California 21st District
In California’s Central Valley, between the flat Westlands and the Sierras, is Fresno, a city that is both agricultural and industrial, middle American and ethnically diverse. Although it began as a farm-marketing center, the city has long since grown out to the north, east, and west from its downtown, and its economy has diversified. It is a creation of the Industrial Age and the Central Pacific Railroad. Fresno’s city fathers bred the local wine grape, developed the raisin industry, and introduced the Smyrna fig. These are among the area’s 300-plus crops, which include cotton, lima beans, nectarines, almonds, tomatoes, cantaloupes, plums, peaches, and alfalfa. Dairy, however, is now the biggest commodity. Fresno County produces more farm products in dollar value than any other county in the United States; neighboring Tulare County is close behind. Central Valley agriculture is industrial in its thoroughness and in its ownership by large corporations. The vineyards outside Fresno radiate in mechanical precision, with vines just 10 feet apart and exposed to the relentless summer sun: nothing romantic or quaint about it. Until recently, times were good. The weak dollar boosted farm exports, large citrus groves benefited from losses in hurricane-plagued Florida, and nuts have found new export markets. The recession, plus a serious continuing drought, hit this area hard in 2008. Among the many business setbacks was the decision by the San Joaquin Railroad, which had served farm and food centers, to abandon 39 miles of rail line. Railroad officials said that the line serving Ducor, Exeter, Lindsay, Porterville, Richgrove, Strathmore, and Terra Bella was not economically viable.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 21st District, the most productive farm district in the nation, covers most of Fresno County east of Fresno and all of Tulare County to the south; 42% of the population is in Fresno County and 58% is in Tulare. Here and there amid the farm fields are small cities, and connecting many of these places is state Route 99, the old Farm-to-Market Corridor that will become Interstate 9. Past Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks loom the giant peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, including Mount Whitney, at 14,494 feet, the highest point in the lower 48 states. This part of the Central Valley grew 16% from 2000 to 2007, and it is 48% Hispanic. In 2004, George W. Bush got 66% of the vote, his second-highest percentage in a California district. In 2008, Republican John McCain defeated Democrat Barack Obama here, 56%-42%, McCain’s second-highest percentage in the state, after the neighboring 22nd District.