California 6th District
When the Golden Gate Bridge was opened in 1937, San Francisco was one of the nation’s best-known cities, but few knew much about the land beyond the bridge’s north pier head. There were fewer than 50,000 people in Marin County then and another 65,000 just to the north in Sonoma County. For San Franciscans, Marin was known for the ferry terminus in Sausalito, a fishing village and art colony, and as the beginning of the Redwood Empire, with its giant trees in Muir Woods that grow taller than any others in the world (the largest is more than 300 feet tall and 30 feet in diameter), and with a dense concentration of spotted owls that demand quiet during the mating season. Near the Bay and adjacent to the Interstate 580 bridge is the state prison at San Quentin, one of the oldest in the nation, with its famous gas chamber and crowded death row. Plans in 2007 for a $337 million overhaul of the facility were sidetracked, and led to local calls to demolish it and use the valuable land for more commercial enterprises. Inverness has old wooden storefronts and attracts weekenders escaping city life. Farther north is the Point Reyes peninsula with its organic farming and recreational activities, and the wine country of Sonoma County, sunny valleys protected from the fog by the Coast Range. In one such valley is Santa Rosa, which was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and later the site of agronomist Luther Burbank’s laboratory, a town that looked Middle American enough to be the set for dozens of movies. Politically, the area was then typical of the nation: traditionally Republican, but favoring Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Today, this part of California is far more populous, with 248,000 people in Marin County and 464,000 in Sonoma, and is affluent beyond the dreams of post-World War II Americans. It is struggling to keep up with the pace of growth, as witnessed by the 2008 leaking into the bay of more than 5 million gallons of sewage from aging pipes. The area is also extreme in its cultural attitudes, with relatively few racial minorities compared to other counties in the Bay Area. Until it was surpassed by the Silicon Valley in the late 1990s, it was the nation’s most expensive housing market. Santa Rosa is thriving, thanks to the wine and telecommunications industries. Trendy Marin became a national caricature: economically affluent, culturally liberal. When the war in Iraq began, “many of the same people who marched against the Vietnam War have held nightly peace vigils,” The Washington Post reported. They included a group of feminists who “bared witness” by using their nude bodies to spell out “PEACE.” After a while, such an image feeds on itself. Marin attracts affluent people who share its values, while those who don’t go elsewhere—in the Bay Area to the more conservative San Ramon Valley, beyond the mountains east of Oakland. Indeed the Bay Area as a whole seems to attract liberals and repel conservatives, just as the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex does the opposite. Marin and Sonoma attract the most liberal of the liberal—averse to traditional religious denominations, indifferent to traditional sexual and marriage mores, and viscerally anti-military.
The 6th Congressional District of California includes all of Marin County and all of Sonoma County except for its rural eastern border. These counties have been transformed politically over the past generation. In 1980, they voted for Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter 47%-36%. Then they moved left and voted in 1988 for Michael Dukakis over George H. W. Bush by 57%-41%. Now Republicans seem almost an endangered species here. In 2004, the district voted for John Kerry over George W. Bush by 70%-28%. Barack Obama’s 2008 victory over John McCain in Marin and Sonoma was a stunning 76%-22%.