his feet that was moving.

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Kelly Candaele

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The 49th District is where changing demographics and Trumpism’s existential jolt have exposed political fissures that
have yet to be re-aligned.


 

Co-published by International Business Times

Cole Morgan is a 21-year-old student at Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, California and lives with his parents in nearby San Clemente. He worries about the skyrocketing cost of obtaining a college degree and what he claims is the unwillingness of insurance companies to pay for treatment of a rare form of muscular dystrophy that he suffers from.


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Like many people who struggle with serious health issues, his own pain has opened him to the pain of others. Soft-spoken and measured in his assessments, he comes across as a seasoned politician, speaking a language less of “resistance” than of aspiration. When he looks at the world around him, Morgan, a registered Democrat, sees “class stratification,” “casual racism” and a “parallel reality” of pseudo facts that cripple our ability to make coherent political judgments. He’s especially concerned that other young people are not discerning enough about where they obtain information and how they assimilate it.

One Oceanside mother of three military sons believes that periodic wars are inevitable and plans to vote for politicians who can keep our enemies at bay. She is a fan of Donald Trump.

Darrell Issa is the Republican Congressman representing the 49th Congressional District, which includes Cole Morgan and many other constituents troubled by the California they find themselves living in. Issa recently announced that he would not seek re-election in CA-49, although he’s left open the door to running in a neighboring and more conservative District. The 49th runs from San Juan Capistrano in the north to La Jolla in the south and inland from Oceanside to Vista; it is geographically divided between Northern San Diego County and Southern Orange County by Camp Pendleton and the nearby San Onofre nuclear power plant.

For years U.S. Marines, both active at Camp Pendleton and retired, have anchored the district in patriotic and conservative politics. Teresa Jones, an Oceanside resident and mother of three military sons, believes that periodic wars are inevitable and plans to vote for politicians who can keep our enemies at bay. She is a fan of Donald Trump, emphasizing that she has “a sound mind” and is “not influenced by the media.”

(Meanwhile, the power plant, which began operating in 1967 and shut down in 2013 after a radiation leak, now sits inert. It still, however, holds 3.5 million pounds of spent radioactive waste, a gift that keeps on giving.)

The 49th District is now a turf where changing demographics and Trumpism’s existential jolt have exposed political fissures that have yet to be re-aligned.

“I want to see one house of Congress independent from the presidency,” says a Vista attorney and registered Republican.

According to Jim Hagar, a Vista attorney and registered Republican, the city has grown from a small community heavily populated with retired military personnel when he first moved there 45 years ago, into a suburb of 100,000 sustained by new business parks and the nearby California State University, San Marcos. “Younger folks represent a higher percentage than they [did] when I first moved here,” he said at a local farmer’s market.

Hagar believes President Trump is a “14 year old trapped in a 70-year-old man’s body,” and wants to see a congressman who will not simply follow the line of the national Republican Party. “I want to see one house of Congress independent from the presidency — that will be a factor in my vote,” he said.

Growing Latino Clout

Now Hiring,” reads a large plastic sign hanging on the outside wall of the Customs and Border Patrol Station on the I-5 just north of Camp Pendleton. The message indicates one of the sources of tension that divide the district. Anti-immigration hard-liners want beefed-up border security and “the wall.” Younger voters, including some moderate Republicans, would prefer that investments be made elsewhere – in education and health care.

Vista, which is home to Issa’s Congressional office, is over 48 percent Latino, the highest percentage of any sizable city in the 49th District, but has only one Latino on its five-member city council.

“It’s sad to hear about families being separated, especially when [the] moms and dads [are] being taken away and their kids have to stay here,” says Marlen Martinez.

As a result of voting rights lawsuits threatened by the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project and Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman, Vista, Carlsbad and Oceanside — all of which currently have at-large elections which diminish minority representation — will be conducting districted elections for the first time in 2018. Local activists believe that districted elections will increase turnout this November, impacting the congressional election as previously disenfranchised voters show up to vote.

Demographic Balances in Five Cities

In Barrio Carlsbad, one of Carlsbad’s oldest neighborhoods, Simon Angel sits at a table outside of Lola’s Mexican Market & Deli as the sun fades. Angel regards Issa as a polarizing figure. “I look at his votes over his 16-year career, which shows he just has no empathy or feeling for everyday working men and women,” he says. “Issa says he wants to work with us on DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) but the truth is he has supported President Trump in almost all his policies.”

Next door to Lola’s, Christmas lights still flicker on the porch of Marlen Martinez’s small wood-framed home that she shares with her children and her mother. Martinez, who works as a monitor at the local elementary school, stands next to her son and mother in her yard behind a chain link fence and talks politics, kissing her son’s forehead when the conversation lags. At her school, she has talked to undocumented immigrant parents who worry about deportation and separation from their children. With teachers and other staff having been laid off due to budget cuts, the main wall she is concerned about is the one that inhibits economic advancement.

“It’s sad to hear about families being separated, especially when [the] moms and dads [are] being taken away and their kids have to stay here,” she says. She is undecided about the November congressional election but the candidates’ positions on DACA will be significant in determining her vote. “DACA is an opportunity for those students that came here to work, to go to school.”

Angel, who is a retired union representative for the Communications Workers of America, used to see the “Hispanic community” as complacent, too willing to accept the status quo. He sees a different attitude in the younger generation living in enclaves invisible to drivers along the I-5. “In Encinitas they called it the Tortilla Flats, in Solana Beach they called it La Colonia,” he says, naming historic Latino neighborhoods that trace back to the early 1900s, when vast avocado and citrus groves required dependable cheap labor.

“Younger Latinos are more militant. They are more willing to speak out for their individual rights and exercise those rights,” Angel says, adding that the role of “older folks,” should be to lend a hand in their struggles.

Coast of Dreams

California historian Kevin Starr, looking at a broader state history but also at the same beach subculture that Tom Wolfe did in his 1966 essay about Southern California surfers, “The Pump House Gang,” worried that the “mythic brandings” of that world would engender a “psychological passivity,” a life void of serious civic engagement. A commitment to laid back “lifestyle” choices might populate California with millions of Jeff Spicoli clones.

“I know the stereotype of surf riders is that we are all hippies,” says one surfer at Swami’s State Beach. “But  I think that the American Dream
has sort of been spoiled.”

Marty Benson, who lives in Encinitas and surfs at Swami’s State Beach, is a committed political activist. He has a full life, rather than a lifestyle. Before heading out for late afternoon waves, he spoke about the importance of political action and the destructive impact of economic inequality.

“I know the stereotype of surf riders is that we are all hippies,” Benson says before pulling on his wetsuit, “but my issue is equity and I think that the American Dream has sort of been spoiled.” His surfing colleagues, many of them local professionals who have merged a desire for physical well-being with ecological concerns, also plan to vote.

Glancing over his shoulder at the four-foot waves, Benson says recent initiatives coming from Washington are pushing the 49th District in a new direction. He believes the Republican tax bill, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threats to marijuana users and the push towards increased offshore oil drilling are creating difficulties for whoever the Republican nominee will be.

Some higher-level Republicans agree. Wayne Eggleston, a former mayor of San Clemente, admitted that he had not yet endorsed Issa before he dropped out. Eggleston’s silence came across as a shout. Standing on the sidewalk on Avenida Del Mar in San Clemente, which voted overwhelmingly for Issa two years ago, Eggleston was either unwilling or unable to characterize the current feelings of San Clemente voters towards Issa. He spoke with the hesitancy of  someone who knows that the political views of even this wealthy and conservative community are shifting.

Eggleston sees no concrete federal plan to remove the waste from San Onofre, an issue that he believes should be key in the election, and stated adamantly that increased offshore drilling “is just not going to happen.”

Change

Political change is rarely linear, moving without resistance from Progressive Point A to Progressive Point B. Disquieting elements from our past can resurface to haunt us in grotesque political forms. Polls can reveal an unexpected political movement and elections can consolidate an unforeseen trend, capturing part of a new spirit of the time.

