Jan. 10, 2018 — It’s getting to the point where literally every day we witness a new retirement announcement from Congress, and Monday was no exception.
In another surprise political decision, veteran California Rep. Ed Royce (R-Yorba Linda/Fullerton), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, disclosed that he will not seek a 14th term this year, preferring to dedicate his last year in Congress to finishing his committee agenda.
The move was unexpected in that Royce appeared to be preparing his political operation for a major battle. Reportedly through the year-end financial disclosure period, he already amassed a treasury exceeding $3.5 million. Until this week, his actions suggested that he was well equipped to run a strong re-election campaign.
Unlike most of the other 31 Republican seats that are being vacated for the next election, Royce’s California district has strong Democratic conversion potential. The constituency voted 51-43 percent for Hillary Clinton, but backed Mitt Romney 51-47 percent in 2012, and gave John McCain a 49-47 percent margin four years earlier. The Romney and McCain votes are more consistent with the district electorate’s long-term political performance history, but this area of the state, like many regions in the nation’s most populous domain, is turning more Democratic as significant demographic change continues.
Anchored in the Fullerton/Buena Park/Yorba Linda area of northern Orange County, just over 61 percent of the 39th’s constituents reside in the district’s dominant population center. Almost 30 percent live in Los Angeles, while another 10 percent comes from a sliver within San Bernardino County.
But it is the minority population growth that is the most relevant political story of this district, and why it can no longer be considered a reliably Republican CD. According to the US Census Bureau, 34.3 percent of the district’s population is Hispanic, just ahead of the Asian population, which registers 31.9 percent. Just 2.4 percent of the residents are African American, meaning that the pure Anglo population is only 14.1 percent.
Six Democrats had declared their candidacies months ago, but this situation will likely change in a drastic manner now that the seat is coming open. The California candidate filing deadline is March 9, so prospective candidates have two full months to decide whether they will enter the race.
Democrats will almost assuredly attempt to recruit state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Brea), whose 29th state legislative district is very similar in configuration to CD 39. Because California has only 40 state Senate districts and 53 CDs, senators actually represent, on average, 250,000 more people than do members of Congress. Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Buena Park) could be another Democrat possibility. Republicans might look toward state Assemblyman Phillip Chen (R-Brea) as a prospective replacement for Rep. Royce.
Of the six Democrats currently in the race, at least two appear prominent. Gil Cisneros is a retired Navy officer who came to local fame by winning a multi-million dollar California lottery, and physician and Wall Street analyst Mai-Khanh Tran appears to be gaining traction with national liberal organizations.
Royce becomes the 47th incumbent member not to seek re-election, and the 32nd Republican. Like many other chairmen who are retiring this year, Royce is in his final year of allotted service as the Foreign Affairs Committee head. He now becomes the seventh such member to opt for retirement. An eighth, Natural Resources Committee chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), has also committed to retire but at the end of his next term.