Freshman Democratic incumbent Rep. Mike Levin and Republican challenger Brian Maryott don’t see eye-to-eye on many major issues, from climate change to coronavirus. But both are pledging to work across the aisle, be accessible to constituents and bring civility to partisan politics if they’re elected to represent the 49th Congressional District.
The district, which straddles southern Orange County and northern San Diego County, flipped to Democratic control two years ago, when Levin handily won the once-safe GOP seat. Voter registration also recently flipped to blue, with Democrats now holding a 1 point advantage.
Levin and Maryott, who are both from San Juan Capistrano, were the only two candidates on the March 3 primary ballot. Levin got 56.6% of the vote to Maryott’s 43.4%, with nearly 30,000 votes seperating them. And primaries tend to favor Republicans.
Levin also has a significant funding advantage and has passed a number of bipartisan bills during his first term. That’s got pundits calling the race for Levin, with FiveThirtyEight putting the odds of an incumbent win at 98 out of 100.
Maryott said he believes in recent years the Republican party has struggled to connect with voters on an emotional level over key issues. And he said President Donald Trump’s “bombastic” style — which he said he isn’t his personal “cup of tea” — is causing some blowback for down-ballot GOP candidates.
“But that doesn’t mean our fundamental principles have changed,” Maryott said, optimistic that his candidacy will appeal to Republicans of all sorts along with independents and Democrats who feel their party has veered too far to the left.
Life long Democrat
Levin says many of the issues central to the Democratic party’s progressive platform today — such as protecting immigrant communities, addressing the climate crisis and fighting for universal healthcare — were instilled in him from an early age.
Levin, 41, grew up in Lake Forest with a mom who’s Mexican American and a dad who’s Jewish. He’s now a member of the Hispanic Caucus, where he said he’s fighting for immigration reform. And in honor of his father, who taught him about the Jewish faith and culture, he said, “Now I have an opportunity to stand with Israel as the beacon of democracy that it remains in the Middle East.”
Levin said his parents — who still come over each Sunday for a socially distanced backyard barbecue with him, his wife and two young children — also taught him to trust science and respect the planet. He said those values are driving his cautious approach to resuming activities during the pandemic and his support for the Green New Deal.
His interest in clean energy started when he was student body president at Stanford University. A classmate brought up the idea of seeing how they could reduce the campus’ carbon footprint. Levin jumped onboard and discovered a new passion. He ended up pursuing environmental law at Duke University, then working as an attorney focused on environmental issues and co-founding of a related nonprofit until his turn to politics.
The CA-49 seat opened up in 2018 after eight-term GOP incumbent Darrell Issa decided not to seek re-election as the district became increasingly blue. Levin beat Republican Diane Harkey by eight percentage points in the closely watched race that November as part of a wave that turned Orange County’s federal representation blue for the first time in decades.
In office, Levin touts the recent passage of the DELIVER Act, which includes six bipartisan bills he introduced to strengthen and expand services for homeless and unemployed veterans. Levin worked on the act with GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Kern County and other Republicans, which he said reflects how hard he’s working to be bipartisan.
Of course, Levin acknowledged it’s easier to pass bipartisan legislation supporting veterans and tougher to make big strides in his other committee work, which focuses on natural resources and climate change. But he’s proud of being able to help secure money to protect local coastlines, make progress on moving hazardous nuclear waste from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and get legislation related to renewable energy on public lands passed in the House.
Along with continuing to work on these issues and fight for better healthcare, Levin says if he wins a second term he’ll remain focused on making himself and his office accessible. He’s held 55 town halls, including in-person events he held prior to the pandemic and topic-focused virtual discussions since.
Maryott started out as a Democrat, and in his 20s worked for Massachusetts State Rep. Paul Caron. He said watching Democrats try to spend their way out of every problem soured him on the party.
Though he still believes both parties have “noble ideas,” Maryott said, “I’ve been pretty comfortable as a Republican the rest of my adult life.”
Maryott grew up in Massachusetts. His dad was a carpenter and taught Maryott to be pragmatic. His mom was his spiritual influence, inspiring his Christian faith. He said both parents instilled a strong work ethic. That drove him to mow loans and clean dog kennels as a teen, then to put himself through college as he worked in a restaurant.
Before Maryott went to work in politics, he also had a job in a bank for a time. And while he’d majored in political science, his minor was in finance. So after he left Caron’s office, he became a financial planner, staying in that field as his family came west.
Maryott jokes that he and his wife checked into San Juan Capistrano and “never checked out,” raising their kids, now ages 13, 7 and 5, in the community.
He’s been on the San Juan Capistrano City Council since 2016. Before he took office, San Juan Capistrano council meetings were known for being contentious. Maryott said he promised to “bring the temperature down,” and he’s proud that the biggest complaint they get now is that meetings are boring. He also touted helping to bring the first luxury hotel to the city and helping to reduce the city budget amid the pandemic without making major cuts.
Maryott is running on a platform of fighting for border security, pushing science-based policies to protect the environment, supporting congressional term limits, expanding health insurance options to drive prices down and making permanent the lower and middle income tax rates included in Trump’s 2017 plan.
He also wants to shrink the national deficit. “We’re borrowing… from the bank of our children and our children’s’ children.” Maryott does agree that some more borrowing is needed to get the nation through the pandemic, but he views the need at between $700 billion to $1.1 trillion — far less than the $3 trillion relief package approved by the Democrat-led House, including Levin.
Maryott echoes some Trump talking points about socialism creeping into the country, and about the need to unleash the free market. While Maryott said he often isn’t pleased with Trump’s style, he likes what Trump did for the job market before the pandemic, and for easing some business regulations and lowering taxes.
“I will be frank: I don’t think that either the president or Vice President Biden are two of the highest character people in our country,” Maryott said. “But I am very focused on what I hope will be the best result for people in everyday life, and people in all walks of life. And I think that will likely come with a Trump reelection.”
The CA-49 race has been largely civil. The candidates have tussled over the issue of campaign debates, recently settling for some taped community forums. And Maryott’s campaign has run attack ads that label Levin as an extremist for supporting universal healthcare and the Green New Deal.
Levin has a section of his campaign website devoted to debunking “myths” that he said Maryott has been spreading about him. Otherwise, his campaign has largely focused on his own record and criticizing Trump or the GOP at large over issues such as their pandemic response.
Source: Orange County Register