Cross-posted from OC Political…
A political earthquake shook Orange County yesterday afternoon when Congressman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) unexpectedly announced that he would not be running for re-election this year. First elected to the California State Senate in 1982 and to the United States House of Representatives in 1992, Royce is the longest currently-serving elected official in partisan office in Orange County (and the third-longest currently-serving elected official in the County as a whole*).
There is a running joke in political circles that there must be Royce is secretly twins or triplets because of his ability to be in two or three places at once in his district. Royce always kept a jam-packed calendar whenever he was returned to the district from Washington, DC. His hard work in the district managed to allow him to win by double-digit margins in this swing district. He developed his work ethic from his first election when he won a swing seat in the State Senate. In every campaign for re-election to Congress, Royce would set up one of the largest campaign apparatuses in Orange County. Royce also currently has the largest campaign warchest in Orange County, standing at $3.5 million.
So significant is Royce’s strength in the district that when he announced his retirement yesterday, the Cook Political Report moved CD-39 from “Leans Republican” to “Leans Democrat” skipping the “Toss Up” label entirely.
With the unexpected retirement of Royce, an Orange County political institution for over a quarter of a century, North Orange County and Southern Los Angeles County politicians (and perhaps some Chino Hills politicians) from both parties are scrambling to determine if they can run a viable campaign for this seat and if they’re willing to give up their existing seats in 2018. While six Democrats were challenging Royce for CD-39, none have ever held elected office, so Democrats in elected office in CD-39 are now likely examining the chance to go for an unexpectedly open CD-39. No Republican elected official was looking at CD-39 since Royce was expected to run for re-election. Today, let’s look at the Republicans:
- Supervisor Shawn Nelson represents 45% of the voters of the 39th Congressional District. Of the 367,000 registered voters in CD-39, Nelson represents 166,000 of them, who reside in the 4th Supervisorial District’s overlap with CD-39. Nelson has deep roots in the district, having grown up in Fullerton, graduated from high school there, and even graduating from law school there. He’s also a member of countless civic organizations in CD-39. Nelson won three elections to the Fullerton City Council and two to the Orange County Board of Supervisors (and raised the necessary money to wage those campaigns). As it happens, he is termed out from the Board in 2018.(The Supervisor who represents the second largest chunk of CD-39 behind Nelson is LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn, representing 82,000 CD-39 voters, or 22% of the district. Considering that Hahn just left a safe Democratic Congressional district in 2016 to run for Supervisor, there is zero chance she runs for this seat. Todd Spitzer, Curt Hagman, Hilda Solis, and Michelle Park Steel split the remainder, and no one expects Spitzer, Hagman, or Solis to run for this seat.)
- Supervisor Michelle Park Steel is well-known in the large Korean-American community in CD-39 as well as in the district’s large Asian-American community. She represented the Orange County and San Bernardino County portions of CD-39 when she won two elections to the State Board of Equalization. Additionally, she is one of Orange County’s most prolific fundraisers and would have little trouble raising the significant sums of money needed to wage a campaign in one of the nation’s top swing seats. (Of course, millions of dollars will pour into this seat on both sides, from IEs/SuperPACs, DCCC, NRCC, DNC, RNC, but it always helps when the candidate can raise significant sums.) To run for CD-39, Steel would have to abandon her bid for re-election to the 2nd Supervisorial District, setting off a scramble for that seat.
- Former State Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff represented 71% of CD-39 voters, with 262,000 of the 367,000 CD-39 voters residing in SD-29, which Huff termed out of in 2016. Huff won three elections to the Diamond Bar City Council, two to the State Assembly, and two to the State Senate. Diamond Bar is the largest LA County city in CD-39. Though he lost his bid for the LA County Board of Supervisors, there are less than 200 voters who are in the overlap between CD-39 and that supervisorial district. As a former Senate Republican Leader, he’s certainly capable of raising funds for this seat.
- Assemblyman Phillip Chen represents 61% of CD-39 voters, with 225,000 of the 367,000 CD-39 voters also residing in AD-55. Prior to his election to the Assembly, Chen won two elections to Diamond Bar’s Walnut Valley School Board. Chen raised several hundred thousand dollars in his unsuccessful 2014 bid for AD-55 and his successful 2016 bid for AD-55. However, Chen would be giving up a safe Assembly seat for a swing seat in Congress. Chen is an Assemblyman because his predecessor gave up this safe Assembly seat for a swing seat in the State Senate. Chen switching to CD-39 would also set off a scramble for AD-55.
- Speaking of Chen’s predecessor, former Assemblywoman Ling-Ling Chang represented the same 61% of CD-39 that Chen does. 71% of CD-39 voters may recall Chang’s bid for SD-29 in 2016, when she narrowly lost to now-Senator Josh Newman. Before her 2014 election to the Assembly, Chang won one election to the Walnut Valley Water Board and two elections to the Diamond Bar City Council. She raised several hundred thousand dollars in her successful 2014 bid for AD-55 and a whopping $3 million in her unsuccessful 2016 bid for SD-29. Chang grew up in Diamond Bar and is a graduate of Diamond Bar High School. Chang is currently in the midst of her bid to be the replacement if Newman is recalled on June 5. If Chang switched to the Congressional race, it would leave Fullerton Councilman Bruce Whitaker the leading Republican replacement candidate for Newman. While legally possible to run in both the recall and the Congressional race, it is politically impossible to do so.
- Former Assemblywoman Young Kim represented 35% of CD-39 voters, with 95,000 of the 367,000 CD-39 voters residing in AD-65. However, Kim also holds the unique distinction of having worked for Royce for nearly 20 years before her election to the Assembly. She had been his Director of Community Relations and Asian Affairs. In 2014, Kim defeated Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva’s re-election bid, but in 2016, Quirk-Silva avenged herself by defeating Kim’s re-election bid. Kim is certainly familiar with what a swing seat campaign entails, with her sheer number of volunteers and staff. She raised $2 million in each of her two Assembly campaigns. Kim is currently in the midst of her bid to replace the termed out Nelson to represent the Fourth District on the Board of Supervisors. If Kim switched to the Congressional race, it would leave La Habra Mayor Tim Shaw the sole Republican candidate facing off against Democrat Joe Kerr, a former long-time firefighters’ union president, for Supervisor (other Democrats running for the seat would presumably be eliminated by the voters in the June primary).
Let the games begin!
*The longest-serving elected official currently in office in Orange County is Orange County Water District Director Phil Anthony was elected to the Westminster City Council in 1962, Mayor in 1972, County Supervisor in 1976, and water board in 1981, where he’s been ever since. In second place is Westminster Councilwoman Margie Rice, who was elected to the School Board in 1977, City Council in 1994, Mayor in 2000, and back to the City Council in 2012.
A notable mention is Coast Community College District Trustee Jerry Patterson was elected to the Santa Ana City Council in 1968, Mayor in 1972, and Congress in 1974, but he had a hiatus from elected office from 1984 (when he lost his Congressional seat to Bob Dornan) to 2000 (when he won his current college board seat). Patterson was elected before Rice and Royce, but his long hiatus places him behind them for years in office.