Emails poured in from across California.
“My boys’ minds have been taken over by the liberal teachings of the schools here,” wrote a woman from Westlake Village who works in the courts. “I would like to try to save my younger son before it’s too late.”
“I for one wish to not be a part of this control and socialist environment,” said a woman from Vacaville who home-schools her children and complained that California liberals ridiculed her for praying before meals.
“I’m done,” announced a financial planner from Monrovia who complained she was struggling to find common ground with her co-workers. “I want my next chapter in life to be one where I’m in an environment where people are like-minded.”
Fed up with life in the Golden State, the emailers wanted out.
So they turned to Paul Chabot, a 43-year-old Republican who says he’s discovered the perfect place for them: Collin County in north Texas.
He moved there late last year, bailing on his native California after a second failed run for Congress. In May, he started a company called Conservative Move, which aims to help other Republicans follow his example and escape blue states.
Its slogan is “Helping families move Right.”
Whether the company succeeds remains to be seen. The plan is to connect clients with real estate agents in red states — starting with Collin County — in return for part of the commission on home sales. So far there haven’t been any, though one is pending.
But in a sign of the country’s increasing polarization, Chabot has had no shortage of interest in his cause, having received more than 1,000 inquiries. The biggest share is from very blue California — very red Texas’ biggest political and economic rival.
“California is a train wreck,” said Chabot, who also consults for law enforcement agencies and college substance abuse programs. “If we made it out of California as a lower-middle-class family, anybody can. … People don’t have to live stuck in a rut.”
Born and raised in San Bernardino County, Chabot said disillusionment sank in over decades as he witnessed the decline of the once-conservative, blue-collar community. Public schools deteriorated, crime rose, and more residents came to depend on welfare, he said.
The tipping point came in November, when he ran as a “pro-life, pro-family, pro-faith conservative Republican” in California’s 31st Congressional District on a platform of bringing back a shuttered military base to San Bernardino and cracking down on crime. A veteran of the Iraq war who remains in the Navy reserves as an intelligence officer, he lost to his Democratic opponent by more than 11% of the vote.
“In California, it’s like liberals can do no wrong,” said Chabot, who narrowly lost a race for the same congressional seat in 2014. “No matter what we do, we’re beating our heads against the wall.”
He and his wife, Brenda, moved their four children to the suburban town of McKinney, Texas, a Republican stronghold about 30 miles north of Dallas in Colin County. Dotted with new subdivisions, golf courses, artificial lakes and strip malls, the area reminds him of Orange County in the 1970s and 1980s.
“It’s like living a dream,” he said as he steered his golf cart down his cul-de-sac on a muggy afternoon recently, past large brick homes decorated with American flags and meticulously trimmed lawns. “You don’t see graffiti. You don’t see gang members, or police helicopters circling the neighborhood.”
Texas and California — the two most populous states — have long offered competing versions of how to achieve the American dream. California has higher taxes to fund stronger social services and public universities, while Texas prides itself on lower taxes, less regulation and a more limited social safety net.
The two states have also staked out opposing positions in the nation’s culture wars.
Last month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed a law that would allow adoption agencies to reject gay or transgender people as potential parents based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
In protest, California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra blocked state employees from traveling to Texas on official business.
Abbott’s press secretary shot back: "California may be able to stop their state employees, but they can't stop all the businesses that are fleeing over taxation and regulation and relocating to Texas.”
In a recent vow to keep Texas’ upstart liberal capital city in line with the rest of the state on issues including immigration and transgender bathroom use, Abbott made clear his feelings about California: "As your governor, I will not allow Austin, Texas, to California-ize the Lone Star State.”
To Chabot’s email correspondents, California is a liberal cesspool.
Their discontents include economic hardship, rising crime, gun restrictions, homeschooling regulations, mandatory vaccinations for children, local policies against cooperation with federal immigration authorities, steep taxes, high housing costs and declining public schools — everything they consider wrong with America.
“Even my students are spouting the liberal rhetoric of their parents,” wrote a high school teacher from Modesto.
Chabot provided a sampling of emails to The Times on the condition that names not be used without permission from the writers. They either refused or did not respond to requests for interviews.
“Conservative views here are silenced,” wrote a stay-at-home mom from the Riverside County town of Perris.
A 57-year-old man from Temecula wrote that he was struggling with the death of a close friend, a police officer who was fatally shot after responding to a traffic accident this year. He blamed “insane laws” passed by liberal legislators, because the suspect was a violent felon who had been allowed back on the streets despite a string of parole violations.
“When I was a kid growing up, I was proud to tell people that I was from California,” he wrote. “I can't say that anymore. I don't see any hope for a bright future here in what's left of my lifetime.”
Texas, on the other hand, is a conservative utopia of jobs, cheap homes, low taxes and traditional family values — at least as Chabot presents it.
In reality, the gap between the states may not be as wide as it seems.
They were the top two job creators in the country last year. Texas added 266,600, while California added 242,600, dropping unemployment in both places to just under 5%.
Median household income is higher in California — $61,818 compared to $53,207 — though the lack of state income taxes and dramatically lower housing costs make Texas more affordable. The website Zillow says the median home value in California is $500,200, compared to $167,100 in Texas.
In February, the U.S. News & World Report ranked Texas’ economy sixth overall and California’s third.
“Texas is not doing any better now than California,” said Daniel Hamermesh, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Texas in Austin who grew up in the Chicago suburbs and now teaches in London. “California costs more to live in, but for many, you get what you pay for. The California coast is a much more pleasant place to live.”
And within Texas there is growing fear that some areas are actually starting to resemble California. Austin has long been a liberal oasis, and Houston is now the most diverse metropolis in the nation. Democrats are starting to run for Congress in districts that the party had long considered lost causes.
Even conservative Collin County is changing.
In recent months, Toyota Motor Corp. relocated its U.S. headquarters from Torrance, Calif., to Plano, a town 13 miles south of McKinney, prompting a flood of local concerns about skyrocketing housing prices, property taxes and traffic.
The area remains solidly Republican, but the speed of corporate relocations has led to an increase in the number of Democrats. President Trump won the county in November with 56% of the vote, down from the 65% Mitt Romney collected in 2012.
“There may be a fair number of conservatives who come here and say, ‘I like this much better than California,’” said Mike Rawlins, chairman of the Collin County Democratic Party. “But that’s a drop in the bucket. Ten or 20 years from now, they’re going to find out they don’t like it as much as they do now.”
Still, there was no hesitation from Conservative Move’s first client, a 48-year-old mother from San Diego who spoke on the condition that she be identified only by her first name, Melissa.
Back in California, the only job she could find was at a fast-food restaurant, despite having bachelor’s degrees in psychology and Spanish. Her breaking point came when her daughter’s teacher assigned a young adult novel in which the narrator described smoking cigarettes and popping anxiety pills as a way to cope with stress.
“I’m so over California, I can’t see straight,” she said after a Conservative Move real estate agent led her on a tour of homes in Collin County. “You can get more land than I’ve ever seen. What was I thinking to stay as long as I did?”
Weeks later, she packed up, moved her two teenagers to Texas and put an offer on a four-bedroom, brick house in a McKinney subdivision. The sale is now pending.
The house was bigger, newer and — at $340,000 — cheaper than the San Diego home she recently sold for $500,000.
“I feel like I’ve stepped into another world,” she said.
Jarvie is a special correspondent.