California 40th District
Orange County is the fifth-most-populous county in the United States, having grown steadily from 130,000 people in 1940, to nearly 2 million in 1980, to 3 million in 2007. It is now a community with the patina of maturity, and in some places an aging community, fraying around the edges. The county can no longer double its population, as it did for several decades when Disneyland sprung up on empty land and when orange groves and bean fields were transformed into subdivisions, shopping centers and office towers. Although developers have plans for a few more huge projects in the next decade, “We’re outta land,” a real estate analyst told the Los Angeles Times in 2003. “We don’t have any dirt left.” Ranchers and farmers have given way to aerospace engineers. Until relatively recently, the communities of Orange County were mostly white and middle-class. The area has been transformed by its openness to economic and ethnic change. Its economy has been constantly reshaped by the inevitable upheavals of capitalism, and that pattern continues. Tourism remains key, but there is no single industry that is responsible for Orange County’s prosperity. The region was hit hard by the defense spending cutbacks and recession of the early 1990s but it bounced back, fueled by start-ups and small entrepreneurial successes not anticipated by government or corporate planners. Orange County was again wrocked by recession in 2008, when the hyperinflation of the local housing market abruptly burst and home values slid as much as 20% from 2007 levels.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Always Republican, Orange County became a symbol of conservatism, first in California and then nationally. This was a solid base for Ronald Reagan in his campaigns for governor and president. In 1988, the district’s 317,000-vote plurality for George H.W. Bush was his largest in any county in the nation. Orange County’s conservatism reflected a belief in technological progress and traditional values as unyielding as the mile-square grid that the county’s founders imposed on most of its land, and a belief in market economies that produced wonders such as the area’s advanced military technologies. Over the years, Orange County has become racially and ethnically more diverse. Contrary to the images presented in the television series The OC, the all-white Orange County stereotype is now thoroughly out of date, exemplified by the election in 2007 of the county’s first Vietnamese-American supervisor. In 2004, Orange County gave George W. Bush a 222,000-vote margin, well below his father’s margin 16 years before. The GOP advantage dwindled significantly in 2008, when John McCain prevailed over Barack Obama by only 29,500 votes.
The 40th Congressional District of California is located entirely in Orange County. At the geographic center is Fullerton, with 36,000 students at its own branch of California State University. The campus’s business school is the largest in the state. To the southwest are Buena Park, home of Knott’s Berry Farm, the earliest theme park (1940), plus Cypress, Los Alamitos, La Palma, Stanton, and parts of Garden Grove and Westminster. Southeast of Fullerton, the district includes most of Placentia, part of eastern Anaheim, and all of Villa Park and Orange, the district’s largest city. Overall, the 40th District is 34% Hispanic, 19% Asian (primarily Korean, Vietnamese and Filipino) and 2% African-American.