Democrats’ Fate Lies In The Nation’s Political Battlefield: Orange County

Orange County is at the center of the political universe again, the battleground where upward of $35 million — or about 10 times what’s typically spent on Bay Area House campaigns — will shower each of two key races that will help determine whether Democrats keep control of Congress.

But a lot has changed since 2020, when Republican Reps. Michelle Steel and Young Kim made history by being the first GOP Korean American women to ever serve in Congress. Or 2018, when Democrats flipped four GOP seats here to help take the House. Now, Steel’s race is rated a “toss-up,” while Kim is seen as having a slightly better chance of holding her seat.

For starters, both must introduce themselves to a new crop of voters after California’s redistricting commission redrew the state’s political boundaries. Plus, a number of outside factors could reshape their races, from abortion to Donald Trump to COVID to a battle to win over Asian voters that is among the most intense — and complex — in the country.

In Steel’s race, much of that struggle will be fought in Little Saigon, a hub of more than 200,000 Vietnamese residents that stretches over parts of Orange County, about 10 miles southwest of Anaheim. It’s one of the largest such enclaves in the country.

Instead of running in the more conservative, coastal district where she won in 2020, Steel is now running in the 45th Congressional District, where Democrats have a 5-point registration advantage.

But Steel’s campaign is confident, largely because Little Saigon boosts her district’s Asian American slice of the electorate to 35%. Vietnamese voters were an integral part of the coalition that helped carry Steel to victory in 2020 over incumbent Democrat Harley Rouda, who is white, said Fred Whitaker, chair of the Orange County Republican Party.

“That’s why Michelle Steel moved over (to run in that district), because that was one of her strongest bases,” Whitaker told me. “The party registration may be a little more Democratic, but the way that they vote is Republican.”

The Republican National Committee took notice and last June opened an office in a strip mall in the heart of the community to try to strengthen its ties there. Since then, the GOP has knocked on 75,000 doors and made 200,000 calls in the Steel’s new turf, according to GOP officials.

Steel visited the storefront recently during a training for volunteers to make calls in Vietnamese. Strung across one wall is a 12-foot-long banner featuring a quote attributed to her: “I live in the best country on Earth and I want future generations to achieve their own American Dreams.”

“We’re going to win,” Steel told the dozen volunteers at the training. “No matter what.”

Long Bui, a professor of global and international studies at UC Irvine, said Vietnamese American businesses and voters “will be key to determining who wins this race.”

Their voting patterns, however, aren’t predictable.

Bui, the author of “Returns of War: South Vietnam and the Price of Refugee Memory,” said there’s “a tendency” to think that older Vietnamese — particularly those who fled the Communist takeover of their homeland after the war ended — vote more conservatively than the younger generation.

Instead, Bui said, “the community often considers personalities and who runs the most savvy, impactful campaign. Issues and charisma matter as much or sometimes more than party affiliation.”

Diedre Tu-La Nguyen, the mayor pro-tem of Garden Grove, which is part of Little Saigon, said the Vietnamese community is still small enough that personal relationships often trump party affiliation. The Vietnam-born Democrat, who fled a refugee camp as a child after the war and is now a cancer researcher, is running for Assembly.

“Vietnamese don’t vote for a party, they vote for people,” Nguyen told me over dinner of sea snails, garlic noodles and grilled shrimp at a Little Saigon restaurant. She said that until she ran for office, many didn’t know she was a Democrat. “You just know who people are in the community by their reputation, by what they’ve done.”

In a sign of how unpredictable voters are here, even Nguyen’s household is split. Nguyen’s husband is a Republican.

Democrat Jay Chen is running for Congress in California's 45th Congressional District.
Democrat Jay Chen is running for Congress in California’s 45th Congressional District.Allison Zaucha/Special to The Chronicle

Steel’s main opponent is Jay Chen, a child of Taiwanese immigrants, U.S. Naval Reserve officer, school board member and owner of a real estate firm.

Chen is a better fit for the new district, which “is more working class,” said Ajay Mohan, executive director of the Orange County Democratic Party. Democrats intend to pound Steel for not supporting the federal Paycheck Protection Plan that provided funding to the small businesses that drive the community.

