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Newsletter: Orange County officially has more Democrats than Republicans

Orange County Democrats
Dr. Nick Hernandez, left, and Mary Carter, center, volunteers with the Laguna Beach Democratic Party, help Sydney Magno of Riverside register to vote as a Democrat at the Democratic Party of Orange County booth at the OC Fair in Costa Mesa.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Aug. 8, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

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Some place names are just words, while others act as a kind of shorthand for an entire way of life. For decades, the very phrase “Orange County” has conjured both demographics and values in the collective imagination: suburban, affluent or aspirant middle class, white and, most of all, conservative.

Of course, Orange County’s demographics have long since shifted from that stereotype (the county has been majority-minority since 2004), and the GOP has had a loosening grip on its California stronghold ever since.

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But on Wednesday, the once unthinkable happened: Orange County officially turned blue, according to voter registration records.

[Read the story: “Orange County, longtime GOP stronghold, now has more registered Democrats than Republicans” by Seema Mehta and Melanie Mason in the Los Angeles Times]

The county registrar of voters released new statistics early that morning showing that Orange County is now home to 547,458 registered Democrats, compared with 547,369 Republicans. The news comes just shy of nine months after the November 2018 election, when Democrats swept the entirety of Orange County’s seven-member congressional delegation in an epochal shift that marked the first time since the 1930s that the county didn’t send a Republican to the House.

Orange County, whose population boomed with new suburbs in the years after World War II, first emerged as a visible and often hard-line symbol of American conservatism in the 1960s.

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This is where Richard M. Nixon — who became the first Californian ever elected to the Oval Office toward the end of the decade — was born in a modest wood-frame house assembled from a kit by his father. Orange County is where Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential ambitions “caught fire” in suburban kitchens, and where Ronald Reagan held his first political fundraiser in 1965.

There was a time when left-leaning residents were such a beleaguered minority that they printed “It’s OK to be a Democrat in Orange County” bumper stickers for their cars.

Orange County also spawned the 1978 Briggs initiative, which would have banned gays and lesbians from working in California public schools, and 1994’s Proposition 187, which would have denied public services, including education, to undocumented immigrants. (The former failed at the ballot box and the latter passed, but most of its provisions were struck down in court.)

[See also: “In Orange County, land of reinvention, even its conservative politics is changing” in the Los Angeles Times]

“It was never a question of whether or not you would win Orange County,” former GOP strategist Reed Galen, who relied on the county during campaigns for President George W. Bush and others, told The Times. “The idea that you could lose it wasn’t even on the books.”

But the books, it seems, have changed, with a new narrative for Orange County.

“Democrats gaining an edge here over Republicans is a watershed moment for a place that has long been a citadel of GOP strength — and one that could have national implications for the future of the Republican Party,” as my colleagues Seema Mehta and Melanie Mason wrote in their story yesterday.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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TOP STORIES

Four people were killed and two others injured after a man went on a stabbing rampage Wednesday night across Santa Ana and Garden Grove, authorities say. Police said the crimes apparently started as robberies. Los Angeles Times

For Mexican Americans, El Paso is a beacon and, often, an entry point to the United States. Nationwide, Latinos are expressing grief and anger over the El Paso massacre, which law enforcement officials are investigating as a hate crime because the alleged gunman published an online manifesto railing against a “Hispanic invasion” of Texas. The tragedy resonates deeply in Southern California, where a large El Paso community has played an outsized role in Mexican American life for more than a century. Los Angeles Times

An effort to cap annual rent increases in California received a boost when Gov. Gavin Newsom embraced the idea and said he wants even more restrictions than currently planned. Los Angeles Times

L.A. STORIES

More than 250,000 donations have poured in from L.A. to 2020 Democratic presidential contenders. Here is a block-by-block look at whom Angelenos support. Los Angeles Times

What is the greatest tortilla in Southern California? My esteemed and occasionally tortilla-sharing colleague Gustavo Arellano will yet again labor over this eternal question for the second edition of KCRW’s #TortillaTournament. KCRW

The Obamas are settling into their new role as... Netflix producers. “They were open,” an agency source told the Hollywood Reporter. “They weren’t coming in saying, ‘Where is our “Game of Thrones”?’ It was human scale-type stories.” The Hollywood Reporter

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Big crystal energy: Can incorporating the metaphysical help your miserable L.A. commute? Los Angeleno

How the crackdown on human trafficking in L.A. is causing collateral damage and hurting vulnerable women, even as officials say they’re trying to help. LAist

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IMMIGRATION AND THE BORDER

Asylum seekers report theft and exploitation in Mexicali’s migrant shelters, which are subject to little oversight and receive almost zero public funding. San Diego Union-Tribune

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed Wednesday to spend California’s share of a national mortgage settlement on legal assistance for struggling homeowners and renters, funds that lawmakers illegally diverted in 2014 to help erase the state’s budget deficit. Los Angeles Times

Gov. Gavin Newsom listens during a press conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Gov. Gavin Newsom listens during a news conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times )

One reason housing is so expensive in California? Cities and counties charge developers high fees. Los Angeles Times

HIV prevention drug PrEP could become available in California without a prescription if this bill passes. PrEP has been available for several years, but advocates say it can be difficult to access due to a number of barriers. Capital Public Radio

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Los Angeles hopes to store solar and wind power in underground salt caverns in rural Utah, to help replace a giant coal plant that will shut down in 2025. The electricity would be ferried to Southern California through a 488-mile transmission line, built in the 1980s. Los Angeles Times

A single donkey remains trapped on an island with rising water levels in the Sierra Nevada foothills, as several local, state and federal agencies try to parse out a potential rescue. (The background: A herd of burros came to settle on a piece of high ground at Lake McClure when it was dry due to historic drought conditions. Runoff helped fill the lake two years ago. The rest of the herd, who were apparently only out for themselves, left before this patch of land became an island — abandoning Hillary, as the locals have nicknamed the burro, all to her lonesome amid the rising waters. She has found support from fishermen who bring her bales of hay and oats.) Merced Sun-Star

In Northern California, the time is ripe for a once-popular apple’s potential comeback. The red-and-green Gravenstein apples are available for just two weeks each August. Atlas Obscura

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Here are some of Napa and Sonoma’s most “architecture-forward” wineries. Curbed SF

A local barber and Gilroy native wanted to give back after the shooting, so he opened his barbershop up to first responders for free haircuts. Salinas Californian

How to watch Thursday’s Giants game, airing only on YouTube. San Francisco Chronicle

“I called 311 hella times.” An Oakland man pleaded for help fixing his local park. Then Steph Curry stepped in. SF Gate

Tim Dundon, the “Guru of Doo Doo,” whose compost nourished Altadena’s gardens, has died at 77. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: sunny, 79. San Diego: partly sunny, 73. San Francisco: windy, 67. San Jose: partly sunny, 77. Sacramento: sunny, 87. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California Memory comes from Gary Friendly:

“It was June 1963. After an overnight train ride from Montana, I boarded Union Pacific’s ‘City of St Louis’ in Salt Lake City. It was my only chance to ride one of those famous trains. I took a seat in the vista dome while the train made a dramatic drop over and down Cajon Pass through the brown haze, [which] someone called smog, into San Bernardino. From there our route passed over and under freeways, through the Pomona Valley into Los Angeles Union Station. My uncle, who just completed his milk route, stood proudly on the station platform wearing his white Adohr Farms uniform.”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.


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