AGENTS’ ORANGE pt 2: OC becomes a conservative powerhouse, 1920-80


 Powered by Max Banner Ads 

.

.

.

(Part One: Introduction, Readers’ Guide, and Author Bio.)

[These ten introductory pages to Rogers’ first chapter entitled “The Role of Volunteers” stand on their own, and we have retitled it “OC Becomes a Conservative Powerhouse, 1920-80. – Ed.]

Prior to World War II, most of the acreage in Orange County was devoted to the raising of citrus crops, and agriculture was the predominant business activity. 

Tourism consisted of an ever-increasing influx of Los Angeles County residents to the beaches every year during the summer months.  On weekends, savvy Angelenos foundd clean seashore facilities and sand unsullied by the hordes who filled the northern beaches at Malibu, Santa Monica, and Playa Del Rey whenever the temperatures soared in that era before air conditioning.  Beach cottage rentals were engaged by the more affluent for longer stays, and the popularity of sport fishing brought others to the piers and charter boat landings.

The surf from Huntington Beach south to San Clemente attracted beach goers.  Newport Balboa was the most popular destination, having a spacious bay, a good harbor, and moorings for the yachting crowd. 

Even the younger generation adopted the beacches of Orange County as a naughty playground during Easter Week.  The hegira took on bacchanalian overtones as “Bal Week” became a pattern which would be replicated over the years in other communities as “Spring Break.”

After the war, Orange County received an influx of new permanent residents who ove to the area for a number of reasons, including many who had experienced the delights of Orange County firsthand.

During WWII all the Army and Marine Corps divisions assigned to the Pacific Theater passed through some West Coast port of embarkation, usually Los Angeles of San Francisco.  Sailors on western fleet assignment became familiar with the ports of Long Beach and San Diego.

The Santa Ana Air Force Training Base in Orange County was one of the largest facilities of its kin in the west, and many trainees in that camp were impressed with the benefits of Orange County.

After being discharged, a number of veterans returned from their towns “back east” to the more desirable Southern California communities.  More than a few came from the South.  While there is no explanation for the phenomena, very few of those moving to Orange County came from the metropolitan areas of New York, New Jersey, Boston, or Chicago.  [Hence, generations of OC hicks – editor]

Then there were old money families from affluent neighborhoods such as Pasadena, Glendale, and San Marino who enjoyed the beaches of Balboa and Newport during the summer.  After the war a number of these families decided to forsake Los Angeles County in favor of permanent residency in OC.

Lido Isle was a failed development until after WWII, and it provided a perfect setting for wealthy families moving out of once-exclusive neighborhoods of “old” wealth beginning to be called, euphemistically, “transitional.”

But the majority of new OC residents came from middle-class suburbs of Los Angeles, which were becoming overcrowded, subject to air pollution, congestion, and crime.  [Still the late 40’s! – ed.]  One of their most critical concerns was the possibility of racial integration and declining property values.  [As always, our bolding.]

Of course there were longtime residents of OC who could trace their families back for generations.  Prior to WWI, many of these early OC citizens were engaged in agriculture.  These citrus growers were a hardy bunch, always battling nature and market swings, trying to eke out a decent living.  They formed marketing associations for economic survival.

The grower co-ops provided the opportunity for members to participate and gain political experience, since these associations were grower-owned and had elected officers and a board of directors.  By the very nature of their agricultural operations, the participants tended to be conservative, although bipartisan.

From 1922 to 1925 there was a flourishing of the Ku Klux Klan movement in the county, centered in Anaheim.  Four city council members and other city employees, including policemen, were publicly acknowledged to be members of Klan Kavern #16.  Anaheim was referred to by some as “Klanaheim,” and the Cyclops was a Protestant clergyman named Meyers who invited fiery fundamental evangelists to the area, stirring up racial and religious bigotry.  A cross was burned on the front steps of St. Bonifacce Catholic Church in Anaheim.  While actual membership in the local Klan chapter was never revealed, it was estimated to be over 1400 members, although some placed the figure as much less.  Regardless of the exact figure, the early political leanings of OC could hardly be described as liberal.

