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California's got a new look in D.C.

A delegation largely white, male and Republican yields to a diverse array of Democrats.

December 24, 2006|Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — When control of Congress switches parties next month, so too will the political face of California.

Slipping into eclipse is red California, dominated by Republican House members who for years have been the state's most influential voices in Washington.

These lawmakers -- all white and all Christian -- hailed largely from inland valleys. Many were deeply rooted Californians who grew up immediately after World War II when the state was a more homogeneous place. Several strolled the halls of Congress in cowboy boots.

With Democrats ascendant, however, a bluer California is set to put its mark on Capitol Hill. This face is more urban and more diverse. Its senior lawmakers -- who include women, Jews, African Americans and Latinos -- live in large coastal metropolitan areas. Many moved to the Golden State as adults.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday December 29, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
California congressional delegation: An article in Sunday's Section A about the makeup of the incoming California delegation called Tujunga "an unincorporated rural community." Tujunga is part of the city of Los Angeles.

The contrast broadly mirrors national differences between the two major political parties. But the shift in power within the state's congressional delegation also reflects a changing California that is cleaving along an East-West divide.

One California, concentrated along the Pacific Coast, is increasingly secular, multicultural and Democratic; the other, centered east of the coastal mountain ranges, is more overtly religious, more white and more Republican.

Red California produced politicians who enthusiastically backed the war in Iraq, cut taxes and took on environmentalists. In 2005, five of the nine most socially conservative members of the House were California Republicans, according to an annual review of voting records by the National Journal.

Blue California is represented by four of the seven most liberal House members, the same survey found. These Californians include fierce war critics, such as Reps. Maxine Waters of Los Angeles and Barbara Lee of Oakland; African Americans who are emerging from the political wilderness; and storied liberals like Rep. Pete Stark of Fremont, who in the 1960s put a giant peace symbol atop the bank he owned.

"The diversity that the Democrats represent means that California Democrats will be looking to help those who have elected them, especially working people and lower-income people," said Los Angeles Rep. Henry A. Waxman, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, who will head the powerful Government Reform Committee next year.

The two sides of the state's 53-member House delegation underscore the fault line that cuts the state's political landscape, said Thad Kousser, a political scientist at UC San Diego.

"Drive out Interstate 10 from Santa Monica to the Inland Empire, and it's like going from New York to Des Moines," he said. "You go from a blue state to a red state."

California's political divide could not always be traversed by such a straightforward commute.

For decades, the state split horizontally between historically liberal Northern California and more conservative Southern California. Even then, its political map was more of a patchwork. Into the '80s, Republicans still represented portions of Los Angeles and other coastal areas. Even Santa Monica had a Republican congressman until 1982, when Rep. Robert K. Dornan lost his seat to redistricting and moved to Orange County.

Recent national elections have highlighted a more starkly divided state. In 2000 and 2004, nearly all of California's coastal counties supported Democrats Al Gore and John F. Kerry for president, while inland counties overwhelmingly backed George W. Bush.

Today, the lawmakers that California's two regions send to Washington could scarcely be more different.

The Republicans whose hold on power ended when the 109th Congress adjourned this month nearly all represented inland districts, with the exception of a handful in Orange and northern San Diego counties.

The ruling GOP delegation included just one woman. And its captains were a half-dozen men whose California is a world away from West Los Angeles, Boyle Heights or Berkeley.

They are lawmakers like Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), a 58-year-old Vietnam veteran and 13-term congressman who has chaired the House Armed Services Committee since 2002.

Hunter, whose district extends east of San Diego through wealthy hilltop enclaves and into rural inland valleys and desert, has been a staunch supporter of the military. He ranks among the most socially conservative members of Congress.

Like most of the California Republicans who served as committee chairmen, Hunter grew up in California. He is the son of a real estate developer who built some of Riverside's early suburbs. Hunter's brother is an executive with one of San Diego's biggest development firms.

The roots of several of these committee chairmen go even deeper.

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