Not so long ago, you would most likely call a Democrat running for Congress in many parts of Orange County quixotic if not just flat foolish. Beth Krom, a lifelong Democrat who has won five consecutive local elections in Irvine—the crustiest of upper crust Orange County—begs to differ.
Krom is challenging John Campbell, the three-term Republican incumbent in the 48th Congressional District, which runs in a rough triangle from Tustin to Newport Beach to Dana Point and includes Laguna Beach, San Juan Capistrano, Lake Forest, and Irvine.
“Demographics in this district have changed dramatically over the past decade,” Krom said. “Once it was a rock-solid Republican stronghold, with 57% Republican registration. Now, it’s 44% Republican, 30% Democratic, and 22% Decline-to-State.”
It isn’t that Republicans in the district are suddenly coming to their senses, she contends. Rather, a more culturally, educationally, and racially diverse community has been attracted the balmy coast and the professional, educational, and recreational riches it offers.
“Mine is not a Tea Party district. We have a wider mix of wealth levels than many might realize.”
Still, she acknowledges that this district has not been competitive politically for as long as anyone can remember. Indeed, in the recent June 8th primary, her general election opponent won 72,658 votes in the Republican primary, while she got 30,817 votes in the Democratic primary, both running unopposed.
Take all the comfort you can knowing that all the primary heat was on the Red side of the ledger, with Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina spending large to beat back Republican opponents for governor and senator. Still, Krom’s work is cut out for her.
From El Toro Airport to City Hall
A long-time teacher and business owner hailing originally from Buffalo, New York, Krom got propelled into politics in the fight over what to do with El Toro Marine Corps Air Station once the Pentagon decided to close it in 1999.
“Most residents wanted a park, but thought they’d get an airport,” she said. Ultimately, the Yes On Measure W campaign succeeded with 58% of the vote, overturning earlier airport development plans, thus creating what will become the Orange County Great Park in Irvine.
As part of that effort, Krom began attending Irivine City Council meetings to make sure the residents’ voices were heard. Intrigued by what she saw, she decided to run for a seat, which she won in November 2000. Four more consecutive two-year terms followed, including two as mayor.
“I offered strong citizen engagement. I garnered support from independents and Republicans in those races, just as I’m doing this time,” she said. “When I ran for mayor the second time, I got 60% of the vote—8,000 more votes than the second-place finisher.”
According to Lori Vandermeir, Krom’s communicatons director, more than 20% of the $400,000 Krom raised before the primary for her congressional race came from Republicans. “That has never happened in an Orange County race where a Democrat was challenging a Republican incumbent,” said Vandermeir.
The Birther Opposition
Krom’s opponent, John Campbell, is cut from different cloth. A fourth-generation Californian, who came into politics after a 25-year career as a car dealer, Campbell likes to wear a “Join the Resistance” tshirt, which should tell you which way the wind is blowing in his campaign.
Surprised that he cosponsored the “Birther Bill” or that he automatically brands every appropriation as an “earmark”? Don’t be.
“The incumbent does nothing. He never once came to City Hall when I was mayor of Irvine,” said Krom. “He didn’t even send a letter of congratulations when we were named ‘Safest City in America,’ four years in a row.”
“Campbell’s not genetically wired to win a race. He hasn’t had to run before and he doesn’t like the retail side of politics. You hardly see him in the district,” she said. “Many voters here still think Chris Cox is their congressman.”
Krom is not impressed by the current partisanship on either side she sees in Congress and in Sacramento. “When I was elected, I always felt I was elected to represent the whole community, not just the part of it that voted for me.”
Krom thinks the anti-incumbent wave might help her campaign. “Voters may be tired of either party “owning” a seat as the Republicans have owned this one for so long,” she said.
Why Mrs. Krom Wants to Go to Washington
“As a former teacher and a mother, education has always been a priority for me. I would welcome any Congressional assignment dealing with education,” she said. “We have lost our way in inspiring people to learn. We have a lot of things working against democracy in America and one is our education system.”
Besides downplaying extreme partisanship, Krom would like to bring more spine to Congress.
“We brought a lot of Democrats to Congress in the last election who aren’t really committed to the program,” she said “To come to Washington and show no courage at all—that’s wrong”
“I wish Democrats in Congress had shown more courage on the public option debate,” Krom continued. “That was a huge disappointment for me.”
Krom does not support what Arizona is trying to do with immigration. While acknowledging the Federal government’s obligation to secure our borders, she thinks we ought to be putting more passion into helping create a viable economy at home and in Mexico.
“We’re a nation of immigrants,” she said. “While people who are failing to operate as citizens should go, we should provide a pathway to citizenship to those who have been here and worked here.”
On the Gaza blockade and recent shootings, Krom warns against telescoping a complex situation into a single sound bite.
“”It’s not simple,” she said. “We have indications that there were provocations on both sides. The great tragedy is that we can’t see a process pursued that gives security and peace on all sides.”
“As a Jewish-American, with support from both the Jewish and Muslim communities in my district, I support a two-state solution,” she said.
Among her many endorsements, Krom counts those from the American Association of Justice, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, National Organization for Women, National Women’s Political Caucus, Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, Women in Leadership, and Women’s Campaign Forum.
“The worst people in politics are the ones who don’t know how they got elected,” she concluded. “In politics, if you’re not standing on the edge, you’re just taking up space.”