Aside from  individuals taking up residence in OC, corporations saw an opportunity to move from LA to provide a better work environment for their employees.  The giant Fluor Corporation moved its corporate headquarters from Lynwood, bringing with them the executive staff, skilled engineers, and all support personnel.

Beckman

Dr. Arnold O. Beckman, founded of Beckman Instruments in Fullerton and a resident of Corona Del Mar, was instrumental in establishing Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach as a world-class facility which would become one of the finest of its kind in the nation.  Physicians, surgeons, and medical technicians followed, taking up residency in nearby communities.

The sequential completion of portions of the I-5, or the Santa Ana Freeway as it was known, eventually made it possible to live in OC and drive to work in LA.

At this same time, a new concept in retired living was being developed in the hills of the south county.  It was a self-contained planned neighborhood, behind guarded gates, providing every service residents who had achieved their goals in the business and professional lives, and desired to settle down in a place almost worry-free.  The development was known as Leisure World, and the residents of the facility would a perfect fit with the emerging political climate of OC.

The place of birth, occupation, and the reasons for moving to OC may have been different, but there was a common thread that formed an invisible bond between the newcomers.  It was their desire to own property free of government interference, and to enjoy the fruits of their labor without paying punitive taxes for having achieved a modicum of success in their lives.  This philosophy, when translated into political action, was to become known by a term unfamiliar at the time.  The demographic profile of both new and long-time residents was bipartisan, but decidedly conservative.  Ownership of one’s own private property free from government control was the bedrock principle that led so many newcomers to OC in the first place.

Another phenomenon fueled the political activism that many of the new residents would become drawn into, and that was that most of the larger tracts required membership in homeowners’ associations as condition of ownership.  This was often mandated in the deeds of title.  In other new projects where a formal association was not mandatory, the new residents often formed voluntary organizations whose main purpose was to protect the property rights of all.  The peaceful enjoyment of one’s own home was a basic right that these residents fought to preserve.  Homeowners’ associations provided a training ground for activists.

In 1963, a bill was passed in the late hours of the closing session of the state assembly, which would galvanize the residents of OC into a formidable political force in the state.  Sponsored by Byron Rumford [black assemblyman from Berkeley] it was called the Rumford Fair Housing Act.  It regulated residential and apartment sales or rentals by prohibiting discrimination based on racial designations.

Given the make-up and origins of most of the new county residents, plus their “basic training” in local homeowners’ and neighborhood associations, the emergency of OC as a burgeoning conservative electorate was to begin with Proposition 14.  The presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater that occurred the same year generated additional political activity, essentially partisan in motivation. 

Schmitz

Proposition 14 was simply a repeal of the Rumford Fair Housing Act.  In this particular election cycle, candidates, mostly Republican, campaigned on the single issue, Yes on 14!  They were elected on the issue, and OC sent a new breed of representatives to Sacramento.  State Senator John Schmitz is a perfect example of the political dynamics of this period.

The final results of the 1964 general election left no doubt as to the bipartisan nature of OC conservatism.  Proposition 14 passed with 312,933 voting yes and only 89,190 no.  Goldwater’s total on the same ballot was 224,196 versus Lyndon Johnson at 176, 539.

This burning issue (Prop 14) prompted many citizens to volunteer their services for candidates who used repeal of the Rumford Fair Housing Act as the centerpiece of their campaigns.  To what degree they were responsible for a particular victory is difficult to determine, but the perception at that time was that dedicated precinct volunteers could win a campaign.

Some of these motivated volunteers gravitated into the central committees of both major parties.  If later they found that structure too confining, they formed or joined one of the many alphabet partisan organizations, choosing one with political philosophy most closely allied to their own.  Prop 14 and the Goldwater campaign were more conducive to enlarging Republican groups.

[Editor’s note: Three years later, in 1966, Prop 14 was ruled unconstitutional – just like anti-Mexican Prop 187 in the 90’s and anti-gay Prop 8 in the last decade – and the Rumford Fair Housing Act again became law in California.]

The Democrats were galvanized by the precinct activities of conservative Republicans.  They drew on their main strength at the time, the labor unions.  The unions were able to match Republican fervor, and union members were good at what they did.

