The ‘Tommy Lasorda of California Politics’ Seeks to Build Up Democratic Bench

D.C. DISPATCH-(Editor’s Note: Alan Lowenthal is United States Congressman for California’s 47thDistrict … which is centered in Long Beach and extends through western Orange county. This interview with Mr. Lowenthal is the first of a two-part series.) 

  1. So how do the midterm elections look in your District? 

Well, first let me explain to you what my district looks like. My district goes from the western boundary Port of Long Beach -- about 90% of Long Beach -- a little bit of Lakewood, all of Signal Hill…that is about 58% of my district and then 42% of my district is Orange County -- Northern and Western Orange County. If you're asking about my reelection I think I'll do well. I normally do extremely well in Long Beach. 

When I first started to run for Congress in 2012, my Orange County part -- 42% -- I lost that vote by 10 points and in 2012, 55 to 45. By 2014, I lost that by a few points. By 2016, I won it buy 10 points. I unusually win Long Beach 65 to 70%. I am going to be spending more time in Orange County as it’s the most competitive part of my district and I'm surrounded by four Congressional Republican seats that we want to win. I want to help those Democratic candidates in those districts so I'm going to be having a full-blown campaign not only to help me but all candidates in OC. 

One of our biggest problems now is the California Open primary. Despite Ed Royce and Darrell Issa retiring, these seats are very competitive. In California’s Jungle open primary, the top two vote-getters move on to the general. This could be very detrimental and damaging to Democrats. When we add up all the Democratic votes, we should win those seats, but we may not have anybody running in the Royce and Rohrbacher seats in the general election because we have 8-10 Democrats running in each of those. We're going to split the votes. Remember that Orange County is different than LA County. LA county has lots of Democrats running that are Board of Education members, State Assembly Members, and city council members. So, we have a large bench. 

In Orange County, we don't have any bench so all; the people running in the seats are relatively unknown to their District. All the Republicans running in these districts are former State Assembly members, Senators, former Orange County Supervisors. So, I need to help not only myself win, which I will, but also help win State Assembly Seats, State Senate seats, and Board of Education seats. We need to build a bench in Orange County, so we don't get into this mess in the future. I think that this election in my district will reflect a tremendous turning away from president Trump and moving towards democratic values. I also think the battleground for the State of California will be Orange County so I'm going to be working very hard…helping our candidates win the seats, helping bring back the democrat majority in Congress and shore up our OC bench. 

  1. What about those candidates who aren't performing well at the polls (regarding Congressional open seats in Southern California). Shouldn't they drop out, so Democrats don't cannibalize the seats? 

Let’s remember that the night Donald Trump was elected many people in Southern California were in tremendous shock. Then came the Women's March the next day and people were overwhelmed about what to do. There was a tremendous outpouring of people who were so frightened about the direction the country was going in, so when I had a town hall meeting in Long Beach, eleven hundred people showed up. Most were people who would never have been involved in politics. Many of them went to the Women's March or the March for Gun Safety or the March for Life -- they just wanted to know what to do. I also ran a town hall meeting, so we could get volunteers. 

Democrats are not good at being disciplined in Orange County; but they want to change the country so a large number of them want to run for office. That’s a positive thing for democracy and we should encourage it. But the negative thing is we have a jungle primary and we could eliminate Democrats. I did speak to many of the candidates who were low in the polling and told them that staying in these races could actually hurt everybody. Many said that may be true, but they think they can win, so they’re all staying. Sam is staying, Joe Sisneros is staying, and Dr. Tran is staying – all great people. But it could create a problem. We could lose in June -- both seats, the three top Republicans there have all held office in the State Assembly, or as state senator or as OC supervisor. 

  1. The next question is, how have you seen the Democratic party change in Orange County, an area that used to be solid red? To what do you attribute the shift? 

