Campaign 2018 Showdown in California’s O.C.—Democrat Gil Cisneros to Take on GOPer Young Kim June 11, 2018
The O.C.—California’s Orange County. O.C., of course, was known for years as the bastion of right-wing conservatism, a stronghold of the extremist John Birch Society. It was Ronald Reagan’s rock-ribbed base in his gubernatorial and presidential runs. O.C. even went for Barry Goldwater by 47, 657 votes or a 55.89% margin while LBJ carried CA in 1964 by a 59.11% spread (Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections). However, to quote Bob Dylan’s 1964 hit, “The Times, They Are A Changin.’” Anglo O.C. has been demographically transformed by heavy Hispanic and Asian immigration (Mai-Duc, LA Times, 6/06/18, Yee, NY Times, 6/03/18). In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried O.C., the first time a Democrat had won this region since FDR’s 1936 re-election. Hillary won the O.C. by an 8.59% margin with 609,961 votes to Donald’s 507,148 (latimes.com, Mai-Duc, nytimes.com, 8/01/17, sos.cagov, 12/16/16). Hillary won four O.C. congressional districts where GOP representatives were re-elected, the 39th, 45th, 48th, and 49th (Frere, abc7.com, 6/05/18). Since 2016, Democrats have been concentrating on flipping these seats as part of their effort to retake the 23 districts they need to get back the House in 2018 (latimes.com, Mai-Duc, 6/06/18). The retirements of GOPers Ed Royce in the majority O.C. 39th Congressional District (CD) and DarrelI Issa in the O.C./ San Diego-based 49th CD made nominating Democrats for these non-incumbent open seats a high priority.
However, nominating Democrats for the general election in these two open seats and in the other two O.C. ones was no “slam dunk.” Under Proposition 14, approved by CA voters in 6/2010, the so-called “jungle primary” was adopted. Under this system, aimed at getting independents and non-partisan voters to participate in primaries, the top two-finishers, regardless of party, would run against each other in the Nov. general election. As a result, if too many Democrats split their votes among several candidates, two GOPers could win in a heavily “Blue” district. In 2012, Democratic candidate Pete Aguilar, favored to win in a “Blue”-tilted district, finished third behind two GOPers who advanced to the general election. In 2014, Aguilar finished second in the “jungle primary” and went on to win this congressional seat (Gonzales, 3/18/13, politico.com/2014). Because of sky-high enthusiasm among Democrats who strongly oppose Donald and want to take back the House in 2018, numerous Democrats entered the primary in these O.C. districts. State and national Democrats and numerous pundits believed that Democrats, with a super- fragmented primary field, could shut themselves out of several of these O.C. seats, in effect, getting “Aguilared.” To prevent repeating Aguilar’s 2012 debacle, Democrats spent over $7million in all these districts. They endorsed some Dem. primary candidates. They spent money puffing up some obscure GOP candidates to take away votes from more prominent ones. They attacked other GOP contenders. They encouraged Democratic candidates with low ratings to get out of the race, and some did. It looks like their efforts have succeeded. If the present results stand, since there are still mail-in ballots to be counted, no Democratic candidates will have been shut out (See latimes.com Mai-Duc, 6/06/18, CNN Reston, 5/31/18). Let’s look at one of those key contests, the one in O.C’s 39th CD. In that 17-person field, with 6 Dems, 7 GOPers, 2 Independents, and 2 extremist American Independent Party candidates, Democrat Gil Cisneros took second place with 19.4% of the vote to first place GOPer Young Kim’s 22% (NY Times, 6/07/18). Who are Cisneros and Kim?