Union leadership was a motivating force for Democratic political activities at the time.  Business agents from John Sperry’s Retail Clerks’ Union and Bruce Lee’s United Auto Workers served as a cadre for the registration drives and precinct work so prominent in the sixties.  The Laborers’ Union also provided manpower in those early days.

In the sixties, campaigns were waged and won in the field, with volunteers registering voters, dropping campaign literature door-to-door and making telephone calls.  In the local races, the workers were candidate-oriented, and in the presidential and gubernatorial campaigns it was a party effort.

This work on the part of the volunteers gave them a leveraged position in official party deliberations, and they became influential in choosing nominees for higher office.

***********

As the 1960s drew to an end, a new element entered into politics, and it affected both parties.  Wider use of computers brought some changes to the political scene.  It started with the Registrar of Voters using keypunch for voter records.  This made it quite simple to extract information, which could then be used to contact specific blocs of voters with issue-oriented, reader-friendly mailings.

Up until that time, it took volunteers tedious hours sitting in front of the microfiche at voters’ registration to ferret out information manually.

Electronic techniques were used by the more astute political consultants, and over the years these have been refined to an almost exact science.  Teaming up with pollsters provided another dimension to any mail campaign.  The emergence of computer technology, pollsters and political consultants changed politics in OC and the nation forever.

About the same time, registration procedures were simplified and prospective voters could register by mail.  Registration tables in front of supermarkets, and door-to-door canvassing by volunteers, became less a factor.  Scattergun distribution of campaign literature was soon replaced by sophisticated direct mail programs designed with a pretty good idea that the subject covere would be of interest to the recipient / potential voter.  Deception often became a key element of the target mail programs.

Registration had already been the cornerstone of volunteer activity on behalf of both parties, although they employed different techniques.  In the early days, registration efforts resembled guerilla warfare.

One of the most demoralizing things that could happen to a volunteer deputy registrar working for one particular political party was to discover in the course of registering a citizen that the person wanted to register in another party.

The Democratic registrars, when confronted with such a dilemma in a public place, would shut their book and loudly declare, “Time for a break!”

One Republican deputy registrar was panished from the practice after he was reported to have pre-filled in the party-affiliation blank on all his registration forms with the word “Republican.”  When a person expressed a desire to register Democrat, they were told it would be ipossible since the deputy had no blank forms.  This dedicated but over-zealous volunteer nearly got into some serious difficulties, but the situation was finally resolved when the county clerk picked up his registrar’s book, and notified him that his services would no longer be needed, ever.

It certainly did not happen overnight, but the days of decisive volunteer influence in campaigns were numbered.  Costly computerized programs were making the traditional volunteer less and less important.  And volunteers, motivated and effective because of personal conviction, were being replaced by campaign donors whose motives were often entirely different.  Some of the central committee and volunteer club activities were reduced to philosophical discourses and wishful thinking about their (un)importance.

These volunteer groups (those which survived) were tenacious enough to influence the choosing of primary candidates for governor and president, and they are still wooed today for that reason.  They have also remained beacons of party principles – “keepers of the flame.”

***************

Both major political parties faced internal battles over two issues.  The Democratic Central Committee and clubs split on the Vietnam War being conducted by a Democratic administration.  Vice President Hubert Humphrey, an icon of the more liberal Democrats, loyally supported President Johnson on Vietnam.

After Jimmy Carter was elected president, Democrats rallied around him for a while in unity.  But it was not until the Vietnam War hadd faded from memory, and new activists had come along, that the deep division was no longer a pre-eminent factor within the Democratic Party and its volunteer clubs.

The Republicans were to continue the 1964 Rockefeller-Goldwater debate within party circles, ad infinitum, and old wounds took a long time to heal.  This continuing strife proved the old gag that “time wounds all heels.”

It took the charisma and leadership of Ronald Reagan to bring most Republicans together.  Those who didn’t buy into his brand of Republicanism either joined the Democratic Party if they had liberal convictions, or the American Independent Party if they thought Reagan was too far to the left.  (Yes, there were actually sincere individuals who took that stand!)