Orange County is no longer what people used to think of – affluent, white, wealthy Coastal communities…the home of the John Birch Society and Robert Welch. What has happened over the last 20 years is there's been a huge surge in the Latino and Asian Pacific Islander communities; Vietnamese arriving after the fall of Saigon in 1975 through the 1990s make up a large diaspora in Westminster Garden Grove: they have been conservative Republicans, anti-communist and anti-Vietnam. But their children, who have grown up in America and are college-age millennials (though still strongly tied to their families) are more like Millennial moles across the country: they aren't registering Republican. 

Twenty years ago, my district used to be a Republican District; San Pedro was represented by a Republican; Long Beach was a Republican District, as was the PV peninsula. I broke that chain and a Republican is never going to win that seat again. San Pedro, Long Beach, and Orange County are becoming more urban and more diverse where young Millennials are not satisfied with super nationalism, anti-immigrant and anti-healthcare stands. Healthcare is very important in Orange County. Twenty years ago, these folks were anti-government; now Orange County would be devastated if they didn't have the Affordable Care Act. 

  1. Let's move on to the midterms on the Congressional side. What are your thoughts…do you think the Democrats will take the house? 

Absolutely. If the Democrats work hard. I'm not saying this because I'm cocky or I believe it's a given but the signs are there. The wind is to our back. If we keep moving in the right direction. We just saw this week one of the most conservative districts in the country in Arizona (which President Trump won by 21% in 2016) that has always been a republican District. Franks ran and won by 25% in the past election. We Democrats never even fielded a candidate before, but this time our candidate came within 4.7% of winning, and actually won the vote the day of the election but lost on the early voting and absentee ballots. 

The world is changing. They said maybe we'd lose by 12%. That's another sign for Democrats that if you work hard and don't engage in the fear-mongering the president does the American public will want something more inclusionary. But they also want to keep the economy moving, fund education, have access to good jobs. And they don't want to live in a world where we are constantly being berated by our president. They want a nation they can be proud of and people are not proud of the direction this president is taking this country. 

5.What are the top three main issues that you will focus on if the Democrats take back the house? 

I'm going to continue to work on things I do now right now. Now we get no traction because we can't even get the bills up for vote but I'm the co-chair of the climate change caucus, the safe climate caucus, and I'm also the ranking member on the natural resources committee which deals with energy and minerals. I'm the lead Democrat and ranking member around energy policies. It's all about policies on federal lands, all the offshore drilling and the oil and gas produced in the United States on federal lands, either offshore or onshore. 

If we win and I'm the chair of that sub-committee on energy, I will spend a lot more time dealing with alternative energy, renewable energy, moving us off a carbon-based economy. We need rational policies forcing the oil and gas companies to pay their fair share. Right now, they get tremendous tax breaks so it’s hard to change. We give them so much money and it's difficult economically for alternative energy to compete, not because it's not cheaper ultimately in the long run (because it is). It’s because of all the tax breaks; we let them drill on federal lands and offshore for next to nothing. All of that is going to change. We are going to have a rational energy policy that reflects climate issues and we're going to try to protect our oceans. So that's one thing I'm going to do: keep working on environmental issues. 

I'm also co-chair of the ports caucus. And so, I'm very concerned about infrastructure and the ability to move freight and goods nationwide. We don't have a nationwide infrastructure deal. We don't have a revenue stream to pay for it so I'm going to keep championing transportation toward zero emissions. What we have been trying to do in California, wewant to do nationwide. 

(Sara Corcoran writes for CityWatch and is a correspondent and contributing editor, as well as founding publisher of the National Courts Monitor. She literally grew up in a “legal family.” She is the granddaughter of “Tommy the Cork,” who advised President Franklin D. Roosevelt and is considered an “author of the New Deal.” As a former Real Estate Executive, Sara was a VP at Remington Capital where she was responsible for originating and servicing the mid cap portfolio for a leading hospitality REIT. Concurrently, she did business development for Jack Kemp at Kemp Capital Partners. She received her MBA from the Antai School of Economics and Management in Shanghai, China, and a BA in Political Science from the University of Southern California. Sara also specializes in Forex, Merger Arbitrage, Cryptocurrencies, and Futures and Commodities.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.