I'm a conservative who moved to a liberal city, and I was surprised to see my views change on several issues

Los AngelesSean Pavone

  • I became a conservative while I was still in high school, and remained that way until I moved out West.
  • Spending time in liberal cities like Los Angeles has given me a fresh perspective, and now I align much further to the left.
  • Some elements of life in LA now make perfect sense to me, but my conservative background still makes me bristle occasionally.
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I became a Reagan Republican during the Gipper's 1979 campaign against Jimmy Carter - back when I was a plucky 14 years old.

I spent the next few decades as a dedicated ideological conservative, though my politics were admittedly always a little complicated. I'd tell people I was conservative on fiscal and foreign policy, a believer in a strong military, but more left-leaning on social policy. I put my money where my mouth was, spending a decade in the Air Force before exiting to become a writer.

After hanging up my uniform, I traced a path westward, moving from Michigan to Colorado to Seattle to Los Angeles. Each city I've lived in has been a little more liberal than the one before it, and both local and national politics have served to whittle away at my right-wing positions.

Now, I suspect I'll never vote Republican again - the party doesn't seem to represent me anymore. But I still sometimes feel like an outsider, seeing Los Angeles through eyes that grew up conservative. They still occasionally roll at the ludicrousness of a city that tends to marinate in uncontested liberalism, but I see the world differently now than I did five or 10 years ago.

Here are some of the issues I've changed my views on since moving to LA, and a couple of liberal causes I can't quite get behind.

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With cannabis dispensaries everywhere in LA, I no longer have a problem with weed

With cannabis dispensaries everywhere in LA, I no longer have a problem with weed

To be honest, I've never liked anything about marijuana and have never used it. When I arrived in California, I spent a lot of time on the beach in Venice, where it was hard to avoid the dispensaries — they're everywhere. I bristled at the clientele, the rank smell, and everything else about it.

And now that it's legal for recreational use, seemingly every billboard in West LA is dedicated to advertising a dispensary or a cannabis delivery service. I'm a bit worried it's well on its way to overwhelming sober culture — it's hard to walk through a green space in LA without being inundated with the smell.

When I was younger, my objection to pot was largely on hard-to-define moral grounds; in more recent years, I've softened. These days, my stand on pot is very libertarian: I don't care what you do. I just wish you didn't do it on the beach or in the park right next to me.

LA has a severe homelessness crisis, and crossing paths with so many homeless people has changed my view of them

LA has a severe homelessness crisis, and crossing paths with so many homeless people has changed my view of them

By some accounts, there are some 60,000 people living on the streets of LA.

Before arriving in LA, I had virtually no exposure to homelessness, and had given it little thought. Here, it's unavoidable. Pick almost any street corner in LA at random, and odds are that someone with a sign and a cart full of clothes will be there. Wherever the ubiquitous California highway system passes over a surface street, you'll find a line of tents in the dark underpass. To call the magnitude of the problem distressing is an understatement.

When I first moved here seven years ago, I avoided any contact with the homeless, part of me thinking of them as an unproductive drain on the system, people who checked out and were unwilling to contribute to society.

I have a very different opinion now. I see the homeless as people the system has failed. People who, for a variety of reasons somewhat beyond their control, have been discarded and forced to live on the fringes. It's heartbreaking.

There's not a lot any one person can do, but when I encounter homeless people, I occasionally try to hand them my restaurant leftovers or small amounts of cash. A few dollars or a sandwich isn't going to get anyone off the street, but it will hopefully provide some small relief from an existence that's surely miserable beyond my ability to imagine.

I vehemently opposed Obamacare, but now I want socialized medicine

I vehemently opposed Obamacare, but now I want socialized medicine

Perhaps no other single issue have I had such a hard 180-degree turn on than healthcare. As a conservative, I vehemently opposed Obamacare and saw it as a slippery slope to a single-payer healthcare system — in other words, socialized medicine.

