A political evolution observed in my home area

October 31, 2008

(Copyright 2008)


By Tony Walther

I live in Republican country, kind of a stranger in a strange land, except that but for a few relatively brief periods I have resided here for virtually all of my adult as well as adolescent life.

This area, California’s Sacramento Valley, was not always such a Republican stronghold, but particularly where I live now, at the northern end of the valley, the narrative goes something like this:

Back when I was an adolescent, this area was more heavily Democratic. That was when the local sawmills were going full blast and there was a lot of union membership. In fact my only brief period as a union member was when I worked at a mill and I was nominally a member of the Woodworkers of America. It was a union shop. I never went to a meeting – don’t recall being invited – and I didn’t even know who my shop steward was.

But at any rate, unions tend to support the Democrats, because over the years, the Democrats have been supportive of organized labor, the idea of labor being organized being anathema to Republican pro-business interest thinking.

Interestingly to me, though, I recall that in the Nixon era, the Teamsters backed the Republican administration because they saw it as a counter to the anti-Vietnam War, commie-pinko welfare fraud crowd (that is not my belief system, just what I think is a blunt, but accurate portrayal of the mind set of the times). I guess it goes back to 1968 when there was a rift in the Democratic Party between basically the political left side of the party and the middle to right side of the party.

It really came to a head in 1972 when George McGovern, a World War II combat veteran, but an anti-Vietnam War crusader and a symbol for pacifism, became the Democratic Party candidate. He lost in a landslide to Republican Richard Nixon, who then began his second term, only to wind up being the first and only, so far, president to resign office (for the younger set, look up the Watergate scandal – that’s why all the modern scandals carry a nickname that ends in gate).

Nixon capitalized on the bad feelings and fear over the race riots of the 60s, the split in the electorate over the Vietnam War, and the worries about the break down in morality and law and order. In an odd twist in politics, the openly racist south up until the 60s was led by primarily conservative Democrats (an animal that has recently come back from extinction, but minus the racism, I think). But the passage of the civil rights legislation in the 60s thanks to more progressive Democrats led those Dixie Democrats to switch to the Republican side. The Party of Lincoln, who had freed the slaves, had now become the anti-civil rights party – politics is strange. Actually, the flip flop of the parties began back in the 1930s with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but I’m going too much and too far back into history here.

Another thing happened in my home area over the past many decades. San Francisco Bay area and Southern California folks, many of them good Democratic union members, retired here in droves bringing their real-estate equity (remember that?) with them, enjoying the mountains and the wide open spaces and the ability to buy nice houses and/or beautiful tracts to land with their urban home equity.

Funny thing happened. They transformed themselves from workers to landed gentry who had something to protect. They became Republicans.

Also, I know a guy who was raised here. As a very young man, he became a carpenter. He went through the union apprenticeship program because at the time, he explained, you needed to be a union member to get a job. But over time, he became disenchanted with the union. Union reps, as he tells it, would come out on hot days in their air conditioned cars, make him stop what he was doing and demand to see his union card. He once got bawled out by a union rep for helping a concrete man who was racing against time to get done before the cement set up. The rep said my carpenter friend was working out of his job classification. He also did not care for the union reps calling him and telling him how to vote (although I don’t think he was ever an active voter). He also did not like waiting around a union hall for work. He left the union and had no problem getting work the rest of his career (and I’ve known him the whole time and can attest to that part). And he was paid well (although no union benefits). There’s more to this story, but I’ll leave that out – I was only trying to set the scene as I have known it, not tell one man’s life story.

For several decades now we have had Republican congressmen and state legislators up here. But this time around, a Democrat is giving the solidly-entrenched Republican rubber stamp for Bush guy a serious challenge. The Democrat could ( I emphasize could ) win. The local newspaper, which has endorsed Republicans consistently for the past several decades, chickened out this year and announced that what with its new localcentric format it has decided not to endorse at the presidential level, citing the fact they couldn’t get an interview with Obama or McCain (really). They did endorse the Republican congressman, though.

That Republican congressman serves in a district that once was represented by a Democrat who brought a lot of pork (people liked the taste of that other white meat then) back to the home district – you know wasteful pork, such as strengthening the Sacramento River levees for flood protection.

And that Republican congressman also was preceded by another Democrat who went on to become one of California’s U.S. Senators. He was Clair Engle. He helped break a Republican filibuster, a move that led to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. He was afflicted with cancer, was partially paralyzed and a brain tumor left him unable to speak. But when the Senate clerk called his name, he slowly raised an arm and pointed to his eye (meaning, “aye” or “yes”).

Sen. Engle died a month and a half later at age 52. I remember when his coffin lay in state under the rotunda of the Tehama County Courthouse. I was a high school student in that county at the time.

I also remember when my family took a trip to Washington D.C. and we had lunch in the Capitol building with our Democratic congressman.

Then a few years later I was taking a journalism class near where I now live and the local newspaper editor talked to us. I asked him if that sometimes when he wrote an editorial he might go against what he thought might be local opinion. He said he did not think that would be wise. While this area has gone Republican in these past many decades, his successors have seemed to follow suit.

One thing I have noticed this election cycle is that there are more pro-Democrat letters to the editor in the newspaper than usual.

But local voter registration statistics still show my county and the ones directly to the south to be Republican strongholds.

I think there will be a lot of moaning and groaning come next Wednesday morning.

But come the first of the year, it will be all happiness what with the diehards being able to blame all of our woes on the opposition rather than their own man.

P.s. I have more often than not devoted this blog to political issues, I guess, but when I began I tried not to come down too partisan or one-sided. I like to analyze things, and besides what is the use of preaching to the choir? But sometimes it is hard to be completely neutral when you find yourself citing the ridiculous to seem objective. I did cast my absentee vote a few days ago. Anyone who is undecided by this time probably should not even bother to vote – well unless they are voting for my chosen candidates.



In a previous blog I stated that the Catholic-run hospital in my city is a for-profit operation. I was wrong. It is run by Catholic Healthcare West, a non-profit organization. And I feel obligated to add that my wife and my mother were treated at another one of their hospitals and received excellent care. I can also attest to the fact that in my wife’s case they were extremely cooperative in the billing for insurance and a representative told me not to worry, that regardless of our coverage, my wife would get the best care. Fortunatley we had good coverage and my wife did receive excellent care, and I am eternally grateful. I regreat the error in stating their business arrangement. A family member corrected me. I was not contacted by the good sisters or anyone connected with them.