Katie Porter | Credit: Marian Shapiro

Democrats grabbed an astonishing 41 House seats from Republicans in the 2018 elections, and one of the more unlikely victories came in Orange County, in the person of law professor Katie Porter.

“Orange County is a place where you can ask people if that’s their real hair color; you can ask them if that diamond is real; you can ask if that car is a lease,” Porter said. “But you cannot ask if someone is a Democrat.”

The first-term House member and consumer law expert won laughs with her comment on Saturday, as the Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County’s annual gala drew a sold-out crowd of more than 200 to the Four Seasons Biltmore, including most of the elected officials ​— ​present, former, and wannabe ​— ​between the S.L.O. and Ventura County lines.

The first single mother elected to Congress, among other historic achievements, Porter has emerged as one of the national media’s favorite faces of the boisterous Democratic House freshwoman class. 

In a series of viral exploits, she has, among other things: exposed HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s ignorance about his job (when Porter asked in a hearing about real-estate-owned foreclosure properties, known as REOs, Carson thought she was referring to Oreo cookies); revealed the patrician cluelessness of JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon (flustered when she quizzed him about a low-level bank employee’s monthly budget, displayed on a white-board); and trash-talked Bill Maher on his own show (after the host said he was “squishy” on pro-choice abortion rights, she snapped back, “Well, Bill, your mother made a choice and we are all living with the consequences of it”).

TURNOUT VS. PERSUASION:  A protégé and ally of presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, Porter is the first Democrat ever elected in the O.C.’s 45th Congressional District. Her victory came, she said, because she highlighted ​— ​rather than low-balled ​— ​her lefty views on economic policy, from housing to health care.

Her view is significant in the context of the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination race. The policy battle between the progressive platform of Warren and the incremental reform proposals of Joe Biden reflects an underlying strategic debate: Are Democrats more likely to beat Donald Trump by expanding their liberal base through sweeping calls for structural change, or by wooing political moderates in the handful of crucial Midwest states where Trump won a narrow Electoral College victory in 2016?

Porter leaves little doubt about her stance.

“People have asked, How did I win as a progressive?” she said. “I was a strong progressive, and people said it couldn’t be done ​— ​‘You have to be moderate to flip these districts.’

“I won, we won,” she added, “because we grew the base of voters who share our values ​— ​not because we tried to talk Republicans into embracing us just long enough to cast a ballot.”

EARLY VOTE FOR IMPEACHMENT:  Several months ago, Porter became the first 2018 red-to-blue seat member to call for Trump’s impeachment, at a time when Speaker Nancy Pelosi was still warning that doing so risked the party’s new House majority.

In an interview after her speech, before leaving for a private fundraiser at the home of former Supervisor Susan Rose, Porter said that the decision was not based on politics.

“I think that if the president is elected to a second term,” she told the Santa Barbara Independent, “the chance that we are drawn into one or more wars that put the lives of our children and grandchildren at risk is very high.”

“I was part of a big group of people elected to Congress to stand up to this president and to be a check and balance,” she said. 

“We asked voters who’d never voted before … who don’t believe that their vote makes a difference, to turn out in races like mine, and they did,” she added. “What they deserve back is a leader who puts democracy first. Somebody who’s not afraid to make hard political choices to do what’s right.”

For the full interview with Porter, see independent.com/katie-porter. 


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