But now I live in California and, self-employed, need to provide my own healthcare. Using the Covered California website to find a healthcare plan, I find that the cheapest possible plan is about $500 per month — plus another $40 for dental coverage. That's $6,480 per year just for health insurance, which doesn't include copays ($75 per visit, because the premium is so cheap) and medication. I know California isn't the most expensive in the country, but it's still a huge amount of money for a self-employed person to spend out of pocket.

I recognize that a lot of people in California are in far more dire financial situations than I am. How can they afford healthcare? I have a new opinion about universal healthcare: Bring it on. The sooner the better. Thirty-year-old Dave would not even recognize me.

Taking a knee has driven a wedge between me and my friends

Taking a knee has driven a wedge between me and my friends

Starting in 2016, San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick kicked off a national firestorm by declining to stand for the National Anthem — first sitting, later opting to take a knee. From my home here in West LA, it's hard to know for sure when a news story like this grabs national attention, but I assume it received even greater attention here because of the proximity to San Francisco. The coverage was incessant and unavoidable.

This is an issue that immediately put me on the opposite side of the aisle from lifelong conservative friends. I heard from several people about how disrespectful Kaepernick and other players were — they called for the players to be disciplined, fined, and even fired, virtually ignoring the larger issues the players were trying to shine a light on. Arguments included the fact that they were disrespecting the military, the flag, and the country. And since they're at their place of work, they need to follow the rules.

Right from the outset, this made zero sense to me. These NFL players were bringing attention to a deadly serious problem — police brutality against people of color — and doing it in a respectful, non-violent way. What's more, they were using their positions as sports stars to do it in a way that made them bona fide role models. Not that he asked for it, but I give Kaepernick my unequivocal support.

Would I have had this opinion 10 years ago? I'm not sure, but I certainly hope so.

But I can't get behind the plastic bag ban, even if it's a cause liberals now advocate

But I can't get behind the plastic bag ban, even if it's a cause liberals now advocate

With a long list of reasons why single-use plastic bags — the kind you get at the checkout of a grocery store — are harming the environment, LA moved swiftly to limit their use. In 2016, Californians approved Proposition 67, a statewide ban on "single-use carryout bags." The practical impact was that you had to carry in your own reusable bags to go shopping, or pay extra for every bag you got at the checkout.

I followed the debate over this issue ever since I moved to LA, and this struck me — and still does — as something of a knee-jerk liberal reaction to a problem ("I believe bags are bad, so rather than not using them myself, I'll make it illegal for anyone to use them").

Yes, I understand that sometimes you need to legislate issues like this, but there's substantial evidence that the alternatives do significantly more harm than good. Both the conservative and the liberal parts of me strongly disagree with the bag ban, even if for no other reason than those bags weren't single use in my household. They picked up pet poop. Which I now need to do with more expensive bags which don't biodegrade nearly as well.

And I'm not crazy about the straw ban, either

And I'm not crazy about the straw ban, either

I readily admit to being something of a contrarian. If you tell me that straws are harming the environment, I'll want to see your data — and make sure it's legitimate. The "fact" that Americans use 500 million straws a day? Made up out of thin air by a 9-year-old. Back in the day, I aggressively questioned conservative talking points as a conservative, and I'm no different now when I hear arguments from the liberal side of the aisle.

I think that's a good way to live your life: Question everything, especially facts that seem to back up opinions you agree with.

There's no doubt that straws contribute to landfills and plastic waste. We all saw the video of the sea turtle with the straw stuck in its nose, and it's terrible. But even so, I was amazed by the speed with which straws became tubus non grata in LA. Los Angeles restaurants leapt onto the anti-straw movement, well ahead of any legislative reason to do so.

I'm not saying we shouldn't reduce our reliance on single-use items and plastics. But I reject the idea we need to eliminate such a common and essential tool in our daily lives. And no, paper straws are terrible — they have a weird mouthfeel and tend to disintegrate while you're still using them. The conservative in me pushes back on this movement — I want my straws.

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