Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced Monday he is retiring from the House when his term expires at the end of this year after serving 25 years.
Royce’s district is one of four Orange County Republican-held congressional districts targeted this year by Democrats.
In an announcement on the committee website, the 66-year-old Royce said he wants to focus on foreign affairs the rest of the year to deal with “the brutal, corrupt and dangerous regimes in Pyongyang and Tehran, Vladimir Putin’s continued efforts to weaponize information to fracture western democracies, and growing terrorist threats in Africa and Central Asia.”
“With this in mind, and with the support of my wife Marie, I have decided not to seek reelection in November,” Royce said in the statement.
Although Royce has historically enjoyed landslide victories, Republican voter registration numbers in the 39th district, where Royce serves, have been steadily slipping to the Democrats. In 2012, Republicans enjoyed nearly eight percentage points over Democrats in the district. Today, Republicans are ahead by two percentage points.
The 39th district consists of the most northern portion of Orange County from parts of Buena Park, Placentia and Anaheim Hills and contains all of Yorba Linda, Brea, La Habra and Fullerton while reaching north to portions of neighboring Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.
Moreover, until Royce announced he wouldn’t seek re-election, both the Cook Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball considered the 39th to be “leaning Republican,” which could have meant a competitive race. After Royce's announcement, the Cook Report reclassified the district as "leaning Democrat" while the Crystal Ball labeled the district as a "toss up."
The Cook Report and Crystal Ball are websites that regularly analyze presidential and competitive U.S. House and Senate races, along with Gubernatorial races. Both websites score competitive Congressional Districts based on potential voter leanings after analyzing the data of past elections.
While the district spans three different counties and has 367,000 registered voters, the bulk of voters are in Orange County at 227,000, according to the voter registration report.
Republicans hold a slight edge in the district with 36 percent of the electorate, followed by Democrats at 34 percent. Democrats in the 39th district have experienced slow voter growth since 2012 when they had 32 percent, while Republicans show a decline from 40 percent the same year. No preference voters make up nearly 26 percent of the district, up from 23 percent in 2012.
So far, there are eight challengers for Royce’s seat. It’s unknown who will run as a Republican in Royce’s place. Outside of one candidate who described himself as “independent” and a no-party candidate, all challengers are Democrats.
Royce had the biggest war chest by far as of September, the latest available data, with $3.4 million on hand and managed to raise $1.6 million in 2017. He’s already spent over $1 million between last January and September.
Democratic Challenger Andy Thorburn had the biggest war chest of the challengers, having loaned himself $2 million. He still has $1.9 million on hand.
Mai-Khanh Tran, another Democratic candidate, raised over $600,000 last year and had just under $500,000 on hand.
Democratic candidate Gil Cisneros raised $732,000 and had $486,000 on hand.
Royce’s retirement announcement comes less than a week after his wife, Marie, was nominated by President Donald Trump to be assistant secretary of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the State Department.
In the months leading up to Royce’s announcement, there have been almost weekly protests at his district offices in Brea, including an October demonstration that led to a driver running his car into protesters in downtown Brea, near Royce’s office. Brea police arrested 56-year-old Brea resident Daniel Wenzek on suspicion of felony assault Oct. 26 and released him the same day.
The numerous protests outside Royce’s office and in downtown Brea sparked city officials to consider a controversial protest ordinance that many claim puts a "chilling effect" on the First Amendment because it could place a financial burden on protesters. If counter demonstrators show up and damage property, the group who put on the protest might have to pay for damages. The proposed ordinance also prohibits items like pipes, wooden sticks and cardboard over one-quarter inch thick. The city is expected to decide on the ordinance Jan. 16.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at email@example.com.