Mono County is part of California’s 8th Congressional District for representation in the House of Representatives – where, in contrast to the Senate, representatives are elected by and for small districts and do not always reflect the views of the state as a whole. Therefore, much of Eastern California is represented by Republicans, despite the state’s overwhelmingly Democratic lean, and the 8th District is no exception. It’s currently represented by a conservative Republican, Paul Cook.
California’s 8th District is very rural – it is a large part of the state relative to other districts but has only about 723,000 people. Prior to a major redistricting in 2011, the 8th District was actually located in San Francisco and strongly liberal. Now, it encompasses Mono, Inyo, and parts of San Bernardino counties. The biggest cities in the district are Victorville, Hesperia, and San Bernardino, although the district does not include the entire city of San Bernardino. Since it’s in Eastern California, the district is heavily Republican; incumbent Republican Paul Cook beat Democrat Rita Ramirez 62% to 38% in 2016’s election.
Paul Cook, obviously, is quite conservative given the Republican safety of the district. He is a veteran who has worked in politics for many years, since the 1990s. Since winning a position on the Yucca Valley City Council, Cook has risen, first to a seat on the California State Assembly, then to his current position as representative for California in the US House of Representatives in 2013. He has been re-elected several times, and now lives in Apple Valley. Cook plans to seek re-election in 2018, as House members must be re-elected every two years.
Paul Cook, as with most Republicans, voted for all Obamacare repeal attempts, but has repeatedly objected to versions of the Republican budget, some of which he felt did not provide enough money and services for veterans and seniors, two groups that make up a large share of his voters. He has consistently voted against environmental protection efforts, and released a statement recently stating that the Obama administration’s efforts to designate national monuments were misguided and controlled by ‘special interests’. All of Mr. Cook’s positions would seem distasteful to most liberals, but his view of the environment is where he truly runs afoul of climate-action groups such as 350 Mono, a Mono Basin climate advocacy group run by local Janet Carle. More extreme than most Republicans on environmental issues, Cook has shown to be unwavering on his commitment to business – even when the environment is at stake.
350 Mono, several members of which are LVHS students who feel passionately about climate issues, has often requested meetings with Paul Cook to discuss environmental issues, but he seems to have ignored them. In May, Paul Cook did come to Mammoth Lakes to address constituents, but it was invitation-only and highly secretive, according to those who attended (the meeting was not announced publicly). “A few of us were able to ‘meet and greet’ Mr. Cook in Mammoth last May, but the meeting permitted minimal time with him and no opportunity to dig into the issues,” says Carle.
Though the district is safely Republican, there is always a Democratic challenger in the 8th district. One Democratic candidate, Marge Doyle, has already confirmed she’s running in 2018. Doyle worked as a nurse, healthcare manager, and hospital board member in the past, and healthcare is her main issue. According to Doyle’s campaign, one of the things that motivated her to run was when she was asked by Paul Cook to analyze the American Health Care Act that the House of Representatives passed in May. She informed Mr. Cook that it had many problems and wasn’t a good bill to support, in her opinion, but he reportedly replied, “It doesn’t matter – the Senate will fix it.”
Over the past few years, the Republican advantage in the district has been slowly shrinking – in 2012, Democrat Bob Conaway was beat 32% to 68% by Paul Cook. Rita Ramirez won a much-improved 38% of the vote in 2016, meaning that by that measure, Democrats have gained six percentage points in the past four years. In Mono County, the trend is even stronger, and it is now a Democratic stronghold for presidential candidates, as Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 12 percentage points, getting the majority of all votes cast in Mono County. In Mono County, Paul Cook was also defeated by Rita Ramirez by a very small margin (50.4% to 49.6%). However, as a whole, the district strongly went for Republican candidates because the population centers in the southern part of the district, where the majority of its population lives, are quite conservative – Mono County only comprises a small fraction of the district’s population. Barring an extraordinary political change or damaging scandal, it’s almost certain that Paul Cook will achieve re-election in 2018.