The Lives Behind the Signs

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It started at 6:30 p.m. at Main Beach with about 20 people carrying half as many signs. Some passersby joined the street action organized by the Indivisible OC 48 to demand the FBI investigate Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s ties to Russia.

The march on Friday, May 19 was quickly organized in response to a Washington Post report of an audio recording of Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the House majority leader, saying last year, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.”
The Resisters

Of the many political demonstrations taking place in Orange County, a recent Main Beach protest targeted Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.
Of the many political demonstrations taking place in Orange County, a recent Main Beach protest targeted Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.

Aaron McCall, an organizer of the street action who was handing out scripts of chants and songs, called the turn out “inspiring” given the short notice.

He’s a member of the IOC 48, made up of residents of the 48th Congressional District, which spans coastal Orange County from Seal Beach to Laguna Beach and is represented by Rohrabacher. They follow a community organizing strategy mapped out in the Indivisible Guide, intended to pressure elected officials to be responsive to constituents.

McCall, of Newport Beach, said a few Republicans participate. As a freelance marketer with a flexible work schedule, he joined the group in February after hearing about the movement on a news show.

Sara Lowell, of Laguna Beach, also helped organize the May 19 march. In recent months, she’s regularly attended Tuesday rallies outside Rohrabacher’s office seeking a town hall meeting. It hasn’t happened yet.

Lowell works a fulltime job at a Laguna-based foundation working on social benefits and environmental protections and is raising a young son with her husband. He helps her find time for volunteer activities. Lowell said the group will also start service events beginning with a cleanup with the Surfrider Foundation on Saturday, June 3, at Prospect Street and Oceanfront Boulevard in Newport Beach.

She thought her experience in project management could be of help to the movement and joined in February because, “I needed to feel that I was being helpful, instead of feeling helpless against this wave of policies that are going to rollback the social and environmental progress … that make this country great.”

The IOC 48’s website includes scripts and phone numbers of representatives, a tool to track legislators’ votes, lists of activism opportunities and a shortcut for sending faxes to a congressional representative by text.


The Incumbent

Instead of face-to-face meetings in his Huntington Beach office, Rohrabacher has held “telephonic town hall meetings” for the last six years, said Kathleen Staunton, his district director. “They became so unruly that elderly constituents requested a change,” she said, adding that the congressman still meets in his office with individuals needing help with “government issues.”

Rohrabacher’s website offers assistance with getting federal grants, ordering flags, procuring internships, planning visits to Washington D.C. and getting military academy nominations.

Staunton said constituents cannot register for the telephone town halls. “It’s not done like that,” she said. The phone numbers are gleaned from voter registration cards and other public records, such as property tax bills, she said. Outside companies, like and others organize the meetings. Congressmen Lou Correa of Santa Ana and Scott Peters of San Diego also use the telephone town hall meeting model.

A recent telephonic town hall reached 3,500 South County constituents and allowed for 50 questions to be addressed, Staunton said, adding that the conversations typically take place in the evening and last for two hours.


The Challenger

In March, local Harley Rouda announced his intent to unseat Rohrabacher, who faces re-election in 2018. Rouda, a resident of Emerald Bay and father of four adult children, serves on boards or acts as an advisor to companies involved in real estate, retail and other industries. Rouda’s energetic candidacy, in part supported by his own funds, calls for the inquiry into Russian influence in the U.S. election.

Earlier in May, Rohrabacher along with the other 13 Republicans in California’s congressional delegation voted to roll back the Affordable Care Act. Within a week Rouda released a video ad declaring his support for preserving and improving Obama care. More recently, he released an op-ed condemning proposed cuts in the Trump budget to “medical research and health insurance for children and the working poor.”

Though Rohrabacher won re-election in 2016 with a 16.6 percent margin, Fran Sdao chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County, seems impressed by Rouda’s campaign. “Harley has a very aggressive, experienced campaign team and they are doing a good job getting him out there quite a bit,” she said.

Los Angeles political consultant Dave Jacobson, hired by the Rouda campaign, describes an “unprecedented amount of passion, energy and electricity on the ground in Orange County.” The campaign also includes a polling team, community outreach and fundraising consultants and two companies to handle communications. The candidate has picked up endorsements from unions, political figures and support from local voters.

Fred Whitaker, Orange County Republican party chairman, views the passionate OC activists differently. “Let them spend their money,” he said in a Los Angeles Times interview, published May 18. “If they are spending all their money here where we’re going to win, then that allows us to win in other places where Democrats might have a chance across the nation.”

McCall takes a less cynical view of candidates challenging incumbents in Orange County. “I’m hoping they’ll have great platforms and inspiring leadership skills.”


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