They say Steel — a fervent Trump supporter who received a 77% rating by the Conservative Political Action Committee scorecard (slightly higher than House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield) — is too conservative for the newly drawn district.

Perhaps even more damaging, Chen said, is that she voted against establishing the commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection and against the bipartisan $1.9 trillion American Recovery Plan last year.

Steel said the plan was too pricey and sprawling.

Click here to read the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle

With Trump, Against Cheney

House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy endorses primary challenger to the Wyoming Republican.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy endorsed the GOP primary challenger to Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney on Thursday, his latest show of fealty to former President Trump as Republicans try to take control of Congress.

McCarthy did not mention Cheney by name as he announced he was backing attorney Harriet Hageman in the August primary.

“The most successful representatives in Congress focus on the needs of their constituents, and throughout her career, Harriet has championed America’s natural resources and helped the people of Wyoming reject burdensome and onerous government overreach,” the Bakersfield Republican said.

Hageman — once a Cheney ally — did not hold back, saying that Cheney has become an ineffective leader and was being used by Democrats to “achieve their partisan goals.”

“Cheney is doing nothing to help us, she is actively damaging the Republican Party — both in Wyoming and nationally — and it’s time for her to go,” said Hageman, who has frequently battled the federal government over its environmental policies and unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018.

A Cheney spokesman pointed to comments from prominent Wyoming journalists deriding the importance of a California politician’s endorsement to Hageman’s prospects.

“Wow, she must be really desperate,” spokesman Jeremy Adler said.

McCarthy’s move against Cheney is not surprising. Though Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, overwhelmingly supported Trump’s policies, she became an outspoken critic of his bogus claims that the 2020 election was rigged and of his role in urging his supporters to march to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Click here to read the full article at LA Times

Report Card: What Did Congress Members From Orange County Accomplish In 2021?

Register looks at voting records, legislation, constituent response and attendance for seven House members.

Of the seven U.S. House members who represent portions of Orange County, Rep. Mike Levin had the best attendance record in 2021, as the only local lawmaker not to miss a single vote this year. Reps. Katie Porter and Lou Correa weren’t far behind, missing just one vote each.

Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, also helped recover the most money for constituents from federal agencies, while Rep. Young Kim, R-La Habra, grabbed headlines for breaking with her party in votes on a few high-profile bills. And every local lawmaker communicated with residents through town halls, detailed websites, newsletters and social media.

With this year’s legislative session closed, the Register took a look at what Congress members who represent portions of Orange County got done in 2021.

It’s not a ranking, per se. Simple bills are much easier to get passed, for example, but often don’t create real change in people’s lives. Also, legislation — particularly in the House of Representatives — also often gets wrapped up into other bills, as lawmakers cosponsor or add amendments to colleague’s bills. And there are, at times, legitimate reasons why members miss votes.

But voters should be able to expect attendance, advocacy and communication from the people they pay to represent them in Washington, D.C. So here’s a report card of sorts for how each local House member put your taxpayer dollars to work in 2021.

Keep in mind that most of these lawmakers plan to stand for reelection in 2022. Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, already has announced he’s retiring after this term. And for the others, the number and geography of their districts will change at the end of next year, when new political district maps take effect.

Rep. Linda Sánchez, D-Whitter, of CA-38

Sánchez, 52, is in her 10th term representing the 38th District, which includes La Palma and a slice of Cypress, plus southern Los Angeles County cities. She serves on the powerful Ways and Means Committee and on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. She also belongs to the Hispanic, Labor and Working Families, LGBTQ+ Equality and Progressive caucuses.

Legislation: Sánchez sponsored 18 bills and three resolutions this year. So far, none have been signed into law, though figure to be discussed in the second year of the session and others have been incorporated into new legislation. For example, Sanchez was asked by President Joe Biden to author the now-stalled U.S. Citizenship Act, which would reform immigration and create a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented residents. That idea is being debated in the budget reconciliation package. Sánchez also is still pushing bills she reintroduced this year to let family caregivers get a tax credit of up to $5,000 for expenses and to let service members dispute negative credit information that appeared while they were in a combat zone or aboard a U.S. vessel.

