California 5th District
Sacramento, capital of the nation’s largest state, is the focus of California’s third-largest media market, is home to a national sports franchise (the NBA’s Sacramento Kings), and has an 18-mile light-rail system. It is no longer just a small city with a lot of civil servants and a vegetable-packing economy. It is a vibrant metropolis, with some of the nation’s highest job growth. Sacramento started as a river port on the sluggish waters of the Sacramento and American rivers. It was the destination of many overland migrants, the site of Sutter’s Fort, where John Augustus Sutter found the gold that set off the Gold Rush of 1848, and the western terminus of the Pony Express in 1860. This was the natural choice at the time to be California’s capital, halfway between the San Francisco Bay and the Mother Lode Country in the foothills of the Sierras, and in the middle of California’s vast valley. Agriculture continues to be important today in Sacratomato, as some call it. It has the world’s largest almond processing plant. A growing local concern is the city’s location in a floodplain, inadequately protected by levees, which has occasionally resulted in heavy flooding.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
In the old days, government was not a big business. Just a few lobbyists hung out in saloons on K or J streets, the governor’s mansion was a musty antique, and the summers of 100-plus degrees emptied out what there was of the city. But air conditioning has replaced awnings, and freeways and shopping malls have followed the city’s growth east and north toward the Sierra foothills. Today, Sacramento is one of America’s higher-income metropolitan areas. In the 1980s, metropolitan Sacramento grew by 35% and in the 1990s by 22%, so that it now has 2 million people, about the same as metro Cincinnati or Orlando. Some high-tech firms have moved east from Silicon Valley, with Intel and Hewlett-Packard maintaining large campuses. Bay Area refugees have welcomed less expensive and more comfortable living standards. The increase has continued in recent years, but at a slower pace due to housing shortages and the nationwide recession.
Government expanded, too; platoons of lobbyists, lawyers and consultants have set up permanent shop, and new hotels have been built to serve them. Today, 1,000 registered lobbyists prowl the halls of the capitol. As Sacramento has grown, this once-Democratic, working-class bastion has become closer to an upscale Sun Belt boomtown. In 1966, Sacramento was just about the only part of California beyond the Bay Area that stuck with Pat Brown over challenger Ronald Reagan. But when John Kerry carried California 54%-44% in 2004, he carried Sacramento County by only 49.6%-49.3%. In the 2003 recall election, 60% of county voters voted to remove Gray Davis, and Schwarzenegger won 52% of the vote on the replacement ballot. In 2008, Barack Obama won the county 58%-39%.
The 5th Congressional District of California consists of all of the city of Sacramento and some of its close-in suburbs. It contains affluent neighborhoods and scattered low-income black and Latino neighborhoods, plus new condominiums north of the American River and middle-class subdivisions south of downtown. This is a true majority-minority district. In 2007, 66% of the population was Hispanic, Asian, African-American, or “some other race.” According to the Public Policy Institute of California, Sacramento’s neighborhoods are more ethnically diverse than those of any other big city in California. They are home to, among others, recent Hmong refugees from Laos, Vietnamese, and since the late 1980s, Russians and Ukrainians. This is the solidly Democratic part of metro Sacramento, and the 5th is the most Democratic district in the great valley from Bakersfield north to Oregon.