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The legacy — and disappointment — of Katie Porter’s Orange County revolution

Until Katie Porter won a House seat in 2018, being a Democrat in Orange County was like rooting for the Angels. who Do you have to, amirite?

For decades, Republicans have held a majority of legislative, legislative, and supervisory seats in my home county. They maintained a robust ecosystem of candidates, gathering activists on school boards and party committees to learn how politics worked before reaching high office. The Republican way brought Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan to the White House. The latter infamously said: “Orange County is where all good Republicans go before they die.”

Democrats held power in Santa Ana, Irvine, and other small cities, but otherwise passed the election almost like a joke from a Monty Python skit. Their fortunes began to change in 2016, when Hillary Clinton won Orange County in the presidential election. It was the first victory for a Democrat since FDR during the Great Depression.

But there was no firebrand leader to inspire local liberals to dream of a blue Orange County. The typical Democrat remained Loretta Sanchez, who switched from Republican to Democrat. He made OC history in 1996 by becoming the first Latino to win a Congressional election, but then had a distinguished 20-year career that ended in disgrace when Kamala Harris won the Democratic nomination. I kept wasting the moment. She eliminated her in the 2016 U.S. Senate race.

The idea that Democrats could govern Orange County seemed so unlikely that during a speech at the Laguna Woods Democratic Club just before the 2018 midterm elections, I joked that if Democrats could win a majority, I said that I would register for the party for the first time. seats in Congress that year. Things were not good for them. Of the Democrats, most of whom held seats in OC, only incumbents Lou Correa and Alan Lowenthal won their primaries.

I was proven wrong and remain a Democrat. In 2018, for the first time in history, all OC House seats went to Democrats. Porter led this charge. He was the type of Democrat OC has rarely seen.

Katie Porter speaks with her son Paul Hoffman in their kitchen in 2019.

(Mark Boster/For the Times)

The Iowa native and University of California, Irvine law professor was dynamic, funny, knew how to fight, and never apologized for her progressive beliefs. Orange County hasn't had a Democrat like her since Nativo López, the Chicano activist turned Santa Ana Unified School Board member who took pleasure in antagonizing both Democrats and Republicans in the early 2000s. Porter, who defeated incumbent Mimi Walters in an upset, quickly gained a national reputation for her fiery questioning of bad actors in Congressional hearings, frequently using a whiteboard to explain difficult concepts to us common folk. I explained it in a way that you could understand.

She represented a new purple-orange county that no Democrat expected. nice.

In 2019, the number of registered Democrats exceeded the number of registered Republicans, an achievement that was once unthinkable. That same year, Ada Briceño, co-chair of UNITE HERE Local 11, took over the Orange County Democratic Party, introducing a type of people power organizing and radicalism that local party leaders had long eschewed. Porter was a loyal soldier. She helped local candidates win through endorsements, making progressives in OC's reddish areas believe they could run and win. A Democratic majority has blossomed in Costa Mesa, a place once thought impossible. Huntington Beach. Oversight Committee.

I thought Porter was a change-maker who would remain in office for years to come and push Orange County further to the left. That's why I was disappointed when she announced last year that she would not seek re-election and would instead run for the U.S. Senate. Porter thought deep blue California would be more accepting of her than purple Orange County.

It wasn't.

Porter, who returned early from Super Tuesday, is in third place, far behind fellow Democrat Adam Schiff and Republican Steve Garvey. Those to her left have long worried that she and her colleague, Rep. Barbara Lee, would cancel each other out, but their combined vote totals would not have qualified them for the general election. .

Porter's expected loss comes at a bad time for Orange County Democrats. Republicans have been eager for a comeback ever since Porter and her ranks swept OC. In 2020, Young Kim and Michelle Steele, who along with Marilyn Strickland of Washington state became the first Korean-American women to serve in Congress, regained two Republican seats. In Huntington Beach, the MAGA-majority City Council shows that conspiratorial, regressive politics can still prevail in a county that has made the arts an art form.

But the biggest prize for OC conservatives is Porter's seat. Former county Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh nearly defeated her in 2022 and is leading the race to replace her by a wide margin. Democratic state Sen. Dave Ming is in second place with an early return, and third-place finisher Joanna Weiss has already conceded defeat. If Bo defeats Min in November, Republicans will regain a majority in Congress and at least partially deflate the dominant OC Democratic Party's claims.

If that happens, Porter will have to bear some of the responsibility.

Congresswoman Katie Porter speaks with reporters

Congresswoman Katie Porter speaks to the media while her son Luke Hoffman, 18, a first-time voter, casts his vote at the University Hills Community Center polling place in Irvine.

(Ringo Chiu/For the Times)

I understand why she ran. U.S. Senate seats don't come up in the electoral market all that often. She had no one to wait for. Porter served her constituents well, but always struck me as the type of talented person who didn't want to spend her entire career in the minor leagues.

However, in some cases, large fish need to remain in small ponds to protect smaller fish from sharks. And of all the years Porter was supposed to stay on, that was 2024.

On this week's X show, Sze thanked “everyone who has supported us over the past six years” and wrote: economy. “Other than that, Mr. Porter has not made any public announcements regarding his future plans.

Her future is bright. She can always run for another position and Beau could follow in her footsteps if she wins. The Newsom administration would be wise to hire her, and so would the Biden administration if the president returns to the White House. At the very least, Mr. Porter will be a good spokesperson for Toyota. He made the Toyota Sienna minivan an unlikely symbol of suburban rebellion.

Her legacy as a Republican killer will remain forever. Her place in Orange County history books is secure. I think Porter is amazing. But I'll always remember her as “what if.” What would have happened if Porter had run for re-election instead of taking care of us when Orange County needed her the most?


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