On a more fundamental level, political change takes place when the institutions, economics, laws and whatever shared sense of identity we have cannot solve problems that those same institutions have partly created. Pointing to a house on his block that was purchased for $6,000 and is now on the market for $700,000, Simon Angel worries that the long-time families who provide the neighborhood its cultural foundations will be eventually pushed out.

Other 49ers have their own concerns. Eighty-eight-year old Marilyn Nelson from Oceanside wants the Social Security tax applied to higher incomes above its current $128,400 limit to assure its solvency. San Clemente art student Tom Douglass is tired of the avatars of big data prying into his identity. And micro-biologist Stephen Thomas feels that “the parties are the same” because corporate donors dominate the whole terrain of politics.

Darrell Issa, like the voters in his district, was a man under pressure. He put his finger in the air to test the political winds and then realized it was the ground beneath his feet that was moving. As the political paradigm shifts in the 49th district, voters are looking in new places for inspiration, playing with different ideas in an attempt to expand the range of public action. Expectations about what our country is and can be have been violated, but the flickering images of other possibilities are coming into focus.

In the 49th District, a 21-year-old community college student who is struggling with medical challenges articulated the choices. Sitting on a public bench on the main street of San Clemente on a radiant Sunday afternoon, Cole Morgan looked towards the future with a measure of hope. “Young people’s voices must be heard because even if they might not have a desire to participate, their landlord will, their boss will, their insurer will. So if they don’t play the game they will lose the game.” If politics is a game, Morgan knows that it’s a serious one.


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Blue State/Red District

Blue State/Red District: The Great Awakening of CA-48

Co-published by The American Prospect
In the swank seaside hamlets of California Congressional District 48, people by custom and habit do not discuss politics. Many cannot name their congressman, Dana Rohrabacher.

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Judith Lewis Mernit

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“I found out that nice, funny people I knew were harboring ugly, racist thoughts. I unfriended people I’d known for 40 years.”


Co-published by The American Prospect

Bethany Webb has lived in coastal Orange County for 40 of her 56 years. She rides a Harley and knows the surfers and served on PTA when her children were in school in Huntington Beach (“HB” to the locals). And yet she did not know the world views of some of her friends until the summer of 2016, when the heated presidential race forced people into their ideological corners.

“I found out that nice, funny people I knew were harboring ugly, racist thoughts,” Webb says. “I unfriended people I’d known for 40 years. I called one a racist to his face.” She also found out that other nice, funny people shared her beliefs. “We thought we were alone in our ideals. Now we know we’re not.”


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In the swank seaside hamlets of California Congressional District 48, which includes four consecutive cities whose names all end in “beach,” people by custom and habit do not discuss politics. In bars, coffee shops and HB’s enormous dog beach, I met people who couldn’t name their congressional representative, Dana Rohrabacher, despite his national notoriety. I met supporters of the congressman who refused to talk (and threatened to sue me if I quoted them), and others who thought that he was a she.

“I mention Dana Rohrabacher, and they say, ‘Oh, she’s that pot-smoking surfer, right? Yeah, yeah, I think voted for her.’”

“I’ve heard it about a dozen times in the last year alone,” Webb says. “I mention Dana Rohrabacher, and they say, ‘Oh, she’s that pot-smoking surfer, right? Yeah, yeah, I think voted for her.’”

Protesting Dana Rohrabacher in Huntington Beach. (Photo: Joanne Kim)

Every Tuesday afternoon, Webb gathers with 20 or 30 other activists and agitators on the corner outside Rohrabacher’s office, to protest everything from their congressman’s inaccessibility to his immigration policy. People with little prior interest in politics have become community organizers; people who were already community organizers are suddenly packing their meetings full. Small new groups have sprung up — including Webb’s own HB Huddle — to organize and educate voters; an Indivisible chapter has taken root.

Webb says that in all her time in the district she’s never seen so much political activity. It’s not partisan, she says, partly because she understands her community’s reflexive anti-liberal bias. “People have been brought out,” she says, “by their sense of decency.”

CA-48, which begins near the Los Angeles County-Orange County line and extends south to the city of Laguna Niguel, boasts a median income of $88,000 and a poverty rate of just under six percent — tied for the ninth lowest of the state’s 53 congressional districts. According to the most recent U.S. Census estimate, in 2016, the district is less than two percent African-American, and only about one-fifth Latino, a low figure for any Southern California community. The district has a laissez-faire, ambivalently libertarian sensibility to it; people in coastal Orange County mostly want to be left alone, to not have government taking away their money or policing their behavior.

People in coastal Orange County mostly want to be left alone, to not have government taking away their money or policing their behavior.

“We want a clean environment,” says Michele Williams Harrington, 45, a real estate broker and CEO of Star Estates. “But you also have to give people freedom.” She cites California’s pending legislation to ban restaurant servers from offering plastic straws as an example of governmental overreach.

Harrington lives at the southern end of CA-48 in Aliso Viejo and describes herself as a “typical Fox News viewer, typical Orange County Republican.” She was disappointed by the Republican Congress and the president’s inability to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which made providing health insurance to her 138 employees prohibitively expensive. She worries about Islamic terrorism more than North Korean belligerence, and has long wanted Congress to reform the country’s tax laws.

“I wrote on my Facebook page that the number one gift I wanted for Christmas was tax reform,” she says.

But she isn’t in lockstep with establishment Republicans in Washington. The bill that came out of the House, which capped mortgage interest deductions on new loans at $500,000, was not the gift she wanted. “It would have hurt a lot of people in Orange County,” she says, where most new mortgages are in the $700,000 to $800,000 range. It would have hit the real estate industry, which contributes significantly to Rohrabacher’s campaign, especially hard.

“I flew to DC right before the House was going to a vote, and asked Dana not to support it,” she says. “And he didn’t.” (The tax bill passed anyway, but with the cap lifted to $750,000.)

Rohrabacher also defends legal cannabis — clouds of it hang in the air along the district’s beachfront walks — and even admits using it himself, for a shoulder he injured while surfing. He opposed the re-authorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, explaining, in a Facebook video, that it “would open up the door to government surveillance of ordinary Americans.”

“Sea-level rise affects our tourist economy, our way of life,” says a 27-year-old from Costa Mesa. “We just want to protect all of that. I don’t see how that’s a super-partisan issue.”

But this year, due to the national political conversation, many coastal Orange County residents have heightened concerns about other issues, too — broader issues, such as immigration, racial politics and the environment. In past years, Rohrabacher had at most three or four opponents in the “jungle” primary, where the top two vote-getters face off in the general election, regardless of party. This year he has 13, including three Republicans, a Libertarian and an Independent.

“This is the first time in 30 years that Dana has had a spotlight on him,” says Aaron McCall, a 27-year-old from Costa Mesa who disagrees with Rohrabacher’s position on climate change. (“No aspect of the weather or climate currently being blamed on people is outside our planet’s recent natural variability,” Rohrabacher wrote in an open letter to Obama in 2014.)

“We’ve just come through a drought, and we worry about clean water and climate change,” McCall says. “Sea-level rise affects our tourist economy, our way of life. We just want to protect all of that. I don’t see how that’s a super-partisan issue.”

On immigration, Rohrabacher hailed the administration’s plan to end protections for the undocumented adult children of undocumented immigrants, saying in a statement that “legalizing their status sent a message throughout the world that our doors were open to share all the benefits accorded American citizens.” More recently, he blamed the government shutdown on Democrats putting “800,000 illegals” ahead of law-abiding Americans.

Harrington, though she agrees with Rohrabacher on most issues, has a more forgiving take on immigration. “I don’t think it’s fair to send people who have made a life here back to another country,” she says. “But we do need to fix border security so we don’t have this situation again in another 10 years.” She also believes immigrants should be able to come to the U.S. with the support of a sponsoring family. Two of her three 16-year-old children were adopted from Ethiopia, and she’s been frustrated that she couldn’t bring over their family members, too. “I want it to be easier to get into this country legally, and harder illegally,” she says.

“There are definitely things that keep me up at night,” says one Republican. “But Russia isn’t one of them.”

