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2 Huntington Beach Voters Weigh In On Tight Calif. House Race

Oct 19, 2018
Originally published on October 19, 2018 9:36 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We are in Orange County - this is just south of LA - in California's 48th Congressional District. There's a close race here that might help determine whether Republicans hang onto the House or whether Democrats take control. We visited three corners of this seaside district, and one was Huntington Beach, a place that many call Surf City, USA. Now, California might be known for the anti-Trump Resistance. Well, you might say Huntington Beach is part of the resistance to that resistance.

It's a conservative city that won a lawsuit against the state government over its so-called sanctuary law. California lawmakers don't want local police departments cooperating with federal immigration authorities to target people here illegally. Huntington Beach argued, we can cooperate with them if we want to. A city council meeting about this issue lasted six hours and drew more than a hundred speakers. There were people there with signs that said things like, we heart President Trump, and also, build wall, deport them all.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) USA, USA, USA, USA.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Order please. Order please.

GREENE: All this passion, you can understand where it comes from if you talk to a voter like Donna Keller.

DONNA KELLER: Well, I'm a woman, single - well, sort of single. So my first thing is safety. So the illegal immigration is always on my mind. You don't know who's coming here. So I - you will never see me in LA or, you know, certain cities after dark because it's just - I don't feel safe.

GREENE: Donna Keller is the daughter of an immigrant herself. Her mom moved to the U.S. from Japan. I was chatting with Donna this week at her home, which also serves as a workspace for her ceramics business.

KELLER: You don't see a lot of people that can do these ceramic pieces.

GREENE: They're beautiful.

KELLER: Yeah. Well, I had a helper named Pablo, and he was amazing. And he was deported. And he should be here.

GREENE: So what do you think of President Trump in general and his approach to immigration?

KELLER: I like it because I think he has to be that way.

GREENE: It's, like, what if someone who is concerned about immigrants' rights said to you, how can you have it both ways? How can you both support someone like Pablo and your other friends who are in the country illegally and also support President Trump, who is so tough on people who are in the country illegally? Like, how can you...

KELLER: How could I...

GREENE: ...Have it both ways?

KELLER: How could I put those two together?

GREENE: Yeah.

KELLER: I don't see Trump like that. I don't think they're mutually exclusive. I think you could want to have good laws to protect us because that's the main job of the federal government is to protect us. We need borders. And I also think that there's room to have these people that want to come here and have a better life, that they should be able to stay here.

You know, I think there should be a way that we should say, you know, Mr. Trump, you need to let, you know, Pablo stay here. He's a law-abiding citizen. And get the little - the sleazy ones that are, you know, doing the trafficking and the drugs and the - you know, that's what we have to focus on, not the people that just want to bring something to the table here. I mean, don't you agree?

GREENE: What role will this election play?

KELLER: Well, I think it'll put more people in Congress, in the Senate, hopefully. And it'll be able to push through Trump's agenda. And I think - because the left - from what I'm hearing, if they get power, all they're going to do is investigations and impeach - that doesn't win my heart. And I think if they win, that's what they're going to do. And I don't think that's a good thing.

GREENE: Now, Donna Keller told me not everyone has reacted so well to her support of the president.

KELLER: Oh, yeah. I've had people via Facebook that call me racist and all this other stuff. And I'm like, really? You're friends with a racist. Why aren't you unfriending me if you think I'm a racist?

GREENE: Why do they call you that?

KELLER: Because I support Trump. It's just so unbecoming. It's just...

GREENE: Does it hurt?

KELLER: It's surprising to me that they would say that to me because I'm, like, the nicest person in the world. Like, I would do anything for anybody. I would...

GREENE: Are these friends? Like, people who you've...

KELLER: Yeah. Oh, yeah. They're friends. And it's like - I call it the Trump derangement syndrome. I know you've heard of it. But it's - they're so, like, different people when you bring up Trump. It's like it flips a switch for them.

GREENE: Now, about 3 miles away, in another Huntington Beach home, we spoke with Shayna Lathus.

You turned your living room into campaign headquarters.

SHAYNA LATHUS: It's all campaign central right now.

GREENE: You have precinct maps on the wall. Where are your precinct maps?

LATHUS: Oh, right back here.

GREENE: Really?

She is a middle school teacher who's running for city council and would seem to have nothing at all in common with Donna Keller. Then again, these are two women whose politics are motivated by the same emotion - fear. Shayna Lathus said she remembers feeling it at her middle school the morning after Trump was elected.

LATHUS: On that day, when I know that so many people were just devastated and in shock and crawling back under the covers, I knew I didn't have the luxury of doing that because I had hundreds of Latino students at my school that were going to be terrified.

GREENE: What was scaring them?

LATHUS: They were worried that their parents were going to be deported.

GREENE: And some of their parents were, she told me, only making her students more nervous.

LATHUS: And it definitely has an effect on how they learn.

GREENE: In what way?

LATHUS: When you're living in fear, it's really hard to learn about things like cells and body systems. I have several students who - we've been trying to get their parents to come in for conferences or to discuss their child's individualized education plan that won't come because they're afraid of getting picked up. And the students have shared with me, my mom doesn't have papers, so we don't leave. They can't - they're afraid to come to school.

GREENE: Shayna Lathus is a Democrat, and that's the way she's going to be voting next month - for Harley Rouda over Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. But she says what she wants most is lawmakers who are willing to work with the other side.

LATHUS: I have to believe that there are people on both sides of the aisle that really do want to work together, that this divisiveness - I really want to believe that that's not who we are as a nation.

GREENE: Because it's amazing - just as a journalist who watches these debates from afar, it seems like so quickly, you are labeled as someone who just wants to protect immigrants in this country and doesn't care about the safety of people. And people on the other side are labeled as racist. And there's just no way to actually build bridges.

LATHUS: That is how it looks if you're reading things on the Internet. But if you're out there in the community and you're walking with us, you'll see that there's far more that does bring us together than divides us.

GREENE: And so you'd be ready to settle people down who are just calling the president racist and say, that's not helpful. Let's try and work through this.

LATHUS: I would do that, absolutely. I don't know that I would actually be able to come out and say, he's not racist. But I think I could say something along the lines of, continuing to push that narrative is not helpful. What is something that we can talk about that is helpful?

GREENE: That was the voice of Shayna Lathus. And before that, we heard from Donna Keller. They're two voters here in Orange County, Calif. And we're going to take you to other corners of this district elsewhere in the program.

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