DIVERSE RACE. Young Kim, a candidate running for a U.S. House
seat in the 39th District in California, talks to volunteers
working an evening phone bank at her campaign office in Yorba
Linda, California. Kim is trying to become the first
Korean-American woman elected to congress. A sign of the change
is in the 39th District, where the Korean immigrant Republican,
Kim, is running against Gil Cisneros, a Hispanic Democrat. (AP
From The Asian Reporter, V28, #21 (November 5, 2018),
More diverse Orange County, California, morphs
from GOP past
By Michael R. Blood
The Associated Press
FULLERTON, Calif. — Pushy midday shoppers nose their carts
through the Korean market, stocking up on bottled kimchi and
seaweed spring rolls. A few doors away, customers grab pho to go
at a Vietnamese takeout counter. Across the street, lunchtime
diners line up for tacos "al pastor" — spit-roasted pork — at a
It’s a snapshot of how much Orange County, California, has
For decades, the county southeast of Los Angeles represented
an archetype of middle-class America, a place whose name evoked
a "Brady Bunch" conformity set amid freeways, megachurches, and
Disneyland’s spires. The mostly white, conservative homeowners
voted with timeclock regularity for Republican candidates like
Richard Nixon, whose getaway from Washington, the Western White
House, sat on the coast.
The Korean barbecue shops and Mexican bakeries along
Orangethorpe Avenue in Fullerton are a signpost of the shifting
demographics and politics that have emboldened Democrats eager
to flip four Republican-held U.S. House seats in Orange County.
The districts, partly or completely within the county, went to
Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and have
become closely watched national battlegrounds as part of
Democrats’ strategy to retake it in November.
In an election season shaped by divisions over President
Donald Trump and the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct,
perhaps the most telling evidence of the changing county is in
the 39th Congressional District.
The seat is held by long-serving Republican representative Ed
Royce, a pillar of the Washington establishment who, like most
of his party’s nearly all-male leadership in congress, is older
The contest to succeed the retiring congressman is between
two very different candidates: Young Kim, a South Korean
immigrant Republican woman, and Gil Cisneros, a Hispanic
The racially mixed ballot has opened questions about the
relevance of party labels, race, and the inclination to embrace
one’s own. It comes as Hispanics and Asians together now make up
the majority of Orange County’s 3.2 million people. In 1980,
about 80 percent of the population was white.
The once-dominant Republican Party also is clinging to a
tissue-thin edge over Democrats in voter registration numbers —
a dropoff that reflects not just the arrival of new faces but
their more liberal politics.
Kim is trying to become the first Korean-American woman
elected to congress. She represents the kind of candidate the
state GOP has been trying to cultivate for years to reflect a
more diverse population.
Kim, 55, was born in South Korea and grew up in Guam, then
later came to California for college. She became a
small-business owner and was elected to the state assembly.
She’s running as Royce’s preferred successor after working
for him for years, but her path is complicated by Trump, who is
unpopular in a state where Democrats hold every statewide office
and a 39-14 advantage in house seats.
Kim talked up the robust economy at a recent campaign stop,
but she’s also emphasizing her independence from the White House
on issues like trade. She’s not in favor of increased tariffs
imposed by the administration.
She never mentioned the president in a brief speech.
"I’m a different kind of candidate," she said.
As a Democrat, Cisneros, 47, knows he’s the face of change in
the long-held GOP district, anchored in northern Orange County
and running through slices of neighboring Los Angeles and San
Bernardino counties. He sees shifting demographics as an asset:
the district has grown about equally divided between
Republicans, Democrats, and independents, as it is with Asians,
Hispanics, and whites.
Cisneros, a Navy veteran and one-time Republican who won a
$266-million lottery jackpot with his wife, describes his
candidacy as the next step in a life committed to public
service, which started with his time in the military. He has
said he left the GOP because it became deeply conservative,
adding in a recent interview that voters are eager to see a
change in gridlocked Washington.
"This is not the same district that it was 15, or even 10
years ago," he said.
Orange County might seem like an unlikely battleground in the
fight to control congress. In popular culture, it is a place
often reduced to initials, "the O.C.," and a stereotype: a
wealthy enclave of buff residents living in conspicuous excess
on hillsides overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Overlooked is the county’s political pedigree: Its
Republican-rich suburbs are seen as a foundation block in the
modern conservative movement and the rise of the Reagan
Fullerton, like Orange County, was once known for groves of
Valencia oranges that blanketed its landscape and oil fields
that lay beneath it. That changed with the development of
California’s freeway system, which created the transportation
arteries that gave rise to a vast Sunbelt suburbia.
After World War II, jobs in defense and manufacturing were
plentiful. The population boomed, and many of the new arrivals
were from the Midwest, and conservative in their outlook.
Those voters, alienated by the rise of national liberalism,
"ended up building the Ronald Reagan movement," said Raphael
Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for
Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.
Several trends have been making the county more favorable for
Democrats over time, said Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc.,
a nonpartisan research firm. Among them: more Latinos and Asians
are registering as independents and fewer as Republicans.
Much of that can be attributed to the preferences of younger
Californians, who have been eschewing major-party labels.
Another big change is with the voting habits of Asians. A
surge in immigration from Southeast Asia in the post-Vietnam War
years brought in a wave of strongly anti-communist voters. But
younger Asians grew up in a different era.
Millennial Asians "are some of the most liberal voters in the
state," Mitchell said.
On a recent afternoon outside a library in Yorba Linda — the
city where Nixon was born and where his presidential library was
built — 76-year-old retired computer programmer Don Jacques of
Brea said he welcomes the diversity on the ballot. The
registered Democrat and Cisneros supporter has lived in the
county since childhood.
"It’s about time for this kind of change," Jacques said.