Gil Cisneros (46) is now the Democrat’s 39th CD nominee running to replace retiring 13th term GOP Congressman Ed Royce. The 39th CD is located in northern Orange County. It also includes eastern Los Angeles County and southern parts of San Bernardino County. O.C’s Fullerton is the 39th’s largest city. La Habra, Brea, Buena Park, and Yorba Linda are located in the O.C. part of this district. The LA County section of the 39th includes Hacienda Heights, La Habra Heights, Rowland Heights, and Diamond Bar. Chino Hills is in the 39th’s San Bernardino County portion. Aerospace and higher education constitute the 39th’s economic pillars. Cal State Fullerton is a major area employer. Yorba Linda, home of the Richard Nixon Library is in the 39th. Chino Hills has been built up with residential subdivisions. The 39th is at least 34% Hispanic and 29% Asian-American. La Habra, according to the 2010 Census, was 57.2% Hispanic. Diamond Bar and Rowland Heights, have large Asian communities, including many Korean-Americans (See Barone& CQ 14 Political Almanacs, Wasserman, cookpolitical.com). Politically, this area was formerly a strong part of the GOP’s “Orange Curtain.” However, the GOP only has a current 1.7% voter registration advantage in the CA 39th (ocdaily.net, 1/10/18, Cunningham). The latest Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) rates the 39th as EVEN between the “Red” and “Blue” camps (Cook, 4/07/17). In 2012, the 39th voted for Romney by 4% but went for Hillary in 2016 by an 8% margin (ourcampaigns.com).
Gil Cisneros is the son of a Vietnam veteran and public school cafeteria worker. He attended college on a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (N.R.O.T.C.) scholarship. He spent 11 years as a Navy officer and was awarded several medals. The first in his family to graduate from college, Cisneros received his Bachelor’s degree in political science from George Washington University. He obtained an MBA from Regis University and a Master’s in Urban Education Policy from Brown University. After leaving the Navy, Cisneros worked six years as a manager at a Frito Lay Plant before he won $266 million in the state lottery. Cisneros left his job and launched the Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros Foundation. That charity helps disadvantaged youth prepare for and gain admission to college. Cisneros and his wife Jacki, the parents of twin boys, have invested $30 million in the foundation (ocregister.com, Wisckol, 4/09/18, cisnerosforcongress.com). He has worked to strengthen schools and promote access to quality education. Cisneros has established scholarships for veterans and created an endowment for dependents of former Navy Supply Corps personnel, so that tuition costs are never a barrier to educational opportunities (cisnerosforcongress.com). Cisneros is strong on women’s rights and will fight for Planned Parenthood.
Cisneros calls himself an independent leader, not a career politician. He stated he would not be running for Congress had Hillary won. Cisneros said, “The Trump Administration is trying to rip health care away from people.” Cisneros’ father had suffered from exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam and lost his health insurance. Cisneros declared he would fight Trump and GOPers to protect health care as a “right for all Californians.” He added, “And it doesn’t get as much attention, but they’re doing the same thing with education. I can’t stand by and let them do it. It was time to get involved.” He wants children to get the same ladder of opportunity that the Navy provided him with (ocregister.com, Wisckol, cisnerosforcongress.com). Cisneros sees his congressional run as “an extension of his service to his country,” for which “a lot of my life has been about (ocregister.com).” Cisneros was a longtime GOPer. He became a Democrat in 2015. He stated the GOP’s views have changed, “not his.” He noted that Ronald Reagan had supported amnesty for undocumented immigrants and gun control, unlike the present GOP (See ocregister.com).
How did Cisneros successfully win his spot in this super-contested “jungle primary?” For starters, Cisneros campaigned endlessly, including going door to door for votes. Cisneros used his own money to put up ads to get recognition. Even so, he was locked in a brutal mud-slinging battle with another wealthy candidate, Andy Thorburn. The state Democratic Party and the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee), which recruits and funds Dem. House candidates, brokered a cease-fire agreement between the two of them so that a “Blue” candidate could land in one of the top two spots. The DCCC, in order to prevent a Dem shutout in the 39th , spent $2 million against prominent GOP candidates Shawn Nelson and Bob Huff. It also put hundreds of thousands of dollars into boosting Cisneros whom they had previously endorsed. Democrats puffed up obscure GOP Trump backer Phil Liberatore to divert votes from Nelson and Huff (See “Politico,” Siders & Schneider, 6/06/18, “The Hill,” Kamisar, 8/06/18, NY Times, 6/06/18). Democrats see the CA 39th as one of their best chances at flipping a GOP seat in 11/2018 (See “The Hill,” 8/06/18).