Reaching and helping constituents: Sánchez held more than 40 town halls, “Coffees with the Congresswoman” and other events to engage directly with constituents in person or virtually. Her office returned over $1 million to constituents in veterans’ benefits, tax returns, Social Security checks and other federal benefits. They also resolved more than 1,000 cases involving passports, small businesses and immigration-related issues.

Vote record: Sanchez missed 1.1% or five out of 449 votes this year, according to GovTrack. (For context, the median is 2.1% among the lifetime records of representatives currently serving.) Here’s how she voted on seven high-profile bills that passed the House this year:

-Yes on the Build Back Better Act, Biden’s nearly $2 trillion signature social spending bill that would taxes very wealthy individuals and corporations to address climate change, offer universal preschool, expand Medicare and extend the Child Tax Credit. The package is still being debated in the Senate.

-Yes on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will funnel $1 trillion to states and local governments to upgrade outdated roads, bridges, transit systems and more. The bill became law in November.

-Yes on impeaching President Donald Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The Senate voted Trump not guilty.

Click here to read the full article at OC Register

With California’s Congressional Maps Set, Candidates Swoop In

After months of stall as they waited for new district lines, California’s congressional incumbents and challengers rushed to declare their candidacies Tuesday as key matchups, including a potential high-stakes contest between Orange County Democrats, began to crystallize.

The redrawing of California’s congressional, legislative and Board of Equalization boundaries will shape the contours of the state’s political landscape for the next 10 years. Politicians, however, immediately turned their attention to a more pressing question for the next 11 months — where they will run in the 2022 midterm election.

Soon after the state’s independent redistricting commission approved the new maps — in some cases, within minutes of the vote — incumbents had announced reelection plans and specified which of the reconfigured seats they’re seeking.

The flurry of announcements underscored how antsy California politicians are to introduce themselves to new voters, scope out potential challengers and, in some cases, physically relocate, in response to the commission’s work.

“We have our maps now. We’re talking to all of our members to see who’s running where,” said Jessica Patterson, chair of the California Republican Party. “We will be pushing on those [recruited] candidates we think are ready to step up to the next level.”

The new district lines were not drawn according to partisan considerations — the independent commission is not allowed to take partisanship into account. But the lines were broadly good news for the Democratic Party. All of the seats now held by Democrats will tilt even more blue with the new boundaries. By contrast, five of the 11 seats held by Republicans will grow more competitive.

But the shuffling has led to at-times awkward maneuvering for candidates of both parties, especially in Orange County and the Central Valley, two of the most politically contested parts of the state.

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times

The SALT Fight Is Coming To a Head

In April, this column reported on the great SALT controversy and how it impacts California taxpayers. SALT stands for “state and local taxes,” and for many years prior to President Trump’s term in office, taxpayers could deduct those taxes from their federal tax returns without limitation. But in 2017, Congress enacted Trump’s tax reform, which limited the amount of state and local taxes that taxpayers could deduct up to $10,000. Whether limiting the SALT deduction is good or bad tax policy is not nearly as interesting as the politics behind it.

The adoption of the limitation by the Republican-led Congress was broadly perceived as a big middle finger to high-tax states such as California. Whether a pretext or not, states with modest income tax rates, or no income tax at all, complained that their residents were essentially subsidizing residents of profligate, big-spending states.

But moderate- to high-income taxpayers in California and other high tax states lost a valuable deduction on their federal returns. Suddenly they felt the full pain of high state income tax rates and property taxes. Frantic state politicians began plans to lessen that pain. For example, immediately after passage of the tax reform law, California floated the idea of a semi-voluntary “charitable deduction” scheme to give high-wealth Californians some relief. It would have created a “charitable” fund within the general fund so high-earning taxpayers could claim a deduction for “donating” the equivalent of what they owed in state taxes. But the IRS, in an opinion letter, quickly shot down that idea.

