Southern California's political foibles, facts and failures

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"LAX sign at the Century Boulevard entrance to Los Angeles International Airport"
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"LAX sign at the Century Boulevard entrance to Los Angeles International Airport"

LOS ANGELES -- Southern California, or SoCal as news junkies lovingly refer to the area, is a microcosm of curious political movements and idiosyncrasies. So what makes Golden State residents tick and why should you really care and pay attention?

The movie industry, glitz and glamor of Hollywood and palm-studded streets are just some of the images that outsiders think of when imagining life in SoCal. Nothing could be further from the truth, in my estimation. Upon my arrival, I noticed that Los Angeles in general -- and the Hollywood area in particular -- is a mix of gang-infested neighborhoods, dirty sidewalks, homeless beggars, cell phone addicts, would-be entrepreneurs and the working poor.

Although Los Angeles and its surrounding areas steal the show because of their huge population numbers, other significant metropolitan areas in SoCal are San Diego, Imperial County, the Inland Empire and Ventura County.

The economic tug of war

San Diego, Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Pedro ports rely heavily on commercial trade traffic for the creation of blue collar jobs; this movement began as early as the 1950s. The aerospace industry -- a source of white- and blue-collar work opportunities -- has been on perpetual life support and is beset by striking unions, contract negotiations and rumors of relocation.

Green jobs are not as plentiful as SoCal residents had hoped when the California Air Resources Board sold the electorate on AB 32 and its cap-and-trade regulations.

On a humorous aside, ask any L.A. waiter whether he is an out-of-work actor and you will receive an emphatic "yes, of course" along with a raised eyebrow. There exists (within the Hollywood area at least) a microcosm of stars and starlets hopeful for fame. This goes hand in hand with the understanding that job growth primarily affects the service sector, which includes food service and retail.

It is noteworthy that sunny Southern California loves its chain stores and strip malls. Small mom-and-pop shops go steadily by the wayside, which leads to empty storefronts along the poorer sections of L.A. and richer areas of Seal Beach. But even strip malls are not immune to the economic downturn. Boarded up stores that mar the overall appearance of gradually crumbling mini malls are common sights.

SoCal's political churnings

It is a common misconception that SoCal is a hotbed for progressive or Democratic politics. If this were true, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others would never have stood a chance. Instead, it is primarily Los Angeles County that is heavily liberal and thereby offsets some of the more conservative Southern California locales.

The opposing forces that nevertheless make up SoCal as a whole are clear when considering that -- by and large -- politics is defined as a showdown between liberal, Latino and labor special interest politicians on the one side and "Contract with America"-touting conservative special interest legislators on the other.

Quoting Westbrook Pegler, The New York Times opined that California in general is a mix of social upheaval and political experimentation. He then suggested appointing a guardian to the state as one would do to an incompetent relative.

He is not too far off. Legislators unwilling to legislate against their fiscal backers (the voters) rely on the ballot process to let a volatile electorate govern itself -- frequently with several unintended consequences. In so doing, the state sets copious precedents and, as the saying proclaims, "as California goes, so goes the nation."

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