Huntington Beach resident Mary Kyle, 61, says she voted for Rohrabacher in every election but the last one. “Like most people here, I didn’t pay attention to down-ballot races. I’d get to the voting booth and think, you know, things are okay here. It’s pretty nice. I’ll vote for the incumbent.” But Trump’s build-the-wall, Mexicans-are-rapists rhetoric turned her off. “Yes, we have to control the borders,” she says. “Yes, we have to have strong immigration laws. But the people are being targeted are people in our community. They’ve been here for decades. I just think there should be a way to work things out.”

Polls and surveys suggest that Kyle is not alone. Only 32 percent of adults in Orange and San Diego counties, as surveyed by the Public Policy Institute of California in 2017, approve of the job Trump is doing; 68 percent of Republicans statewide want to find a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country as long as certain issues are met.

“History,” Kyle says, “will damn us for not taking Syrians in more, like we did prior to World War II, when we turned Jewish people away. That was not our most shining moment.”

Rohrabacher has been prominently in the news over the past year in connection with Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s influence on the 2016 election. The long list of allegations include one from fellow California Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who in a meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan and other congressmen, named Rohrabacher as one of the people who takes a check from Moscow. (McCarthy has said he was only joking.)

But it’s not clear how much it matters to Rohrabacher’s constituents. “There are definitely things that keep me up at night,” says Harrington. “But Russia isn’t one of them.” Her indifference, she says, is common to her fellow Orange County fiscal conservatives. “It’s been going on for so long now that as soon as someone says ‘Russia,’ people just tune out.”

Lulu Hammad, a Palestinian immigrant who also lives in Aliso Viejo, maintains that “it’s important to call out the connection” between Rohrabacher and Russia. “But I don’t want Russia to distract from the issues,” she says. “The dynamics of our representative’s interaction with his district, his process and his policies — all of those matter to me more.”

Hammad likely speaks for many people in the district of all political persuasions. This is the year when their neighbors have begun to pay attention. The recently announced retirements of two other Orange County Republican representatives, Ed Royce and Darrell Issa, alerted her fellow conservatives not to take any seat for granted. “That threw everyone for a loop,” she says.

Laguna Beach resident Joe Moreno, manning a literature table at the Democratic candidate forum, says he was never politically active before last April, but he can now recite statistics — about the Republicans’ 11-point voter registration advantage in the district, about the numbers of no-party-preference voters — like a professional analyst. He shows me a new button he’s handing out. It says “Woke AF.”

“Do you know what that stands for?” he asks me. I tell him I do; I spend a lot of time on Twitter. Woke As Fuck. “That’s how the kids say it.”

Mary Kyle, sitting on a bench overlooking Huntington Beach’s sun-washed pier, might not use those words. But they apply, all the same. “This has become my year of listening,” she says, as wave after perfectly formed wave rolls toward the sand. “I’ve been learning more and more, about communities of color, gay communities. I’ve attended seminars at the LGBT center in Santa Ana.” She has also learned that the Southern Poverty Law Center considers coastal Orange County a hotbed of hate groups. “I saw the dots on their map, right in my neighborhood,” in both HB and Newport Beach, she says. “That’s something I never really understood before last year.”


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Blue State/Red District

Blue State/Red District: Pro-Trump House Votes Could Haunt Heartland Incumbent Jeff Denham

Co-published by International Business Times
Unease about rising rents, access to affordable health care and the vulnerability of Dreamers characterize this once-reliably GOP district.

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Photos by Larry Buhl

A Central Valley congressman’s supporters tend to be single-issue voters, while detractors say his voting record doesn’t match his rhetoric.


Co-published by International Business Times

Last January I stopped by a classic car show in the spacious parking lot of a Modesto Pep Boys store as the second annual Women’s March passed by on McHenry Avenue. Despite the men and women marching just feet away, people at the car show offered few answers as to which issues might be animating the local red-blue divide — or why Republican Congressman Jeff Denham, who represents California Congressional District 10 here, has been bucking the district’s decidedly blue-ish voting pattern for the past eight years. Since Donald Trump took office, Denham has voted with the president nearly 99 percent of the time, though he represents a district where Hillary Clinton beat Trump by three percentage points in the 2016 election.


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Some responses suggested that voters here are politically disengaged. On the polite end, one woman told me she didn’t follow politics because it was all so negative. On the less polite end one man told me to “get outta here with that politics crap.”

But the more people I met in CA-10, the more specific opinions I heard about the direction of the district, if not about this year’s political candidates. More than one person mentioned the growing homeless population, which is concentrated downtown, and whose members are often casualties in the one-sided war of rising rents. People also worry that Modesto is becoming a far-flung bedroom suburb for people working at high-paying jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area – but not high-paying enough to afford to live there — and who don’t mind commuting four hours-plus daily. One 24-year-old man said he commutes to a restaurant waiter job in San Jose because it pays far more than anywhere in Modesto.


One Modesto resident quipped that his city is “90 minutes from everywhere you’d rather be.”


Congressional District 10 contains all of Stanislaus County, part of San Joaquin County and spans the fertile northern San Joaquin Valley, also known as “the northern valley.” The land between towns hasn’t been bulldozed for development, at least not yet. Amid the constellation of small cities – Turlock, Patterson, Ripon, Manteca — there are the same almond, peach and walnut orchards and ranches that have existed for generations. “Pray for Rain,” urges a prominent sign in one orchard off the 99.

The largest city, Modesto, has just over 200,000 residents. Big-box retailers and plentiful Starbucks make sections of Modesto resemble Southern California’s megalopolis. One resident quipped that his city is “90 minutes from everywhere you’d rather be.” Another man complained that a trip across Modesto, which used to take 20 minutes now takes 30. But nobody I spoke with expressed a desire to move away. Houses in Stanislaus County are less than half the price of those in the Bay Area’s Alameda County, according to RealtyTrac.

Some metrics underlie unease in the district. The median income for CA-10 is just under $50,000, far less than the California median, which was $67,739 in 2016. The unemployment rate for San Joaquin County was 6.6 percent in December. For Stanislaus County it was 6.8 percent in December. Both are well above the statewide rate of 4.2 percent. The high school graduation rate is just over 77 percent for the district, but the college graduation rate is 17.6 percent. In one of its less auspicious statistics, Modesto sported one of the highest rates of vehicle theft in the U.S. in 2016.

None of these figures illuminated the reason Denham why supporters I met with tended to be single-issue voters (“he’s pro-military”), while Denham detractors often said his voting record didn’t match his rhetoric, and many of them cited immigration reform and health care as their core issues.

Sitting Out the War on Smog

None of the people I spoke with cited the environment as a top voting issue, though they did say that the influx of commuters to the Bay Area was probably worsening the air quality. And the air quality in CA-10 is already pretty bad. The Modesto-Merced area, which Denham represents, has the fourth-worst short-term particle pollution in the country, and suffers the sixth-worst long-term particle pollution nationwide. Modesto-Merced also has the sixth-worst ozone pollution in the U.S., with an estimated 16,164 current  cases of pediatric asthma. Stanislaus County, which accounts for most of CA-10, ranks number four in highest short-term particle pollution levels of all counties in the U.S.


Jeff Denham has collected more than $900,000 from industries that stand to benefit most from the gutting of the Clean Air Act.


Denham has drawn fire for his support, in the House, of the Ozone Standards Implementation Act, dubbed the “Smoggy Skies Act” by critics for its proposed weakening of both ozone limits and the Clean Air Act. One of the most controversial elements of the legislation is a provision that would compel the Environmental Protection Agency to take into account factors other than public health in establishing pollution standards. Among those factors is the financial burden on business.

In 2016, the oil and gas industry donated $188,999 to Denham’s campaign. During his time in Congress, Denham has received $421,250 from Big Oil. In addition, he has received $229,050 in contributions from the trucking industry and $250,250 from the railroads, both of which rely heavily on diesel engines that emit ozone and particulate matter. All in all, he has collected more than $900,000 from industries that stand to benefit most from the gutting of the Clean Air Act.

