Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Shutdown: In this district, Democrats and Republicans agree

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Republicans and Democrats in one of the few Congressional districts in Southern California where they have roughly equal numbers agree: They don't like the federal government shutdown.

And as was evidenced on a recent weekday in the 36th Congressional District, members of both parties were unimpressed at Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Palm Springs) crossing the aisle to vote with Republicans.

Ruiz was the lone California Democrat to vote last week for a delay in the individual mandate -- a rule under the Affordable Healthcare Act that requires individuals to have health insurance through the government, work or a private insurer. The bill passed the House but failed in the Senate as both parties argued over how to end the partial government shutdown.
The 36th District includes most everything north and south of Interstate 10 in Riverside County, from the Inland Empire city of Banning east through the desert to Blythe at the California border. Republicans and Democrats each claim about 39 percent of the district's voters.
Banning's best-known eatery is The Farmhouse, a big red barn with a 15-foot chicken in the parking lot. Inside, the décor is antiques and lots of American flags put up by owner Jackie Kennedy. The mother of a Marine Corps lieutenant who was killed in 2004 in Iraq, she is deeply disappointed in Congress over the shutdown.
She says the government shutdown makes the lingering hard times in the inland region that much harder for families and small businesses like hers.
"I hear a lot of people that come in, they don't know if they're going to get their checks this month, they're afraid about that," Kennedy said. "They're just eating toast now."

Kennedy's customer base includes road-trippers headed to the Joshua Tree National Monument and federal parks in California and Arizona. She's heard from plenty of campers and tourists angry that their destinations are closed.
Kennedy is Republican. She likes former Rep. Mary Bono Mack, the Republican who lost the 2012 election in a surprise upset to Ruiz. But his vote with the Republicans to delay the requirement that individuals buy health insurance did not make Kennedy like Ruiz or Congress any better.
"I think America needs to step up and be the strong country we have been," she said.
The populated heart of the 36th District is the cluster of desert cities.  Palm Springs' downtown shopping strip — where bells at a coffee shop chime the hour over passing traffic, and visitors cavort under the upblown skirt of a gigantic Marilyn Monroe sculpture — is all about attracting tourists.
At a life-sized statue of the late Congressman Sonny Bono,  a group of Dutch tourists make alternate plans now that their expected visits to 10 national parks in 18 days are thwarted.  Instead, Entoon Vingruthusen is taking his group to the tiny desert town of  Blythe.
"In Holland, we have no desert. So, we go there," Vingruthusen said.

Up Highway 74 to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, the gates and visitor center are closed up tight. A park ranger sits in an air conditioned patrol SUV overlooking the entrance. He exits the truck briefly, long enough to say he's not permitted to comment on the closure. The driveway entrance is locked, but a roadside parking lot is open for those who prefer to hike in.
Farther up the mountain, Pine Cove resident Todd Hoggan horses around at an Idylwlild coffee house with his son, Quentin. Hoggan is a self-employed biologist on disability after losing part of his vision in a car crash. His wife is a federal worker on furlough, and until it's over, they risk missing a mortgage payment.

"Getting paid later doesn't really matter right now," Hoggan said. "If you live month to month, that isn't going to cut it. No one's going to cut you some slack because you say the federal government hasn't paid you."
He notes that Idyllwild's economy leans heavily on income and contracts from the Forest Service and other federal agencies, so he has a number of friends who are in the same dilemma.

"It's basically a forest town. That's who administers the forest. It's the biggest employer in this town," Hoggan said.
He supported Congressman Ruiz in the last election, but now he blames the freshman Democrat for the economic difficulties his family may soon face.
"Representative Ruiz voted Tea Party, that was a huge shock to all of us that voted him in and that will be rectified next election, I'm sure," Hoggan said.
Ruiz has explained his vote by saying individuals deserve the same delay for mandatory health insurance that was given to small businesses. He has since called the shutdown "reckless" and "unconscionable."
Hoggan, a Democrat, says he isn't quite ready to support a Republican rival next year, but he says he will explore his options.
Whether other district voters also reconsider Ruiz depends on how long their memories, and the shutdown, lasts.

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