Meet Cisneros’ GOP general election opponent, Young Kim. S. Korean-born Kim (55) graduated from USC. She worked in private industry as a controller. She went on to work for then GOP State Senator Ed Royce. When Royce won election to Congress, Kim became his Director of Community Relations and Asian Affairs (“Daily Titan,”Mountjoy, 12/14/14). In 2014, Kim was elected to the CA Assembly, unseating a Democrat. In a 2016 rematch, that Democrat defeated Kim (Mai-Duc, latimes.com, 11/17/16). In 2017, Kim announced she would be running for Supervisor in O.C.’s 4th district (ocregister.com, 2/23/17). However, when Cong. Royce announced he would not be running for a 14-term in 2018, Kim stated she was ending her supervisorial run. She jumped into the race to succeed Royce. One day after Royce’s retirement announcement, he endorsed Kim to succeed him (Mai-Duc, latimes.com, 1/09/18). Royce, Kim’s former boss, is a strong right-wing conservative (Barone &CQ 14 Almanacs). He voted with Donald 97.4% of the time, even though his district went for Hillary (fivethirtyeight.com). Royce voted to repeal Obamacare and for the top 1% anti-middle- class tax cut (royce.house.gov, Wisckol, ocregister.com, 12/19/17). Kim speaks of providing “access to the finest health care,” but gives no details about how she’d do that. Such language is similar to how Donald talked about Obamacare but then tried to gut it. Bet on Kim to follow Royce’s and Trump’s anti-health care stands. Kim was also endorsed by the anti-women’s Susan B. Anthony List (kimforcongress.com, ocdaily.net, 4/26/18).
Besides working for Cong. Royce, Kim’s one-term record in the CA Assembly also predicts how she’ll vote in Congress. In 2016, the pro-business conservative Chamber of Commerce gave her a perfect 16-0 record on bills it was interested in. Labor gave Kim a basement 19% rating. The anti-tax Cal Tax group gave her a 100% 2015-2016 score. Kim brags about her anti-tax record and being against “unnecessary regulations.” Translation: she’s against environmental and consumer protection legislation (See kimforcongress.com). Kim was criticized for arguing that laws protecting LGBT youths didn’t “represent the values of our community (gaysonoma.com, 10/2014).” Planned Parenthood gave Kim a dismal 14% 2015 rating (votesmart.com).
All of Cisneros’ former Democratic primary rivals have united behind him (Cisneros, mail.google.com, 6/09/18). However, the general election will be no pushover. Although Cisneros will be able to put much money into the race, the GOPers, to “save” this seat, will pour in millions as well. Cisneros, remember, is a newcomer to politics. Kim has represented about one-quarter of the 39th’s constituents in the CA legislature (latimes.com, Mai-Duc, 1/09/18). Kim makes constant mention of her immigrant background which plays well to her fellow Korean-American constituents, a heavy voting bloc. She will try to attack Cisneros as a rich “elitist,” although she has the true elitist 1% views. The 39th doesn’t like Donald, but has previously voted for other GOPers. This district votes for anti-tax measures, a GOP staple. State Senator Josh Newman was recalled for voting for a gas tax increase in the 6/05/2018 primary, and 80% of the 39th’s residents were in his state legislative district (See Kos, Morning Digest 6/07/18). This gas tax repeal proposition will bring out GOPers in 11/2018. Cisneros will have to campaign 24/7, get heavy Hispanic turnout, and cut into the Korean-American vote to win. He will have to hit Kim as a typical right-wing Trump extremist. On 11/06/2018, Democrats and moderates in the CA 39th must turn out in droves to defeat Trump-allied Kim to help recapture the House.