Thursday, October 16, 2014

South Bay Republicans -- 1970s to Today

Looking over the past fifty years of South Bay Political History, I have found a few discouraging trends.

The California Republican Party did a poor job of building the grassroots, of maintaining ties with diverse and growing immigrant populations. South Bay Republican constituents failed to unite their disparate members. Republicans also failed to pay attention to the redistricting (read, gerrymandering) efforts employed by the Democratic Party for decades.

At least in the early 1970s, Governor Reagan understood enough about long-term politics to veto one set of redistricting plans.  The next set of redistricting plans were accepted (1974-1982), and the subsequent lines respected city limits, and gerrymandering was nonexistent.

Still, the South Bay lost unifying representation in the mid-70s to early 1980s. This congressional dispersion hastened the displacement of the South Bay GOP for years.

Torrance was divided into three different Congressional districts, for example, and Torrance as one city was strongly Republican. Divided, Democratic enclaves only added to the already-strong Democratic machine in South Los Angeles and West Long Beach.

The  27th Congressional district in the mid-70s to early 80s, which hugged the Beach Cities all the way to West Los Angeles, and depended on heavily Republican Rancho Palos Verdes to stay in GOP hands (Alphonzo Bell, then Bob Dornan). Gardena was split of to South Los Angeles, and Lomita was joined to Long Beach. No wonder South Bay Republicans had a difficult time unifying their resources and their message. The ended up having to side with Republican candidates or powerbrokers in other cities.

Joan Milke Flores (R-San Pedro)
Then came the 1980s. The South Bay was divided once again. This time, the more Republican sections were heavily gerrymandered to Long Beach and Orange County. The House Reps for the region, Dan Lungren and later Dana Rohrabacher, were political creatures of those two sections, and not connected to the South Bay (Torrance, Lomita, Gardena, Palos Verdes).

Those representatives had no personal investment in the South Bay, nor professional connections. Long Beach ended up in more moderate hands with Steve Horn in the 1990s, and Rohrbacher went back to Orange County. Lundgren beaome Attorney General for two terms, then narrow lost for governor in 1998.

What happened to the South Bay in the 1990s? The new 36th Congressional District united the entire South Bay, all the way to Venice, and the district took on a slight GOP edge. In a tough primary fight, Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores (San Pedro) lost to former Carter Administration official and corporate attorney Jane Harman. The Democrat got by on a plurality vote. How did Harman win the seat?  Flores had to fight three other Republicans for the nomination (including President Reagan's daughter Maureen). Harman spent $2.5 million of her own money campaigning in a district with a high-priced media market. Also ,1992 was a bad year for Republicans national, in which President George Herbert Walker Bush lost to upstart Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. Bush's unpopularity sagged Congressional Republican candidates, including Flores.

All these factors likely contributed to a GOP-leaning seat falling into Democratic hands. One facet of this sad story has replayed in the South Bay: different Republicans battering each other in a bitter primary, only to lose to a unified Democratic onslaught in the general election. Harman's near loss in 1994 only discouraged GOP chances.

Was there any hope for South Bay Republicans in the 2000s to regain a foothold in the region? Nope. Bipartisan redistricting in 2000 ensured safe seats for all incumbents. In the 2000s, gerrymandering siphoned off the strongly GOP peninsula to Orange County. Dana Rohrabacher returned, but with a smaller presence in the region, since Harman retained the rest of the South Bay, but in a safer Democratic district, which included Wilmington.

Aside from Rancho Palos Verdes mayor Steve Kuykendall's one-term tenure from 1999-2001 as the 36th Congressional district representative , no major South Bay Republicans have held federal office representing the South Bay for those decades, from the 1980's until today. Is it any wonder that Republicans have been so disunited, uncommunicative, and discouraged in the South Bay?

66th Assembly District (South Bay)

With the 2011 California Citizens Commission carving out a separate assembly district for the South Bay, and David Hadley's South Bay 100 Coalition unifying center, right, and independent conservatives, a new Republican political machine may emerge. If Hadley does win his election against Democratic incumbent Al Muratsuchi in 2014, the victory will upend South Bay partisan politics and grant Republicans a stable and successful base of operations for elections to come.

Whether successes in this district will translate into Congressional victories remains a relative unknown, yet as long as the 33rd Congressional District compromises more of the know left-leaning West Los Angeles constituency, Democratic candidates will prosper on this demographic advantage.

If South Bay Republicans can emphasize their fiscal message, expand on an Assembly victory for long-term wins in local elections, then a new farm team, with unified grassroots candidates, can upend the long-standing Democratic veneer which has hung over South Bay politics for the next decade.

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