***********************

In addition to the computer-generated campaign letter, two other factors contributed to the demise of volunteer-delivered literature.  One was the rise in crime throughout the county – persons walking around at night were not welcome, and the volunteers themselves were exposed to criminal activity on the streets.  The emergence of gated communities also inhibited door-to-door canvassing.  In later years, when telemarketing by shady pitchmen had become an annoyance to most people, contacting voters by telephone became less effective.  Telephone answering devices were no help either.

Beginning in the seventies, where precinct activity may have been considered to be helpful, it was usually the consultant’s decision to hire workers (for which they were entitled to receive a 15% commission.)

And so a new era in OC politics began in the early 70’s.  Volunteers motivated by their own honest convictions were replaced by dollar politics.  Volunteers of all shades of political philosophy were replaced by various electronic campaign techniques.  Consultants became “hired guns” for individuals and companies seeking a return on what they considered to be an investment.

The long-range effect of this shift in emphasis and techniques resulted in the abandonment of party principles, and opportunistic Republican “leaders” became advocates of higher taxes while Democrats abandoned their constituencies of minorities and citizens struggling to make ends meet.  Both political parties turned their backs to the decimation of Orange County’s natural beauty.

It was the partisan volunteer clubs that steadfastly maintained the core principles of their respective political parties.

Given this condition, many sincere individuals formed or joined alternate political parties, e.g. Peace and Freedom, American Independence, and Reform parties.  Others drifted into organizations with a specific focus (such as environmental issues) or joined single-campaign groups to support or oppose a particular ballto question.

There can be no blame placed on individuals at the central committees – they had to roll with the tide in order to keep afloat.  In the case of the Republic Central Committee, their reliance on the Lincoln Club for survival gradually increased over the years.

The Republican registration advantage still makes OC fertile ground for gubernatorial and presidential candidates.  The deadly influence of big money into local politics resulted in those deceptive campaign messages that the consultants thrive on.  But it made the voter a bit more wary.  Both parties have been subverted by big bucks, and the legend of OC being a monolithic bastion of conservative Republicans is nothing more than an illusive myth.  To be sure there are numerous conservative Republicans, but they can no longer be counted on to deliver the customary huge majorities of past years.

Interject into this partisan fall-off, the attempt by some Republican incumbents to superimpose a narrow doctrinaire “vetting” of candidates based on a subjective definition of conservatism, and the picture for the GOP gets even bleaker.

One of the most disheartening aspects of this shift away from citizen participation has been the steady decline in eligible voters, and low turnout of eligible voters on election days.

On the brighter side, beginning in the 80’s, the county experienced an influx of new residents springing from entirely different demographic and economic antecedents than those who took up residency in the 50’s and 60’s.  The newcomers were predominantly Hispanic and Asian immigrants who seemed to be more deliberate in taking an active role in politics.  That changed in 1988 when Republicans engaged in a “poll watching” fiasco during an assembly campaign.  The placing of uniformed guards at selected polling places not only turned many of these new residents against the GOP, it also provided a latter-day equivalent of Proposition 14, in that it galvanized many of the minority groups to a new and unfamiliar activism that most often resulted in opposition to Republican candidates and issues.

The potential effect for decisive new ethnic voting blocs becomes clear from the numbers.  In 1980 Anglo citizens in OC constituted 80% of the total population; in 1997 this had dropped to 57%.  Asians accounted for 13% and Hispanics 28% in that year.

**************

In the following section, the author has attempted to list all of those organizations, associations, and clubs that have engaged the volunteer in the playing out of the political history of OC.  Some of these organizations are not all volunteer in the strictest sense of the word, but with few exceptions participation is voluntary.  The OCTA and other agencies listed under “Governmental and Quasi-Governmental County Organizations” are included for informative purposes, and they have played an important role in shaping the political landscape of OC.

Another fine point is that though some of the groups listed under this category may pay a small stipend or per diem to its members, they are still deemed, for purposes of this book, as “volunteer.”

Author’s note:  When listing these groups and individuals in this section, I think back over the years and remember the wonderful people of all political affiliations who have made immense personal sacrifices to make OC a better place to live.

NEXT – VOLUNTEERS, 1960-2000

 


About Tom C. Rogers