First, Do No Harm

In early 2017, acasignups.net estimated that 15 percent of Affordable Care Act (ACA) enrollees in CA-10 could lose coverage if a Republican repeal-and-replace plan, such as the American Health Care Act (ACHA), were to pass. During the Obama administration, Denham voted with his party to repeal the ACA (also called “Obamacare”) several times. Under Trump, he promised constituents that he would repeal ACA only if it were replaced with a law he considered better. But in early May, Denham voted for the ACHA, even though the bill had a 33 percent approval rate in CA-10.


Denham has a long history of voting against Obamacare, which is highly popular in his district.


Denham has a long history of voting against popular health-care legislation. As a member of the California Legislature, he opposed numerous bills that were ultimately passed by both chambers and signed into law by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Denham voted against domestic partner coverage, protections for elderly members of continuing care facilities, enhanced consumer protection for denial of coverage, prohibition of smoking in cars with minors and required coverage of HIV testing, among other health-care bills. He also opposed the law that created the California Health Benefit Exchange, the agency charged with implementing the Affordable Care Act. During his time in the Legislature, Denham received extensive financial support from health-care insurance companies and providers.

Yamilet Valladolid manages a community health clinic in a rural section of Stanislaus County. Nothing lies between the clinic and Modesto’s hospitals but 25 miles of orchards.

Valladolid’s clinic offers general health care — for specialized treatment and dental care, patients must go to Modesto, an hour-long bus trip away. “There is a critical physician shortage here in Stanislaus County,” said Valladolid. “We’re not the Bay Area.”


Denham’s vocal support for Dreamers has not always translated into a broader embrace of immigrant rights.


There are many Medi-Cal patients at Valladolid’s clinic, which also offers a sliding fee scale for other payers. She said her patients, who are primarily Latino and low-income, often suffer from diabetes and high blood pressure. “Many of the rural communities here have seasonal workers, and they wait until the off-season to see a doctor. By that time they might be very sick,” said Valladolid.

She added that the other health issue is opioid addiction, which “doesn’t discriminate based on age, class or education.” Getting off opiates can be difficult. Suboxone, a new drug for treatment of opioid dependence, isn’t widely available or often covered by insurance. When I asked what Congress, and by extension, her representative, could do to alleviate some of the health-care woes in the district, she demurred.

“We can’t just look to the federal government to fix problems. I want to see our representatives working together with health providers like us and with faith groups. It takes a whole village, not just government money.”

But she said that the expansion of Medicaid through Obamacare was helping many in the district and suggested that the very least government could do is no harm; that is, don’t take it away. “Patients have had a lot of fear about the possibility of the ACA going away,” Valladolid said. “It would affect a lot of people who need constant coverage.”

Erin Gama, a paralegal who lives in Patterson, said, “I earn too much to get state assistance but not enough to pay for insurance without the ACA. It’s not a perfect law, but we can’t go back to the way the insurance market was.”

Pablo Paredes, a professor, organizational development consultant and member of the Modesto and Tracy Hispanic Chamber of Commerce who considers himself a progressive, said he has noticed more people talking about Denham’s vote for the ACHA. “Friends have become more politically active in the past several months, and they all attribute that to Denham’s vote on [Obamacare] repeal.” He wouldn’t speculate on whether that vote would be pivotal in November, but he said he was encouraged to see an increasing number of millennials and members of the younger “i-gen” cohort getting involved in politics.

Living the Dream

CA-10 has a Latino plurality of 43 percent. They are some of the least engaged voters in the district, said Melissa Santos, Stanislaus regional coordinator for Mi Familia Vota. “Latinos here typically have a low participation rate, about half of the actual capacity.” But Santos added that, even more than the Trump’s administration rescinding of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, Republicans’ vigorous campaign to repeal the Affordable Care Act has made many Latino voters in the district start to become politically active.

Infographic: Define Urban

Denham has long touted his support for Dreamers, the young immigrants who were brought here by their parents. He has said more than 10,000 Dreamers, who “contribute more than $11.3 billion a year to the state’s annual GDP,” live in his district, and it’s one policy area where Denham has signaled a break with the conservative direction of Donald Trump. After Trump’s administration ended DACA in September, Denham was one of 10 House Republicans who wrote a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan urging Congress to protect Dreamers. In January, Denham co-sponsored the Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act, a bipartisan bill to protect DACA recipients — but while adding new border security measures.

Denham’s support for Dreamers has not always translated into a broader embrace of immigrant rights. In June, he voted for a bill supported by Trump that penalized states and localities that adopt sanctuary laws. In September he voted in favor of legislation that gives the government increased authority to deport or deny admission to immigrants suspected of being in gangs.

A training session of voter-outreach volunteers in CA Congressional District 10.

At the women’s march I met Levi Tull, 19, whose bright pink bow tie, worn “in solidarity,” made him stand out. He told me he wanted to see comprehensive immigration legislation and a “clean” Dream Act from Congress, and less incendiary rhetoric about immigrants from the White House.

Denham’s vocal support for Dreamers and insistence on a reasonable compromise on immigration has given him a sympathetic, pro-immigrant reputation that Tull says is unearned.

“That statement he signed with House members? That’s just words, and actions speak louder than words,” Tull said. Tull was able to meet face-to-face with Denham once. “I noticed across the street an almond processing plant — that wouldn’t even be possible without cheap, immigrant labor.

“My classmates, my coworkers, my friends, my family, they’re not criminals,” Tull continued. “They pay their taxes. They are American in every way except on paper. It’s time for Congress to make that final step. They keep on being marginalized.”

A few days later, I talked again with Tull, when he was between classes at Modesto Junior College, where he studies political science. Tull, who was born in Modesto, told me several of his friends are Dreamers, including “one who is very scared right now and doesn’t want to talk about it.”

William Broderick-Villa, an attorney and lifelong resident of Waterford in the rural eastern part of the district, said many in CA-10 understand the importance and contribution of undocumented workers, which can lead to “inconsistent” opinions. “Some people will say the undocumented should be deported, but if you mention, ‘Well, your friend and neighbor is undocumented,’ they will say, ‘Of course don’t deport him.’”

Pablo Paredes told me that he has seen more examples of nativist sentiment, mostly on social media, in the past year: “I marched for the Dreamers and I did encounter jeers from the side of the road, people telling us, ‘Go home.’ Okay, well I’m from Florida.” Paredes, who moved to Modesto from the Miami area three years ago, said he’s glad that nativism, while more pronounced than in south Florida, hasn’t made its way into the business community. Nor has political animus been an issue.

“The local business community is very respectful of political candidates of both parties at events and [there’s] no outward hostility to differing political views. I find that refreshing,” Paredes said.


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Blue State/Red District

Blue State/Red District: Is Steve Knight Too Out of Touch to Be Reelected to the House?

Co-published by International Business Times
From the 25th Congressional District’s high desert to its mountain valleys, even Republican voters are wondering about their congressman.

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Co-published by International Business TimesResidents of California's 25th Congressional District gather for a candidates' forum in Newhall. (All photos by Steve Appleford.)

In 2016 Donald Trump lost this deep-red district by more than six points and now Steve Knight could be in the political fight of his life.


Co-published by International Business Times

Alaina Brooks has lived the last eight years in Lake Los Angeles, a small community located on the eastern edge of California’s 25th Congressional District. It’s a place she calls “kind of a sanctuary,” after living within Los Angeles’ city limits most of her life. “I’ll never go back. I sleep much better here,” says the 53-year-old nurse. “It’s a town where I get to know my neighbors, where I have time to participate on my town council. I have time to be concerned about issues that are impacting our community.”

The district includes large, arid tracts of northern Los Angeles County, and parts of Ventura County. Once dependably conservative, CA-25 has evolved politically and economically over the decades, delivering new prosperity and problems to the Santa Clarita and Simi valleys, as well as to the less affluent Antelope Valley, whose largest cities are Lancaster and Palmdale. The district is freeway close to urban Los Angeles yet represents a romantic notion of wide-open spaces that still exist amid the region’s accelerating development. (It’s probably best known to TV viewers and film buffs for the jagged landscape of Vasquez Rocks.)

Julie Damon, 18, a high school senior, sits outside a Democratic candidates’ forum for California’s 25th Congressional District, held at Vincenzo’s Pizza in Newhall. She will vote for the first time in 2018. (All photos by Steve Appleford.)