More successful was a method adopted by many states to provide relief for certain “qualified entities,” consisting mostly of small businesses organized as partnerships, LLCs or S corporations. While Gov. Gavin Newsom signed California’s workaround embodied in Assembly Bill 150, it provided little relief for citizen taxpayers.

Click here to read the full article at the Pasadena Star News

Government Regulation of Social Media Won’t Protect Free Speech

Sen. Amy Klobuchar wants to put HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, the former California attorney general with a reputation for being a partisan hack, in charge of “health disinformation” online.

Is it me or does the Facebook whistleblower’s “bombshell” revelations seem like much ado about very little? The company’s former product manager, Frances Haugen, has given the Securities and Exchange Commission and The Wall Street Journal thousands of internal documents that say more about the state of American culture than they do about the social-media company.

“No one at Facebook is malevolent, but the incentives are misaligned, right?” Haugen told CBS News. “Like, Facebook makes more money when you consume more content. People enjoy engaging with things that elicit an emotional reaction. And the more anger that they get exposed to, the more they interact and the more they consume.”

If that’s the issue, then one can just as easily blame newspapers, TV news shows, talk radio, and political parties—all of which benefit by stirring the pot. For some reason, people prefer conflict to happy thoughts about puppies (although there are plenty of those posted on Facebook). Do we blame the medium or the human condition?

Haugen shared an internal Facebook survey showing that Instagram increases thoughts of suicide and worsens eating disorders among teens. I would never minimize the tribulations of being a teenager, but Haugen seems woefully naive. Young girls have always compared themselves to the photos of fashion models in magazines. Teens were vicious to one another long before Instagram.

Again, do we blame social media or something deeper? The same goes for commenters who post incendiary information on their Facebook pages. These are platforms, which people use for good or ill. This nonsense reminds me of liberal politicians who blame video games for gun violence and conservative politicians who blame Hollywood movies for an erosion of the nation’s morals.

It’s time to grow up. The problem with the latest hysteria: A rash of new rules and regulations will certainly follow. As The Wall Street Journal noted, Haugen’s testimony before Congress “builds momentum for tougher tech laws.” Of course it does, and conservatives—who will be on the receiving end of whatever passes—will only have themselves to blame.

“(T)he time is ripe for the regime and the digital medium to face a long-overdue just comeuppance,” wrote Josh Hammer in The American Mind, in a typical conservative diatribe against tech firms. Hammer calls for Congress to “rein in the ‘Mountain View-Menlo Park nexus of woke leftist corporatism…lest technocracy vanquish democracy anew.'”

Click here to read the rest of the article on Reason.com

Democrats consider attacking their own California candidates to win back Congress


The filing deadline for California’s June primary has passed, but Democrats and their affiliated groups aren’t done trying to shape the field of candidates running to unseat Republican members of Congress.

Facing the risk that the party could get shut out of the general election race for one or more competitive Republican-held seats, liberal groups formed to attack Republicans now say they are at least considering spending money to support particular Democratic candidates in the primaries. National Democratic officials say all options are on the table in the lead-up to June – including launching negative attacks on members of their own party, a tactic that stirred controversy in the Texas primary.

Democrats’ efforts in California could determine whether the party wins back control of the House of Representatives this fall.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won seven Republican-held congressional districts in the state 2016, which has raised hopes that Democrats could win seats in traditional GOP strongholds like Orange County and the Central Valley in 2018. Six of the seven Clinton-won districts now have four or more Democratic candidates bidding for the seat. That’s prompted spirited, and sometimes downright nasty, Democrat-versus-Democrat campaigning. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Ed Royce, longtime Orange County congressman, announces retirement


Longtime Orange County congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the high-profile Foreign Affairs Committee, announced Monday that he will retire when his current term is completed at the end of the year.

The conservative Republican, 66, has repeatedly won reelection by broad margins but has seen the GOP advantage in his district slip to less than 2-percentages. And since Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in his district in the 2016 election, Royce has drawn six Democratic challengers.

While he said Monday that his polling shows he’d win reelection, the task would require considerable time on the campaign trail and away from Washington.

