This is the fourth in a series of blog posts about the seven California Republicans who voted to repeal Obamacare and who represent districts Hillary Clinton carried. (See previous entries here, here, and here.) We’re highlighting them in order of their distance from the Bay Area, but just because we’re deep in Orange County now doesn’t mean we’re not still watching from afar.
Among all the grim surprises in last November’s election, several bright spots stood out. California, which was a purple state as recently as the 1990s, voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. (Apart from Hawaii and overwhelmingly Democratic Washington, D.C., the Golden State was her best state.) That didn’t happen because four million extra voters showed up to register in Marin, either.
It happened because Orange County went blue for the first time since F.D.R. won a second term, in 1936. The famously conservative O.C., the sixth-most populous county in America, swung 16 points from Mitt Romney’s 52-46 victory over Barack Obama, and Clinton carried it 51-42. Much of that was the country-club Republican set recoiling against Trump, but Orange County isn’t lily-white anymore: There are more than a million Latinos and half a million Asian Americans living there now. Like the rest of America, the region’s demographics are changing.
Ed Royce is the 12-term congressman who represents the northern edge of Orange County, centered on Fullerton, La Habra, and Yorba Linda. His district, California’s 39th, also extends into Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, covering cities like Diamond Bar and Hacienda Heights. The place where the swallows that used to winter at Mission San Juan Capistrano now go is there, as is the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, which sent out this sassy tweet this morning. (Condolences on getting dumped by Tricky Dick, Mr. President.) And the 39th’s electoral results track Orange County’s quite closely: Mitt Romney won it 51-47, but Clinton won it 51-43, a 12-point shift. In 2016, Royce won re-election by a comfy 57-42, but that’s down quite a bit from his 2014 margin of 69-31. Yet it took him just under $4 million to do it.
In other words, Royce can raise a heap of cash, but he’s vulnerable. So vulnerable that his mug appeared at the top of a big story in Politico yesterday about how California’s remaining Republicans are targets in 2018. He’s already drawn a potential challenger, in fact — Mai-Khanh Tran, who the article describes as a “Wall Street analyst-turned-pediatrician” and a “refugee who worked her way through Harvard as a janitor.”
That she’s Vietnamese in a county with a large and growing Vietnamese population is significant. But let’s not gloss over the fact that Tran is also a pediatrician, and Ed Royce just cast a vote to strip millions of people of their health care. Ouch. We’re still 18 months away from the midterms, but as a result of last week’s shameful vote, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report just downgraded Royce’s chances from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican,” and notes that “he hasn’t had a competitive race in years.”
The 65-year-old Royce has a low-profile, but he’s not exactly a backbencher, either. He’s the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee — a powerful assignment. A controller and corporate tax manager by trade, Royce seems like more of a fiscal conservative numbers guy than a fire-breathing evangelical, and in all fairness, he’s worked to protect endangered species from poachers. But so far, he’s voted with Trump 96.6 percent of the time, when FiveThirtyEight estimated he’d be doing so only about 43 percent of the time. Not exactly a profile in courage.
Having served as a California state senator for 10 years prior to his election to Congress, Royce has been a legislator for almost 35 years. It’s a common enough story for an entrenched incumbent to grow accustomed to Washington and become part of the permanent power structure only to lose a race that took them by surprise — especially when their eyes are trained on international events and not what’s brewing back home. And votes like the unconscionable one Royce took on the American Health Care Act tend to become anchors around their necks in wave-election years like 1994, 2006, or 2010.
Since the vote was now almost a week ago, and the whole fascism-creep of the James Comey firing has since shuffled health cares issues to the sidelines, let’s re-emphasize that the cuts the AHCA proposes to Medicaid coupled with the tax cuts for top earners represent a ginormous wealth transfer from low-income people to the very wealthy. That’s going to raise costs, and since poor people tend to spend their money on staying alive, it’s going to dent economic growth, too.
You don’t have to be a left-wing ideological firebrand — or, say, a pediatrician — to find that offensive. Numbers people everywhere should be appalled, too. Let Ed Royce know how you feel at 202-225-4111.