“People generally call it a soccer-mom town – a little red dot in a blue area,” says College of the Canyons student Eric Garcia-Duran, 22, of the district. He is a Trump voter in Santa Clarita whose major is biblical studies, with plans to join the military or law enforcement.

Voters here went solidly for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race, but also reelected Rep. Steve Knight, a second-generation Republican office-holder whose father, State Senator William “Pete” Knight, was a former test pilot who wrote the successful 2000 ballot initiative that temporarily outlawed same-sex marriage in California. Trump lost the district by more than six points, but Steve Knight has still voted with the new president nearly 99 percent of the time, according to the nonpartisan political analysis site FiveThirtyEight.


Economic progress has been accompanied by growing homelessness, which once barely existed here.


A year ago, hundreds of protesters crowded outside Knight’s office in Santa Clarita, demanding that he not vote to roll back the Affordable Care Act. But working with his fellow Californian, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), Knight was a dependable vote against Obamacare – as were all 14 of the state’s Republican congress members. (The bill later failed in the Senate.) Knight has also stood with the president by supporting the repeal of an FCC rule barring Internet providers from sharing data on their customers. Knight additionally voted to dismantle Dodd-Frank’s financial regulations, to delay raising ozone standards and to ban abortions after 20 weeks. And he voted in favor of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which looked to many like a direct hit on California homeowners — as well as in New York, Massachusetts and other blue states that have the nation’s highest property taxes.

In affluent Santa Clarita, the largest local employer remains the Magic Mountain theme park, but it’s also home to several aerospace manufacturers, the California Institute of the Arts, health-care companies and many other industries. In 2008, bond money was invested in large-scale capital improvements, redeveloping Old Town Newhall into a quaint enclave of shops and restaurants, while adding a major new library. The Antelope Valley is famously home to the Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin aerospace companies, and has seen significant investment in solar energy. It has also experienced accelerating demographic changes. In Palmdale, the Antelope Valley’s second-largest city, the Latino population grew from 37.7 percent in 2010 to 59.4 percent in 2016. Like other parts of the district, the valley is just as well known as a bedroom community to commuters who daily spend well over an hour on the road or on the rails, including 53 percent of Palmdale residents who travel to work.

Residents of the 25th Congressional District gathered for a candidates forum in Newhall.

As of 2016, median household income in the broader district was more than $75,000. Economic progress, however, has been accompanied by growing homelessness, which barely existed here when Peggy Edwards first arrived 40 years ago. She’s now president of the board of directors at Bridge to Home, a nonprofit homeless services agency in Santa Clarita.

As in other parts of the country, Edwards says, the current crisis of homelessness is rooted in the Reagan years, when public mental health facilities began to close during state and federal cuts to the social safety net “and the promise of community-based mental health was never funded.” In the district, increased affluence and “tremendous development” also led to rising housing costs. In 2008, many families lost their homes in the financial crisis. Some, Edwards adds, became homeless as a result.

During winter months, Bridge to Home offers an overnight shelter with 60 beds, and plans to soon go year-round and add another 20 beds. “You’ll find that most of the people experiencing homelessness have lived or were born and raised here,” she says. “So it’s not [like] people are moving here because we have extra special services or this is a great place to be homeless. We have a number of people who are employed. They just don’t have a home to go to.”

Carole Langford, 75, a retired union employee of Los Angeles County and lifelong Republican voter, outside the Newhall branch of the Santa Clarita Public Library.

Small-business owner Rebecca Johnston, 56, doesn’t remember the last time she voted for a GOP presidential candidate, but has previously voted for Knight without hesitation. On a recent afternoon at her interior design and home décor shop in Old Town Newhall, Johnston is at her computer crunching numbers and checking email. A local voter since 1986, she calls herself “a middle-of-the-road independent” uncomfortable with ideologues from either direction.

“I’m socially liberal, and I’m fiscally a little bit more conservative,” Johnston explains. “In a lot of ways, [Knight’s] been good for business, good for aerospace. But I don’t think he represented Californians well in this tax legislation.”


Republican Voter: “I really dislike this concept of creating legislation behind closed doors and then trotting it out just in time to pass without giving anyone time to pay attention to it.”


 

Johnson is referring to the GOP’s sweeping new tax law, which Knight voted for and which no longer allows taxpayers to deduct more than $10,000 of local and state income and property taxes from their federal filings. The law also allows taxpayers to deduct interest on up to $750,000 of mortgage debt. Johnston said she didn’t expect the new law’s modest benefits to her business to offset the hit in property taxes.

“I think everybody on the extremes is blind to what’s going on,” Johnston says of Congress. “The people in the middle you can have a dialogue with, and are willing to listen to ideas. … I really dislike this concept of creating legislation behind closed doors and then trotting it out just in time to pass without giving anyone time to pay attention to it.”

Carole Langford, 75, is a retired union employee of Los Angeles County and lifelong Republican voter. Standing outside the towering Newhall branch of the Santa Clarita Public Library, where she takes a computer class, Langford says she is an admirer of President Trump.


Trump Supporter on CA-25: “It’s new and it’s clean, and it’s orderly and safe.”


“I thank the Lord every day for him. He is doing a great job,” says Langford, who has lived in the district 30 years, and welcomes the growth she’s witnessed across the decades. “It’s new and it’s clean, and it’s orderly and safe. We don’t have to worry so much about someone breaking into our home or the children being safe.”

At the American Legion Hall a few steps away, bartender Natalie Gibbs, 55, is on the front patio taking a smoke break. The bar is host to live music, birthday parties and billiards, and the clientele is discouraged from discussing politics. “Mostly, retired vets are all Republican,” she says. “You get a Democrat in there once in a while and it causes a little chaos.”

Gibbs hasn’t yet given the midterm election much thought. “I’ve been a Democrat, and this last year I went Republican,” says Gibbs, who voted for Trump and the GOP down the line. “I didn’t like the way things have gone the last eight years, so I decided I was going to make a change.”

Steve Knight, 51, stepped into politics full-time after an 18-year career with the Los Angeles Police Department, including time in its controversial CRASH gang unit. In certain ways, he remains emblematic of a large segment of the district’s population, as a former cop with many years experience of driving the same dreary commute as so many of his constituents. But his opposition to progress on LGBT rights and his general support of Trump puts him at odds with many in the state.

Knight has voted to make concealed carry permits valid across state lines and to repeal the Obama regulation that made it difficult for people with documented disabling mental illness to purchase guns. He did split from the president on Russian sanctions and, like many House Republicans, called Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports “bad for business” and “ill-advised.”

The district has tilted Democratic before, going for Barack Obama in 2008, but otherwise voting for the GOP candidate in 2000, 2004 and 2012, before choosing Hillary Clinton in 2016. Whether or not that reflected genuine local affection for Clinton, recent polls hardly suggest that Trump’s popularity has improved in California.

A 56 percent majority of voters in the 25th District are currently disinclined to reelect Knight, according to the latest Berkeley-IGS poll — which finds that among likely voters his votes for the president’s tax bill and against Obamacare make 52 percent of them less likely to support him again. The survey also reveals that the same percentage of voters in the 25th District have decided that GOP control of both houses of Congress is “a bad thing.”


High School Senior: “That was the one thing I was excited about when I turned 18 — I can vote. I can do something now.”


One night at Vincenzo’s Pizza in Newhall, there’s an overflow crowd for a Democratic candidate’s forum. The mood is upbeat but serious as voters sit at tables piled high with pizza and soft drinks, and a row of candidates takes questions.

Standing just outside the pizzeria is one of the district’s newest voters, Julie Damon, 18, a high school senior who will cast her first ballot this year. “A lot of us can’t watch the news now without getting mad or worried,” Damon says of her friends. “There’s a lot going on. And it’s really scary when you feel that you don’t have a say. Coming here and getting involved is really important.”

Damon was on a school trip to Washington DC early last year, and witnessed the massive Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration. “It’s really cool to see a lot of like-minded people around me, and to see people that want change in the world,” she says. “That was the one thing I was excited about when I turned 18 — I can vote. I can do something now.”

