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Politics

Debate primer: Nine things you didn’t know about Simi Valley

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

Maintenance worker Danny Alvarez pulls a curtain in preparation for Wednesday’s GOP debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

In some ways Simi Valley could be mistaken for "The Land Before Time."

The city rests between the Santa Susana Mountains and the Simi Hills, surrounded by hot, bright red rocks.

Politically, it is an isolated island of conservatism in an otherwise liberal coastal strip of Southern California. (Republican Mitt Romney picked up 55% of votes cast in the city in the 2012 presidential election. He claimed 45% of votes cast in Ventura County, even as President Obama won the state by 21 points.

We spent an afternoon talking with residents about the flood of political types, reporters and television cameras descending on the 126,871-population city for Wednesday's debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. 

Here are 9 fun facts about Simi Valley:

  • John D. Heubusch, the library's executive director, has an office adorned with books by the Republican stars who made the pilgrimage out West, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The opposite wall is covered in posters from Reagan's Hollywood days: "Bedtime for Bonzo," "Law and Order," and "Cavalry Charge."  

  • The city is probably best known for hosting the jury that ac­quit­ted four Los Angeles police of­ficers of beat­ing Rod­ney King in 1992. The surprise verdict triggered riots in Los Angeles and tied Simi Valley to an ugly moment in the nation's racial history. 

    "I don't even want to go there," said Mayor Bob Huber with a sigh that morphed into a laugh. "We are thankful we have the Reagan Library because that is what we are famous for now." 
  • The debate stage in the Air Force One Pavilion is built atop enough layers of scaffolding to place the candidates two stories above the ground floor, with the Boeing 707 directly behind them.  

  • The library isn't all politics. During our visit last week, a high school football team and other patrons walked through the museum's twisting halls, taking in the varied attractions. That included a new exhibit on the history of football -- complete with two balls inflated, respectively, to 12.5 psi and 10.5 psi ("I defy you to figure out the difference," Heubusch said).

  • A Jelly Belly portrait of The Gipper hangs near a Marine One helicopter under the debate stage. Tourists can mount a mock horse set against a mural depicting Reagan riding in the California wilderness. If they are in a more serious mood, they can watch a video on the Cold War in the "Threat Theater Crisis Corridor," where large photos of Ayatollah Khomeini, Fidel Castro, Moammar Kadafi and other Reagan foes hang. 

  • The gift shop has just about everything a Reagan follower could possibly want to buy.

  • The presidential candidates and their staffs won't find a four- or five-star hotel in town. The city is working on that, Huber said.  

  • Reagan himself is buried on the scenic library grounds, which are dotted with flowers, a section of the Berlin Wall and signs warning tourists to look out for rattlesnakes that call the hill home.   

The hundreds expected to be on site at the library will ultimately return home. For now, the debate puts a spotlight on the Golden State. 

"California is on the map as hugely important every day for every candidate because of the amount of money that can be donated to campaigns," said Heubusch. "We hope that our debate ... helps balance that off with the presence of real life political activity -- beyond fundraising." 

Longtime residents Ann and Steve Lloyd said they will avoid traffic and stay indoors Wednesday. At the moment, they are leaning toward supporting GOP hopeful Ben Carson but are impressed with former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. 

"It is fun we are at the center of politics for a moment. It is just for a minute, but it is fun," Ann Lloyd, 67, said while the couple joined about 200 others in the parking lot of a Regal Cinemas for a free concert by Beatles tribute band Paperback Writers.

Nearby, lifelong Republican voter and retired aerospace worker Steve Fulton, 66, said he was curious to see how a trailing Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, would perform in the debate.

Fulton said he was flabbergasted at the continued success of businessman Donald Trump, whom he considered a joke.

"I can't believe I am going to end up voting for this guy," he said, sitting in a lawnchair in the parking lot. "He is a snake oil salesman. He is just a total snow job. But he isn't Hillary [Rodham Clinton]. And I am not going to vote for Hillary."

Twitter: @jpanzar 

For more political news, go to www.latimes.com/politics.


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