Here’s a political non-shocker — the biggest change in Southern California politics over the past decade was, at least in part, utterly predictable.
In 2010, Southern California was a moderate Democratic stronghold. Of the 26 House seats that touched Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, ten that year were held by Republicans. A similar Democratic lean also was true of state offices, in the Assembly and state Senate, representing Southern California in Sacramento.
Blue? Sure, but the GOP still had some clout.
But as 2020 draws near, the moderate Democratic stronghold of Southern California had turned deeply — some say impenetrably — blue.
Of the 27 House seats that now touch the four Southern California counties only three are held by Republicans. In Sacramento, Democrats hold supermajority status for the second time in a decade, fueled, in part, by Democratic pickups in Southern California.
So, what happened?
First, in the past decade, many immigrants who came to the region as children in the 1990s and 2000s become voting adults since 2010. And data suggests they have yet to find a home in a GOP led by Donald Trump.
For example, huge majorities of California voters like immigrants, telling the California Public Policy Institute last year that “hard work” and “job skills” are admirable immigrant traits and that undocumented residents should get a crack at citizenship. The GOP’s push, under Trump, includes strong anti immigrant rhetoric, more deportations, and an end to DACA, a program that helps more than 188,000 young adults in California.
But immigration is just part of the region’s increasingly blue political picture.
Polling shows Southern California voters prefer strong action on climate change, something the GOP actively disdains. Same for gun control. And government-funded health care. And impeachment. On policy after policy, majorities of Southern California voters are not in sync with current GOP ideals.
If Southern California is a political foil for the Trump White House — and vice versa — it’s been a decade in the making.
Politics shift on immigration
In 2012, when
President Barack Obama created DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that has allowed some 700,000 young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children to live and work without the threat of deportation, the pro-immigrant move was good for him politically. The GOP led congress wouldn’t have approved DACA, but Obama’s executive order on the program helped his party woo Latino voters.
That trajectory changed, nationally, when the Trump-led GOP won the White House and Congress. But in California, an increasingly pro-Latino legislature pushed other laws during the decade aimed at protecting as many as 3 million people believed to live in the state illegally, again boosting Democrats among a growing base of Latino voters.
Today, non-citizens in California have access to many things they couldn’t get in 2010 — driver’s licenses, in-state college tuition, even professional licences.
Conservatives balked at many of these moves. And in 2018, a year after the state passed a law that made California a so-called “sanctuary state,” protecting some immigrants from deportation, more than 60 California cities – including half of Orange County – took a stance against it.
As immigration battles raged, so too did social battles. Hate groups, particularly white nationalists, have proliferated during the decade, sparking protests and violence. And, in recent years, growing number of mass shootings have been linked at least in part to rhetoric – typically shared online – from individuals pushing racist ideals.
Homelessness becomes a crisis
A decade ago, homelessness seemed to be a shrinking problem.
In 2011, homeless counts showed declining numbers of people living without shelter in Los Angeles and Orange counties, though the numbers were ticking up in the Inland Empire.
But that same year came the much-publicized death of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man who died after a violent assault by Fullerton police. Thomas came to symbolize what had been a faceless issue. And, despite the 2011 counts, the problem was growing in areas with historic homeless populations, such as skid row in Los Angeles, Santa Ana’s Civic Center, and rural pockets of Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
And, soon, the problem exploded. Encampments ballooned across Southern California. People set up cardboard homes or tents under freeway bridges, next to flood control channels, in community parks, and on the sidewalks of any given city.
Causes ran the gamut: a housing shortage, sky-high rents, cuts in mental-health services, lingering unemployment from the Great Recession, opioids. Amid lawsuits contesting the criminalization of homeless people, and pressure from homeowners and merchants, billions of public dollars have been earmarked for new shelters and services that might help people break out of the cycle of being homeless.
But much of that spending is new, and recent data shows it’s not working — yet.
— Theresa Walker
Diversity gets real
As the voters of Southern California shifted — becoming younger, less white, less affluent, less straight — so did the people they voted for.
The shift occurred on both sides of the political aisle, up and down the ballot.
In 2010, for example, Kamala Harris, a Democrat of Indian and Jamaican descent, became the first woman, the first African-American and the first Asian-American person elected as the state’s attorney general. Heading into 2020, two women are vying for two congressional seats in Orange County — Michelle Steele and Young Kim — who could become the first Korean-American women to serve in Congress. Both are Republicans.
On a local level, in 2014, Long Beach elected Robert Garcia as mayor. The Democrat is the youngest, the first Latino and the first openly gay person to hold that position. Later that year, Janet Nguyen, a Garden Grove Republican who was born in Vietnam, became the country’s first Vietnamese-American state senator when she was elected to represent the 34th District.
Two years later, Harris would again make history, becoming the second African-American woman and the first South Asian-American ever elected to the U.S. Senate.
And still, the trend has continued.
In 2018, Ahmad Zahra, an openly gay immigrant from Syria, became the country’s first ever openly LGBTQ Muslim city councilman when he won the nonpartisan election in Fullerton.
“It’s a pleasant surprise,” Zahra said at the time. “We’re maturing as a county.”