As younger generations move into the district, that feeling is only growing in CA-25. One recent arrival is Chris Sorelle, 27, a photographer and musician who voted for Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary. Since arriving from Virginia last year, he’s closely kept up on the weekly controversies in the White House and Congress.

“If there’s one blessing to be had in that, it’s that people are now active and researching things,” says Sorelle, standing outside the Brave New World Comics store in Santa Clarita with his Chihuahua, Louie.

At the Bridge to Home shelter, Peggy Edwards has taken notice of the influx of young new residents. “People moving in tend to be more progressive in their thinking,” she says.


White House bullying and porn-star stories aside, it’s the practical issues of health care and economic growth that have got the attention of many voters at the congressional level.


 

At a quiet coffee house near his apartment, student Eric Garcia-Duran sits with his Bible and laptop, catching up on his religious studies homework. In 2016, he voted for Trump, Knight and the GOP down the line, but he’s lost faith in his choice for president. “If I could go back, I would not vote at all for the president and just leave a blank spot,” says Garcia-Duran, who identifies as solidly conservative. He fully supports some Trump policies, but has been alarmed by other aspects of the current administration. “The kind of ethics and morals that he’s espoused — ultimately I don’t think those are ideal for the whole nation.”

White House stories of bullying and porn stars aside, it’s the deeply practical issues of health care and economic growth that have got the attention of many voters at the congressional level.


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Construction supervisor Patrick Peters, 59, is an independent voter who wants to see illegal immigration stopped, but accompanied by an easier path to legal immigration. He’s opposed to Trump’s border wall. In his industry, he says, fewer young Americans are attracted to construction work: “Everybody wants to work on computers.” If the flow of immigrants ended, so would many of the kind of development projects that have fueled growth in CA-25. “I think it would stop some of the construction because they would have to pay more to get the buildings built,” Peters says. “I don’t think they’re willing to do that now.”

Peters, who lives in Saugus, was in the military for five years as a member of the Navy Seabees construction unit. On the chest of his blue hoodie is a bald eagle. He’s lived in the district since 1986 and is deeply irritated by Congress. “It seems that they won’t work together enough,” he complains, and says of the ongoing health-care debate there: “The plan that Congress gives us, they should be on. They shouldn’t be on a separate plan.”

Health care, and the Republican attempt to end the Affordable Care Act, will likely play a major role in the election. The ACA remains popular across the state, and Lake Los Angeles’ Alaina Brooks was among those to turn up outside his office and at town hall meetings last year, inspired by Knight’s attempts “to dismantle the Affordable Care Act,” she says. “Working as a care provider caring for the disabled, I was really concerned. ”

What happens in the state’s 25th Congressional District will have major consequences, both for the community and for events in Washington DC. For nurse Brooks, it will be a long season of community activism and suspense.

“I’m not taking anything for granted,” she says. “I’m doing a lot of praying.”


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Blue State/Red District

Blue State/Red District: Trump May Blow Reelection Headwind at David Valadao

Co-published by International Business Times
A Central Valley Congressman may be worrying that the fallout from Donald Trump’s policies could land on himself.

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Pictured: Hanford, David Valadao’s hometown and political base.


Whether voters hold Valadao accountable for his repeated efforts to repeal Obamacare, and his failure to protect Dreamers, remains to be seen.


Co-published by International Business Times

 

California’s 21st Congressional District, which includes all of Kings County and portions of Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties, expands northward through the dusty flatness of the southern San Joaquin Valley, anchored by two main arteries, Interstate 5 and Highway 99. To the south, precisely planned orchards, occasionally interrupted by clusters of gas stations and restaurants at the exits, give way to pump jacks and fracking wells around Bakersfield.

The district is represented in Congress by Republican David Valadao, a dairy farmer, small-business owner and son of Portuguese immigrants. His vigorous support of agribusiness interests makes him a good fit for any politically conservative farming district, but CA-21 does not really tilt conservative. Although Valadao beat Democratic challenger Emilio Huerta in a roughly 57-43 percent split in 2016, Hillary Clinton won the district. Barack Obama carried it in 2008 and 2012.


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Valadao’s vocal support for immigrants should put him in good stead in a district that is 71 percent Latino, but it also places him at odds with his party, while other critics attack what they say is Valadao’s lack of concern for environmental and worker protections, as well as for his votes on health care. Valadao represents a particularly vulnerable constituency. CA-21 has a poverty rate of just over 30 percent, making it among the poorest congressional districts in the state. Only 57 percent of residents have earned a high school diploma or higher, and fewer than 10 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The median household income is just under $40,000, significantly less than the statewide median household income of $64,000.

Oil fields and Kern River, viewed from Bakersfield’s Panorama Bluffs. (Dean Kuipers)

But these families do not form Valadao’s donor base. According to Open Secrets, oil and gas interests donated nearly $205,000 to Valadao between 2011 and 2018, making them his sixth-largest industry contributor (behind crop production, dairy and real estate). Leadership PACs, comprising contributions from unnamed sources, came in at number three.

Last year Valadao, along with fellow  Central Valley GOP representatives Jeff Denham, Devin Nunes and Kevin McCarthy, voted for the American Health Care Act (ACHA) or “Trumpcare,” the proposed Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Valadao had also voted to repeal the ACA during the Obama administration. Though the effort to repeal and replace the ACA with the highly unpopular GOP bill failed in the Senate, a significant number of residents in counties that make up CA-21 would have suffered with the passage of the ACHA, which would have severely cut funding for Medicaid. According to the California Department of Health Care Services, 55 percent of the population of Tulare County was eligible for Medi-Cal, the state version of Medicare. Nearly 50 percent of Fresno County, 46 percent of Kern County, and 38 percent of Kings County were eligible for Medi-Cal.


After February’s ICE raids, “People are afraid to take their kids to school and to visit local businesses.”


The counties that comprise CA-21 also have a very high number of people who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), according to county-by-county data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2011, the latest year available. That could present a political challenge for Valadao because, while the 2018 renewal of the House Farm Bill gives additional subsidies to cotton farmers (an important constituent in the district), it also imposes new restrictions on SNAP eligibility. Valadao voted for the Farm Bill, which passed in the House Agricultural Committee in mid-April. (Valadao did not respond to interview requests made through his Washington office.)

Whether voters hold Valadao accountable for his repeated efforts to repeal the ACA remains to be seen. Republican leaders now openly fret about the headwinds going into the 2018 midterms, though they’re reluctant to pin the blame on Trump, or even voter opposition to GOP policies. According to the political forecasting site FiveThirtyEight, Valadao has voted with Trump policies nearly 99 percent of the time, tied for second place as the “most Trump-aligned,” along with more than 40 other GOP House caucus members. If Valadao faces trouble going into the midterm, it could be in spite of the few important issues where he’s broken with the party line.

ICE Raids and Tariff Threats

Immigration and agriculture are intertwined in CA-21, which is dotted with historical markers of the farmworker movement. South along the 99 lies Delano, the site of the 1965 labor strike against grape growers by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and the United Farm Workers. Farmworkers are the fuel of the economic engine here, and a large percentage are undocumented immigrants — the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service pegs the nationwide percentage of undocumented farmworkers at 50 percent. Some estimates give California a much higher figure. Finding enough farmworkers during peak harvest times has been difficult, even before the Trump administration ratcheted up rhetoric about illegal immigration and border walls, as well as an improving economy in Mexico.

Increasingly, farmers have been turning to the temporary agriculture worker visa program, H-2A, which allows employers to bring in foreign agricultural workers if the growers can provide free housing, demonstrate an agricultural labor shortage and pay wages high enough that they wouldn’t undercut the local labor market.

Valadao has been an outspoken supporter of H2-A, despite criticism that it is too expensive and too bureaucratic.


The environment is one area where there’s little if any daylight between Valadao and Trump.


But Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids here have made it unlikely that the worker shortage will improve. In February, ICE made a sweep across the Central Valley and arrested 232 people, including 180 who ICE said were convicted criminals or had been issued a final order of removal or had been previously removed from the U.S. In an email, the United Farm Workers confirmed to Capital & Main that 26 of those arrested in the sweep were farmworkers and that it has received reports of even more detentions, and that ICE is still present in Kern County. One ICE raid in March in Delano led to a high speed chase and crash resulting in the death of two farmworkers.

Leydy Rangel, a UFW spokesperson, said the union has received reports of even more farmworker detentions than the 26 reported. “People are afraid to take their kids to school and to visit local businesses,” she said.

Valadao’s office provided a statement in response to the ICE raids: “Recent incidents involving immigrants and immigration authorities have left many in our community concerned and scared – which is exactly why we must pass comprehensive legislation that repairs our broken immigration system from the ground up. Just last month, I cosponsored H. Res. 774, a legislative maneuver that will allow the House to individually debate and vote on four different pieces of immigration legislation.”

A trade war could make a bigger impact on Valadao’s district than the farmworker shortage. In March President Trump announced tariffs on steel and aluminum, mostly aimed at China. Beijing quickly imposed retaliatory tariffs of up to 25 percent on $3 billion worth of U.S. imports, including pistachios and almonds, California’s first- and second-largest agricultural exports to China. Valadao signed a letter to President Trump urging him to “reconsider the idea of broad tariffs to avoid unintended negative consequences to the U.S. economy and its workers.” He also released a statement denouncing broad tariffs – but not tariffs generally – saying, “Agriculture continues to be the foundation of the Central Valley economy and we must protect strong trade relations with foreign nations.”

As far as Valadao’s 2018 electoral chances go, he may need to worry that the sins of his party – or its leader, Trump – on trade policy and the attendant fallout could be visited upon himself. On immigration, the popular perception is that his ties to Trump could hurt him even more.

On DACA, Taking Heat for His Party

The White House had set March 5, 2018 as the expiration date for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), pushing 700,000 recipients of this Obama-era program into uncertainty, although that termination is now being challenged in courts. Valadao has supported a permanent solution for DACA, declaring in December that it was not a partisan issue and that Congress “must come together to provide a legislative solution so these individuals may continue to live in the only home they know: the United States.”

Valadao has continually affirmed his commitment to repairing the “broken immigration system,” and his website mentions his support of the failed 2013 immigration reform package, H.R. 15, as well as his vote against a defense bill amendment that would block undocumented youth from serving in the military, and his cosponsoring of both H.R. 496, Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy Act (BRIDGE) Act, and H.R. 1468, the Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act, which promised a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.


Critics say Valadao’s GROW bill would let California farmers grab more water at the expense of wildlife protections and public input on water projects.


Nevertheless, Tania Bernal, an undocumented immigrant and political science major at Bakersfield College, blamed Valadao for lack of legislation that would protect her.

“He said he would do everything in his power to protect Dreamers and he failed,” she told me. “It’s very disappointing because they are stringing us along. About 19,000 Dreamers have lost their DACA and they’re vulnerable to deportation right now.”

While admitting that technically it was the party, led by President Trump, that failed on DACA, Bernal said she and other local Dreamers also hold Valadao accountable for not delivering a “clean” Dream Act — legislation giving people covered under DACA a way to obtain permanent legal status in America, unconnected to border security upgrades or any other provisions.

A January, 2018 CBS News poll showed nearly nine out of 10 Americans want DACA recipients to remain in the U.S. Valadao’s stance should make him bulletproof on DACA. But he has faced resistance from the far right of the GOP in his attempts to do anything for undocumented immigrants. It’s not clear how many of his constituents will blame him for the inaction of his own party, especially as it relates to Dreamers. But people I talked with for this story who had an opinion on the matter were not willing to separate Valadao from the GOP.

While in Bakersfield, which is awkwardly split between CA-21 and CA-23, I visited a rally held by Faith in Kern, a grassroots group fighting for racial equity, outside the office of Valadao’s fellow GOP Congressman, Kevin McCarthy. The rally was part of a 40-day political action coinciding with Lent (the demonstrators promised to later protest at Valadao’s office on the other side of town). They said that they would hold both men responsible for the inaction of their party, which controls Congress. The three-dozen demonstrators were more polite and respectful than angry, and featured several DACA Dreamers who shared their stories. Eloisa Torres tearfully recalled that the recent deaths of her grandparents – whose funerals she couldn’t attend in Mexico because of her precarious status – emboldened her to speak out. “If you’re not fighting for what you want, you’re not going to get it,” she said.

Earlier, Stephanie Smith, a faith leader at Tehachapi Community United Church of Christ, had condemned Congress, Valadao and McCarthy for showing “a general disregard for people,” while scolding the representatives for voting for H.R.-620, which, she said, guts the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“There are no bills for a path to citizenship under consideration, no solution for them, but we’ve ramped up the deportation machine that terrorizes our families, or friends, or coworkers, the people who go to our church. Human connectedness should mean more than artificial borders.”

Diesel and Dust

Almost everywhere in CA-21 one is aware that mountains exist somewhere in the distance, to the east or the west. But most days they’re airbrushed gray-brown by the valley’s infamous smog. The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2018” report lists two regions within CA-21 – Bakersfield and Visalia as, respectively, second- and third-worst for year-round particle pollution, also known as soot. They were also, respectively, second- and third-worst in ozone pollution because of diesel particulates from semis whizzing through their thoroughfares, and from the dust stirred up by farm operations.

The environment is one area where there’s little if any daylight between Valadao and Trump.

Valadao has not supported efforts to combat climate change, and does not believe that the weather in the Central Valley, in which the last five years were the hottest in history, is a direct result of climate change. Climate activists have slammed Valadao’s support of S.J. Res. 24, a “resolution of disapproval” under the Congressional Review Act that would nullify the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

But Valadao’s office pushed back on any assertion that he had blamed California’s drought on regulation, rather than climate change. The office pointed to a more nuanced comment on his website, which stated, “While legislation cannot make it rain, it can provide relief by addressing complex and contradictory laws, court decisions, and regulations at the state and federal level that have made recent droughts increasingly detrimental.”

In 2017, Valadao introduced H.R. 23, the “Gaining Responsibility on Water Act” (GROW), that he has proudly touted as a plan to modernize water policies. Critics have said GROW would let California farmers grab more water at the expense of wildlife protections and public input on water projects. Also in 2017, Valadao co-sponsored, with Kevin McCarthy, H.R. 806 (the Ozone Standards Implementation Act), which has been criticized for undermining the EPA’s ability to set healthy ozone and particulate-matter standards, and delaying the implementation of clean-air solutions.

In March 2017, in the lead-up to the bill, the House heard testimony from the deputy executive officer of the California Air Resources Board, who said, “H.R. 806 would mean more people would breathe dirty air longer.” Jeff Denham and Devin Nunes, who represent the rest of the smoggy Central Valley, voted for Valadao’s bill.

Gary Rodriguez, a fourth grade teacher in Shafter, told me that people in the district are growing fed up with the air quality.

“Some days we can’t let kids out for recess because of the air quality,” he said. “The local air district does a lot of spinning about the cause of pollution. They’ll say it’s geography or that it’s blown in from the Bay Area, Los Angeles or even China.”

“You name it we’re breathing it, from fracking to pesticides to vehicles,” said Lupe Martinez, assistant to the director for the Center on Race Poverty & the Environment (CRPE), when I spoke with him in Delano. Martinez also connected the dots between the environment, immigration and poverty, saying that farmworkers, the backbone of agriculture, haven’t benefited from the success of the industry.

“There are communities that don’t have natural gas to heat their homes, so they’re using wood and butane. It’s not that they don’t want to have natural gas, it’s just that natural gas has bypassed the communities.”

And that wood smoke, he said, increases air toxicity, worsened by temperature inversions that trap soot from agricultural burn-offs, especially in the winter. Martinez said he and other activists are pushing the state Public Utilities Commission to increase access to natural gas. “I don’t even know if [Valadao’s] aware of it,” he said.


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Blue State/Red District

Blue State/Red District: The Education of Mimi Walters

Co-published by International Business Times
Lowering taxes, shrinking the size of federal government and reducing the deficit were issues that played well in Mimi Walters’ conservative Orange County district. Then came the Parkland massacre.

