During two terms in Congress, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) has proved to be an effective consumer advocate with a knack for grilling corporate executives and government officials - and an unusual method of conveying information.
The viral videos of Porter tapping her professorial skills to question powerful people while scribbling figures on a whiteboard have become a 21st century genre of accountability. Porter has, among other things, taken a pharmaceutical company executive to task for hiking the price of cancer drugs and pressed a federal official to make COVID-19 tests free. Oversight is a critical duty of Congress, and Porter has a gift for doing it in a way that is clear and compelling.
She's also been a reliable vote in favor of protecting Americans' freedoms that are under attack by a right-wing Supreme Court. She voted for the Women's Health Protection Act, which would have enshrined in federal law the nationwide right to abortion lost when the court overturned Roe vs. Wade. She voted for bills to protect same-sex marriage and the right to access birth control after Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an opinion arguing that the court should consider overturning the decisions ensuring those freedoms. (All three of these bills passed the Democratic-controlled House but stalled in the evenly divided Senate.)
But Porter, who represents an Orange County swing district, isn't afraid to show political independence. She wrote legislation to ban lawmakers from trading stocks while in office, citing the potential for corruption and the need for Congress to build trust with the public. She said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) "was wrong" to oppose such a bill, a position Pelosi eventually reversed.
Porter also challenged leaders of her own party about internal House rules related to using props (after a Democratic committee chair blocked her from displaying a poster board) and procedures for assigning members to committees. Her brash style probably got her booted from the House Financial Services Committee, where a Washington Post columnist affectionately described her as "a bull in a china shop" - despised by financial industry insiders but adored by ordinary Americans who see her standing up to Wall Street.
Porter's opponent in the Nov. 8 election is Republican Scott Baugh, a former assemblyman who led the Orange County Republican Party for several years. He appears to be taking a page from Donald Trump's campaign playbook, appearing on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show in June to stoke fears about migrants.
"Some are gang members and some are human traffickers and some are drug runners," Baugh said of unidentified people arriving by boat in Orange County.
Baugh told NBC that he opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, and would have voted against the legislation Porter supported to enshrine these rights in federal law. He did not respond to several invitations from The Times editorial board to meet for an endorsement interview, so we have many unanswered questions. But it appears that if he's elected, Baugh will join the ranks of extremist GOP lawmakers working to take away Americans' rights and freedoms and sow hatred toward immigrants. The country doesn't need more of that.
Baugh is attacking Porter over a benefit she enjoys as a faculty member of the UC Irvine Law School. She has been on unpaid leave since she was elected to Congress in 2018, but still owns a home in the University Hills development that she bought when she began teaching at the school in 2011. The community was created to help UC Irvine employees buy homes at below-market prices in the expensive region. Homeowners pay a discounted price to buy a house and do not own the land it sits on. They must also sell it at a discount when they leave, so their ability to profit is limited.
Porter said university policies allow faculty to take unpaid leave to serve in government, and many other professors have maintained campus homes while on leave. Her family has continued to live in the home while she's in Washington, and Porter said that if she were to lose reelection she would go back to teaching at UC Irvine. Porter said she'll decide whether to ask for continued leave after the election is over.
This race for the 47th Congressional District - which includes Irvine, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach - is among a handful of highly competitive races in Orange County that will determine which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives for the next two years. Porter has proved her mettle as a strong representative during a tumultuous time in the nation's history. Voters should feel proud to reelect her.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.