California's got a new look in D.C.

Times Staff Writer

When control of Congress switches parties next month, so too will the political face of California.

Slipping into eclipse is red California, dominated by Republican House members who for years have been the state's most influential voices in Washington.

These lawmakers -- all white and all Christian -- hailed largely from inland valleys. Many were deeply rooted Californians who grew up immediately after World War II when the state was a more homogeneous place. Several strolled the halls of Congress in cowboy boots.

With Democrats ascendant, however, a bluer California is set to put its mark on Capitol Hill. This face is more urban and more diverse. Its senior lawmakers -- who include women, Jews, African Americans and Latinos -- live in large coastal metropolitan areas. Many moved to the Golden State as adults.

The contrast broadly mirrors national differences between the two major political parties. But the shift in power within the state's congressional delegation also reflects a changing California that is cleaving along an East-West divide.

One California, concentrated along the Pacific Coast, is increasingly secular, multicultural and Democratic; the other, centered east of the coastal mountain ranges, is more overtly religious, more white and more Republican.

Red California produced politicians who enthusiastically backed the war in Iraq, cut taxes and took on environmentalists. In 2005, five of the nine most socially conservative members of the House were California Republicans, according to an annual review of voting records by the National Journal.

Blue California is represented by four of the seven most liberal House members, the same survey found. These Californians include fierce war critics, such as Reps. Maxine Waters of Los Angeles and Barbara Lee of Oakland; African Americans who are emerging from the political wilderness; and storied liberals like Rep. Pete Stark of Fremont, who in the 1960s put a giant peace symbol atop the bank he owned.

"The diversity that the Democrats represent means that California Democrats will be looking to help those who have elected them, especially working people and lower-income people," said Los Angeles Rep. Henry A. Waxman, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, who will head the powerful Government Reform Committee next year.

The two sides of the state's 53-member House delegation underscore the fault line that cuts the state's political landscape, said Thad Kousser, a political scientist at UC San Diego.

"Drive out Interstate 10 from Santa Monica to the Inland Empire, and it's like going from New York to Des Moines," he said. "You go from a blue state to a red state."

California's political divide could not always be traversed by such a straightforward commute.

For decades, the state split horizontally between historically liberal Northern California and more conservative Southern California. Even then, its political map was more of a patchwork. Into the '80s, Republicans still represented portions of Los Angeles and other coastal areas. Even Santa Monica had a Republican congressman until 1982, when Rep. Robert K. Dornan lost his seat to redistricting and moved to Orange County.

Recent national elections have highlighted a more starkly divided state. In 2000 and 2004, nearly all of California's coastal counties supported Democrats Al Gore and John F. Kerry for president, while inland counties overwhelmingly backed George W. Bush.

Today, the lawmakers that California's two regions send to Washington could scarcely be more different.

The Republicans whose hold on power ended when the 109th Congress adjourned this month nearly all represented inland districts, with the exception of a handful in Orange and northern San Diego counties.

The ruling GOP delegation included just one woman. And its captains were a half-dozen men whose California is a world away from West Los Angeles, Boyle Heights or Berkeley.

They are lawmakers like Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), a 58-year-old Vietnam veteran and 13-term congressman who has chaired the House Armed Services Committee since 2002.

Hunter, whose district extends east of San Diego through wealthy hilltop enclaves and into rural inland valleys and desert, has been a staunch supporter of the military. He ranks among the most socially conservative members of Congress.

Like most of the California Republicans who served as committee chairmen, Hunter grew up in California. He is the son of a real estate developer who built some of Riverside's early suburbs. Hunter's brother is an executive with one of San Diego's biggest development firms.

The roots of several of these committee chairmen go even deeper.

Rep. Richard W. Pombo, the outgoing chairman of the House Resources Committee who was driven from office last month, descends from Portuguese immigrants who came to farm in the Central Valley city of Tracy in the early 20th century. Pombo grew up on the family ranch. Today, Joe Pombo Parkway, named for the congressman's grandfather, cuts through a corner of town.

Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, a former Santa Clarita mayor who chaired the House Education and Workforce committee, is also a third-generation Californian whose Mormon grandparents moved to the state from Utah. McKeon, whose family owned a chain of Western-wear stores, grew up in Tujunga, an unincorporated rural community nestled at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, the outgoing chairman of the House Appropriations Committee whose district encompasses most of San Bernardino County, including the Mojave Desert, traces his California roots at least five generations. Lewis' great-great grandfather helped name the streets of San Francisco, according to the congressman's office.

In many ways, it is not surprising that these men were the public face of California under the Republican Congress, said Allan Hoffenblum, a former GOP political strategist who publishes the nonpartisan California Target Book.

"The only Republicans that are being elected in California now are coming from heavily gerrymandered, overwhelmingly white districts," Hoffenblum said. "The GOP has become a white man's Christian party in California."

If the Republican delegation represented something of a throwback, the Democratic delegation moving into power on Capitol Hill more closely approximates the state California has become.

The 34 Democrats represent districts that either touch the coast or are no more than a few miles from it. They include seven Latinos, four African Americans and two Asian Americans.

Women outnumber men, 18 to 16. Eight of the Democratic House members are Jewish, as are both of the state's senators, Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

The leaders of the Democratic House delegation are as diverse as its rank-and-file members. And unlike the Republicans they are replacing, many have lived in California only as adults.

Nancy Pelosi, designated by her party to become the first female House speaker next month, grew up in Baltimore before transplanting to San Francisco.

Rep. Bob Filner, who will take over the House Veterans Affairs Committee, is a New Yorker who, after joining the Freedom Riders in the South during the civil rights era, moved to San Diego.

Rep. Tom Lantos, who will chair the House International Relations Committee, was born in Hungary, survived a Nazi concentration camp and moved to California in the early '50s to earn a PhD at UC Berkeley. His district stretches down the peninsula south of San Francisco.

Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, who is slated to head the House Administration Committee, came to the Los Angeles area in the late '50s after leaving a segregated Birmingham, Ala., where she grew up. Her district includes much of Long Beach and the blue-collar communities of Compton and Carson.

Also moving into positions of power will be several Latinos, including Rep. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles, whom Pelosi tapped last week to be a special assistant to the speaker, and Rep. Joe Baca of Rialto, who will head the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Latino lawmakers still will not have the clout in Washington that they do in Sacramento, where they make up nearly a quarter of the state Legislature.

But the seven Latino members of Congress from California are nearly double the four who held seats the last time Democrats were in the majority 12 years ago.

"We're getting there," said Baca, whose 1999 election highlighted the increasing influence of Latinos in the Inland Empire.

Baca, whose father moved the family from New Mexico to California after World War II, grew up in Barstow.

"We reflect the great diversity of our state," Baca said of his party's ascendant delegation. "This is a tremendous symbol. This is the promise of diversity."

noam.levey@latimes.com

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Out with the old, in with the new

--

Republicans leaving leadership positions:

David DreierRules Committee chairman,San Dimas | Richard W. Pombo*Resources Committee chairman,Tracy | Howard P. "Buck" McKeonEducation and the Workforce Committee chairman,Santa Clarita | Duncan HunterArmed Services Committee chairman,El Cajon | Bill Thomas*Ways and Means Committee chairman,Bakersfield | Jerry LewisAppropriations Committee chairman,Redlands |

--

--

Incoming Democratic leaders:

Nancy PelosiSpeaker of the House,San Francisco | Henry A. WaxmanGovernment Reform Committee chairman,Los Angeles | Tom Lantos International Relations Committee chairman,Burlingame | George Miller Education and the Workforce Committee chairman,Martinez | Juanita Millender-McDonaldAdministration Committee chairwoman,Carson | Bob FilnerVeterans Affair Committee chairman,Chula Vista | Xavier BecerraAssistant to the Speaker,Los Angeles--Sources: Times reporting, Almanac of American Politics * -- Pombo, who lost his reelection bid, and Thomas, who retired, will not serve in the 110th Congress.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Friday December 29, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction California congressional delegation: An article in Sunday's Section A about the makeup of the incoming California delegation called Tujunga "an unincorporated rural community." Tujunga is part of the city of Los Angeles.
Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
58°