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Judith Lewis Mernit

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Donald Trump listens to Mimi Walters, far right. (Photo: Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in CA-45, a sign that at least some of its conservative voters might be more loyal to ideals of diversity and tolerance than they are to their party.


Co-published by International Business Times

 

Early in her political career Congresswoman Mimi Walters, a Republican from inland Orange County, California, minted her reputation as a gun-rights advocate. From 2004 to 2008, while representing the county’s southern coastal cities in the state Assembly, she twice voted against bills requiring the microstamping of bullets from automatic firearms, despite law enforcement’s support of the measure. Later, while serving in the state Senate, she said nay to background checks for ammunition buyers, to banning large-capacity conversion kits and to prohibiting people under domestic violence restraining orders from obtaining firearms.

Since she began representing California’s 45th Congressional District, Walters has had fewer opportunities to prove her Second Amendment bona fides; gun-related bills have rarely come up for a vote in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Congress. But gun-rights groups continue to contribute to her campaigns. For her 2018 reelection campaign, gun groups have invested $5,150 in Walters, the third-largest contribution from gun groups to a single candidate in this cycle so far.

Before Parkland, the subject of gun rights almost never came up in Walters’ campaign statements, social media feeds or literature; it was just one part of the agreed-upon conservative platform, along with opposing abortion and beefing up the military. The issues Walters has chosen to focus on — lowering taxes, shrinking the size of federal government, reducing the deficit — have played well in historically conservative CA-45, where Republicans enjoy a nine-point registration advantage. On November 8, 2016, Walters won re-election with a 17-point margin.


The Cook Political Report has changed Congresswoman Walters’ district from solid red to “lean Republican.”


But a lot has happened since then. For starters, despite Walters’ victory, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the district by five points, a sign that at least some of Walters’ conservative constituents might be more loyal to ideals of diversity and tolerance than they are to their party. (Irvine, the largest city in the district, is 40 percent Asian.) Nor has Trump’s reputation improved since he became president and promptly issued an executive order banning travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries.

There are even some signs that Congressional Republicans more broadly have fallen from favor in Orange County. When Walters voted in May of 2017 in favor of the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act, a plan that would have left an estimated 23 million people uninsured, the Cook Political Report changed CA-45 from solid red to “lean Republican.”

Trump also pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. “That’s when a lot of people sprang into action, meeting with Walters and her staff,” says Kathleen Treseder, an ecology professor at the University of California, Irvine. Last October, Walters officially changed from a climate-change skeptic to a believer, Treseder says, and joined the Congressional Climate Solutions Caucus. Her voters, Walters’ staff explained, persuaded her.


After Parkland, Walters’ social media feeds became overrun with gun-control advocates.


Finally, a group of Parkland teenagers launched the #NeverAgain movement in response to the mass shooting at their high school, potentially altering the calculus of National Rifle Association monetary campaign support versus voter preference in the 2018 election. A survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California in late March found that California voters’ concerns about school shootings had risen dramatically, with 73 percent of respondents admitting they were worried about a mass shooting at their public school.

Orange County high school students, many in Walters’ district, and nearing voting age, rallied against guns in March and April, joining national events. And Rep. Walters’ social media feeds became overrun with gun-control advocates. From mid-February to late March, any conversation that Walters started — on tax reform, avocados or her own successful amendment to reduce sex-trafficking — was directed back to firearms in replies and comments.

“I am so inspired by all of the #Olympic athletes who continue to give it their all in #PyeongChang despite injuries and days of back to back competition,” Walters tweeted in mid-February.

“Gun control, Mimi,” answered @amysls, aka Amy Jones. “Focus.”

Thirty years ago, many CA-45 cities were in the throes of master-planned sprawl. Manicured suburbs mingled with strawberry fields and orange groves, remnants of the vast agricultural fields the suburbs displaced. Their curvy streets, lined with houses that are, literally, all the same, bespoke a politics of its own. Irvine, as Los Angeles architect William Pereira designed it in the late 1960s, reflected a dreamy utopianism, where children could safely play within traffic-calmed enclaves, high walls sheltering them from thoroughfares where cars moved at near-freeway speeds. As it was later constructed by the Irvine Company’s Raymond Watson, Irvine became an assemblage of little villages, buffered by tidy parks and shopping centers from the ragged, needy world beyond.


Irvine is no longer the bastion of white Midwestern transplants that it was in the 1980s.


Irvine no longer smells like an orange grove. Most of the strawberry fields have been replaced with more carefully plotted communities and some random sprawl. Nor is the city still the bastion of white Midwestern transplants that it was in the 1980s. Twenty percent of eligible voting-age adults in Irvine hail from South Asian or Asian countries or have parents that do. Among U.S. cities, only Honolulu has a larger Asian plurality.

That concentration of immigrants and first-generation Americans is not everywhere present in the district. Mission Viejo, for example, is less than 10 percent Asian. But overall, one-fourth of registered voters in the district are naturalized citizens, according to a survey conducted by California 45th, a grassroots, nonpartisan research group, in May of 2017. While 46 percent of voters in the district who were citizens at birth have registered as Republicans, 72 percent of naturalized citizens are either Democrats or no-party-preference voters.


Two of Mimi Walters’ Democratic challengers in the June primary say they were motivated to run because of Trump’s travel ban.


If previous polls and studies have shown that immigrants don’t participate in elections with the same enthusiasm as other voters, Trump’s travel ban may have politicized them — along with Iranian-Americans and Arab-Americans in the district. Two of Walters’ five Democratic challengers in the June primary — Dave Min, whose parents immigrated from South Korea in the 1970s, and Kia Hamadanchy, a first-generation Iranian-American and Irvine native — say they were motivated to run because of the travel ban. Hamadanchy says his grandmother has not been allowed to visit him in America since the ban went into effect.

“When people tell me to go back where I came from,” says the 32-year-old Hamadanchy, who graduated from Irvine’s Northwood High School, “I tell them that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

In past elections, the gun control issue — along with the environment, immigration policy and health care — might have taken a back seat to the economy, which residents of Orange County’s fiscally conservative cities consistently rank as their number one issue. They have voted, by and large, in the interest of keeping their federal and state taxes low, even as many of them invest relatively high local taxes in well-staffed public schools. (Eighty-six communities and school districts in Orange County are subject to a special tax, referred to as the “Mello-Roos tax,” that helps pay for schools, roads, parks and other public amenities.)


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As of the 2018 tax year, however, homeowners who itemize — more than 40 percent of the district — will have a $10,000 limit placed on the state and local taxes they can deduct from their federal taxable income. That will make a difference to the district’s wealthier residents. “If you can afford to live in a Mello-Roos development, that 10-grand limit is going to cost you,” says Alexandra Cole, a Mission Viejo resident who teaches political science at California State University, Northridge and leads the California 45th team. Two other Orange County legislators, Dana Rohrabacher and Darrell Issa, voted against the tax bill under pressure from their constituents. Walters supported it wholeheartedly.

“She keeps posting about how it will benefit the district,” Cole says. “But the problem I have as a constituent is at no time does she ever say how it will benefit the district, because so many of us take those state-and-local tax deductions.” For instance, she says, “I have 14-year-old twins. Once they turn 17, they reach the age where the child tax credit expires, and I’m paying higher taxes.”

When Cole conducted a survey of CA-45 voters’ opinions on the tax bill, she found only 45 percent of them supported the bill, while 47 percent opposed it — including, significantly, 63 percent of no-party-preference voters.

“That’s harsh,” she says. “People are really concerned that their taxes are going to go up.”

Cole is cautious, however, about suggesting any of it means a Democratic win in November. CA-45 is still a red district and even the no-party-preference voters, who now make up more than a quarter of the district’s voters, skew conservative on the economy, if not on the environment or immigration.

“There’s this real tunnel vision,” Cole says, “thinking that everyone’s angry and they’re going to rise up in this big blue wave in November. But you can’t rely on fantasies. You have to rely on what are issues that are of concern to people.”


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