Royce, who is required by Republican protocol to step down from his committee chairmanship after 2018 because of a 6-year limit, said he plans to focus his last year entirely on his committee work. …

Click here to read the full article from the Orange County Register

A quick look at some of the biggest tax changes for Californians

Congressional Republicans are framing their tax cut bill as a Christmas gift that will give Americans an average tax cut of $2,059. For Californians, especially in the wealthier areas along the coast, the situation isn’t as clear cut.

When the measure comes up for a vote in the House on Tuesday morning, it’s expected to pass along party lines. At least two Republicans say they will join Democrats in the California delegation to oppose the plan because they fear it will hurt their constituents’ bottom line.

Here’s a quick look at what some of the biggest changes in the tax bill might mean for average Californians.

State and local tax deduction, standard deduction and new tax brackets

A third of California taxpayers take an average state and local tax deduction of $22,000. But the GOP bill will cap the deduction going forward to $10,000.

For many Californians who deduct their state and local taxes on their federal return, this would amount to a tax hike. …

Click here to read the full article from the Los Angeles Times

At What Point Will We Say Politics Is Out of Control?


It’s no secret people are not excited over President Trump, and tensions are high among supporters and dissidents alike about the current situation in Washington. Debates over the health care bill (in every iteration), social issues and gun rights have lost all logical merit, and we are starting to see similar tendencies in state governments, who are clinging to as much agency as possible in these interesting times.

But now we’ve reached the point of violence; violence that could have been prevented with less partisanship and better discourse. Political gamesmanship has gotten out of control, for both politicians and fervent supporters. This seems to be a known fact, but when we will finally accept it? When will we finally accept politics are out of control?

Politics Over Policy, Party Over Country

How many representatives vote against their own party? Outside of Democrats in more conservative districts and Republicans fearing backlash in districts without a strong base, barely any, and when someone does break ranks, it is for sure-to-pass bills or when the risk of a scandal is just too high. While political parties were formed in part to organize ideas and provide a united front to defend them (much to the chagrin of some of the founding fathers), the fact that representatives have little individual voice is concerning, most of all to constituents from districts that stand to be most affected by legislation.

Is party loyalty not turning into a great cost to America? What bipartisan efforts have we seen coming from Congress? The only things of note this writer could find were a mental health bill passed last year and a budget that’s necessary for the government to run in the first place. Business as usual has become no business at all, and conservative ideas won’t fly if they come from a liberal, and vice versa. Policy has become about the person, not the benefit to society.

Legal Corruption and Rigging the Game

Gerrymandering is doing nothing to improve democracy, both at the state level and federally. It encourages pandering exclusively to a party base, silencing moderate and centrist voices that keep radicals out of office and limit partisanship.

On top of that, the concept of a judge as a political appointment has escalated, with court appointments and resignations playing out like a chess board, and some appointment periods growing far longer than the constitution intended. These types of actions extend beyond terms and are clear efforts to entrench policy and power. It removes the American people’s ability to react to changes and political gestures.

People Are Afraid

People are doing everything they can to stay safe from real and perceived threats, but without organization or an acknowledgment of reality, what can they do? They can stay private from snooping and attempt to make an impact on the local level, but there is an entrenched attitude in Washington that is toxic and is only spreading fear.

Now people are afraid of their own government, with some talking of it as a police state or a country ruled by a tyrant. The narrative being spun by both sides of the media is that we’re headed towards disaster and that every action is taking us one step closer. It seems like we’ve been in a constant state of disaster or emergency for the last 15 years. People have either acclimated and stopped caring, which is bad if there’s a real disaster, or have lived in a state of panic, which makes them easily controlled.

Is it time to say enough’s enough?

There is a growing trend in this country towards the irrational and towards an utter breakdown of political discourse. Some people (likely justifiably) think that politics is completely out of control and that America needs to focus its efforts on finding a new, healthier political norm. Yet that isn’t going to happen until the voting public comes together and makes their voice heard at every level.

What do you plan on doing to raise the standard? Do you think that the current political situation is out of control? Please leave a comment below and tell us your thoughts.

Sandra is a writer and blogger who focuses on political topics and technological issues. Having lived in California for several years, she is seeing more division than ever within the state’s borders.