Column: A blue wave in O.C.? More like a slow tide rising
I’ve long fancied myself a journalistic John the Baptist for Orange County, a voice in the wilderness crying out to the world that there is more to my homeland than suburban sprawl and vapid housewives. Well, who looks like a lunatic now? In 2018, the old Orange Curtain is looking really frayed.
Issues festering here for decades that politicians and the rich alike ignored — homelessness, income disparity, jailhouse corruption — have received national attention, forever tarnishing our carefully crafted image as the paradise to the South of the L.A. hellmouth. On the political front, Democratic candidates are challenging GOP stalwarts for city council and congressional seats. Our congressional dinosaurs, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) and Mimi Walters (R-Irvine), are being forced to campaign for the first time in their careers. Grassroots groups such as Chispa and Indivisible Orange County are skewering local officials for their demonization of immigrants and their general Trumpish cluelessness.
All this comes as Republicans are just 2.8 percentage points ahead of Democrats in voter registration — 36.7% to 33.9%, with 24.9% registered with no party preference. This is a huge drop from 1990, when the GOP enjoyed a 22-point registration lead over the Dems in O.C.
These developments make me happy, and not just because they prove I’m a prophet! During the June 5 primary, Orange County liberals and progressives will show everyone that we will, some day, live in a bright, joyous Violet County. Just not yet.
I say the following with peace and love: Democrats still face a few more years of wandering in O.C.’s political desert.
Much has been made about how Hillary Clinton in 2016 was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Orange County since FDR. This gave us a glimpse of better days ahead. But the primaries show that much work needs to get done to truly topple the GOP in Orange County.
Take the Democrats running for Congress. Almost all of them are political novices — candidates with no name recognition in districts that favor familiar faces. So many are running for the seat Ed Royce is vacating in the 39th Congressional District that there’s a good chance they will split the Democratic vote and allow two Republicans to advance to the general election.
Democratic voters should realize that electing their own kind doesn’t guarantee lasting liberalism here.
Meanwhile, millionaire Democrats Harley Rouda and Hans Keirstead are the leading challengers to Rohrabacher in the 45th District. They both seem like good guys who say the right things. But any time I hear about self-funded campaigns like theirs, I immediately recall Michael Huffington, the former California Republican congressman and U.S. Senate nominee who thought it was OK to simply buy his way into a seat. Is that really the type of politician that Democrats want as the force behind their blue wave?
Rouda, Keirstead or the others who are running aren’t to blame, though. The problems lie with the Democratic Party of Orange County. Unlike the O.C. GOP, it never developed a robust farm system of candidates who learned the ropes of elections by running for school boards or sanitation districts. Now, when Orange County is itching for strong Democratic candidates, the Dems have few to showcase. (Really, state Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva of Fullerton should’ve run for the 39th — and would’ve probably easily won.) It’s almost as if party leaders couldn’t fathom that this day would come — and how sad is that?
Democratic voters should also realize that electing their own kind doesn’t guarantee lasting liberalism here. Old-timers remember when Democrats held a majority on the Orange County Board of Supervisors in the 1970s and other key offices, only to see those gains crumble under convictions, indictments and other scandals. That fiasco allowed the Republicans to grab power in O.C., which they’ve never relinquished.
Recent Democratic officeholders are nothing to brag about, either. Miguel Pulido has run Santa Ana like a PRI fiefdom in his nearly quarter-century as the city’s mayor. He learned well from former Irvine Mayor Larry Agran, whose ego helped to turn the Orange County Great Park from a feasible project into a 14-year quagmire that still has no end in sight. Democratic Party officials stood by both of these guys for too long, even as activists tried to warn the party about their tyrannical tendencies.
Don’t shoot the messenger, Dems. I hope that your candidates advance to the general election in November. That ballot promises to carry a lot of progressive measures such as a living wage ordinance for businesses in Anaheim’s Disneyland Resort district and rent control in Santa Ana. If voters rally around those, you may finally have set a strong foothold here.
Yet, from my mountaintop, I don’t see a big blue wave headed for Orange County this year. Please prove me wrong, Dems. If y’all succeed, I’ll register as one of you for the first time since my early 20s. Call your prodigal son home. If not, I’ll continue splitting my ballot between Libertarians, Greens and a token Peace and Freedom candidate — because someone has to, right?
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