Orange County: No Longer ‘The Right Wing Cradle’.

(This is a fantastic look at how dramatically Orange County has changed in the last 40 years, from Democratic candidate for AD-70 Melissa Fox. – promoted by Robert Cruickshank)

I recently came across a fascinating – and very revealing – article about the political history of Orange County.

Dated July 7, 1974, and titled Orange County: The Right Wing Cradle, the article shows how dramatically Orange County, and in particular my own 70th Assembly District (Irvine, Laguna Beach, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Foothill Ranch, and most of the cities of Aliso Viejo, Newport Beach, and Tustin) has changed, both politically and demographically, in the past four decades.

The article describes Orange County as “a stronghold of the John Birch Society, a former stomping ground of the Klu Klux Klan, the fastest growing county in the United States, and the home of the first drive-in church.”

Among the Orange County right-wing politicians profiled in the article are retired General Curtis LeMay (who ran for Vice-President of the United States as the running mate of segregationist George Wallace), former Congressman James B. Utt (who once claimed that “a large contingent of barefooted Africans” was training in Georgia as part of a United Nations military force to take over the United States), former Congressman James G. Schmitz (who railed against sex education and was later revealed to have engaged in an extra-marital affair and fathered two children with one of his former college students, and who was also the father of sex offender Mary Kay Letourneau), then-current Congressman Andrew Hinshaw (who was later convicted of taking bribes from large landowners as Orange County Assessor in exchange for lower tax assessments and served eight months in prison), and publisher and neo-Nazi activist John H. Townsend, who used his Orange County base to attack evolution, the income tax, abortion, the United Nations, Jews and the “international Zionist conspiracy.”

Orange County has profoundly changed, and for the better.

Who would have believed, even a few years ago, that an African-American Democrat named Barack Obama would win in the heart of Orange County?

Yet Obama carried my 70th Assembly District in South Orange County by nearly 9,000 votes.

Proposition 8 won here by less than 1 percent, and Prop 4 (parental notification) was rejected by a majority of the district’s voters.

Back in 1974, the most important institution and the largest employer in the district was the El Toro Marine Air Base.  It had 10,000 military personnel living on the base and 70,000 people (an amazing number, given the area’s small population) with PX privileges as military dependents or retirees.

Now the most important institution and the larger employer in the district is UC Irvine, with more than 22,000 undergraduate students, nearly 6,000 graduate students, 2,700 faculty members and researchers, and more than 9,000 staff. Once known as a commuter school, nearly half of UCI’s students now live (and can vote) on campus.

When the article was written, the total population of Orange County was 1.6 million, and South Orange County was still largely undeveloped. Now the county’s population tops 3 million, with much of that growth coming in the south part of the county. In just the last decade, Irvine has grown from 143,072 residents to more than 200,000. Tustin has grown from 67,504 to more than 75,000. Newport Beach has grown from 70,032 to more than 86,000. Lake Forest has grown from 56,707 to more than 78,000. Laguna Beach has grown from 23,578 to more than 26,000. Aliso Viejo has grown from 40,166 in 2000 (only 7,612 in 1990) to more than 42,000.

This growth in population has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in diversity. When the article was written, the district was close to 99% white. Now the district is wonderfully diverse, with significant numbers of Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Indian Americans, Arab Americans, and Persian Americans, who are not favorably impressed by the Republicans’ hostility to immigrants, education, and expanding the American Dream.

Orange County — and the 70th Assembly District in particular — is no longer the cradle of the right-wing extremism.

And after November 2010, with your help, a right-wing extremist will no longer represent us in Sacramento.

Please visit my webpage at Melissa Fox for Assembly

6 thoughts on “Orange County: No Longer ‘The Right Wing Cradle’.”

  1. your case would be stronger if you compared apples to apples, instead of toggling between orange county sometimes and the 70th other times. it’s unclear how much of that is change over time and how much is because of the change in district (county v. AD).

    additionally, given the conservative congressional, donor and activist base that still very much exists in OC, i think it’s still premature to declare OC’s right wing cradle status obsolete. the existence of another political OC emerging and contesting OC does not make the teabaggers and wingnuts in that county disappear.

    the fact that most of the GOP frontrunners for guv and senate this time are from silicon valley is interesting, though.

  2. The comparison between the right-wing extremist Orange County of 1974 and the politically and ethnically diverse 70th Assembly District of 2010 is apt.

    First, the Orange County cities that the article mentions (Irvine, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, El Toro [which is now called Lake Forest]) are in the 70th Assembly District.

    Second, the 70th A.D. has traditionally been one of the more right-wing areas of Orange County.  The fact that the 70th A.D. has so dramatically changed since 1974 is tremendously significant — for local politics, for Orange County as a whole, and for the State of California.

    You can read more about my district at

    Thank you for the comment!


  3. True, much of Orange County is not the right-wing asylum it once was.  But, it’s also not yet a bastion of progressive politics either.  The Democratic legislators elected from Orange County are generally moderate, ‘pro-business’ types who have a ways to go before anyone could call them progressive leaders.  

    Are they better than the Republicans? You bet! But, they still have a ways to go.

    That said, the demographics have indeed changed over time and probably will continue to change.  Let’s hope the politics continue to evolve in a positive direction as well.    

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