Rep. Katie Porter of Irvine says she’s grateful to hear her name included in talks about who Gov. Gavin Newsom might appoint to fill Kamala Harris’ Senate seat if Harris is elected vice president in November.
And Porter said Friday that she’s definitely open to the idea of moving from the House to the Senate. “I can’t imagine saying no to any position in which I could make a real difference in people’s lives.”
The former UC Irvine law professor makes sense for the seat in several ways, according to local experts who are following the process. That’s already creating speculation about who might then run for Porter’s vacated House seat, if Porter wins reelection in November against Mission Viejo Councilman Greg Raths.
But some other factors work against Porter becoming a Senate appointee, which is why Marcia Godwin, a professor of public administration at University of La Verne, puts Porter in the second tier of contenders for the sought-after seat.
On the plus side, even as a freshman in the House — Porter flipped her 45th District in central Orange County less than two years ago — Porter has become a rising star in the Democratic Party and proven herself to be a fundraising powerhouse. She’s also gained name recognition by posing tough questions to company executives and Trump administration officials during House committee hearings, confrontations that often have gone viral on social media.
Those factors, combined with her professional background and her voice as one of the few single mothers in Washington, are why Porter also might be a contender for a cabinet appointment in a Joe Biden and Harris administration. Jodi Balma, a political science professor at Fullerton College, speculated that Porter could be considered for Secretary of Labor or Attorney General.
On the other hand, Porter is white and, if Biden and Harris win, there would be pressure on Newsom to appoint a person of color to replace Harris, who is of Black and Asian American.
Though women make up just 25% of the Senate, versus nearly 51% of the U.S. population, the chamber’s gap in minority representation is even wider. There are just nine Senators now who are a racial or ethnic minority, which means minorities comprise less than 10% of the Senate while making up 39% of population.
That’s why Godwin, among others, believes Newsom is more likely to stick with his predilection for bold choices and pick someone like Attorney General Javier Becerra, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia or Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who would all be California’s first Latino senator.
Perhaps a bigger mark against Porter’s appointment to the Senate or a cabinet position is that it would leave open her House seat in a district that still leans narrowly Republican — a risk Democrats may not be keen to take.
While the governor can appoint someone to fill a Senate vacancy in California, House seats left vacant for any reason can only be filled through a special election. And special elections tend to go better for Republicans, as illustrated by Republican Mike Garcia claiming the 25th District in a May special election, re-taking a seat for his party that had been held by Democrat Katie Hill.
“It might be one of those terrible scenarios where they might not promote someone because of the vacuum they would leave behind,” Balma said.
An open race for Porter’s seat in a special election would no doubt draw new and familiar names from both sides of the aisle, possibly including state legislators whose districts overlap CA-45 and candidates who have previously run for the seat.
When Porter was elected, in 2018, she defeated incumbent GOP congresswoman Mimi Walters. But Walters told the Register on Monday that she’s happy in her current role, working in the private sector, and doesn’t plan to run for a House seat again.
Fellow Democrat and UC Irvine law professor Dave Min didn’t finish far behind Porter in the 2018 primary, taking 17.8% of the vote to Porter’s 20.3%, with just 4,099 votes separating them. But Min is currently running against State Sen. John Moorlach for the 37th District seat, with Sacramento forecaster Scott Lay now predicting the race leans toward Min. And Min’s campaign said he’s focused right now solely on serving OC families in the state senate.
Either way, Balma noted it might be tough for Min to jump either from a fresh win or fresh loss during the state race into a new congressional race.
It’s not clear what role, if any, Harris would have in recommending a potential Senate replacement. If she does weigh in that could be an advantage for Porter, who has considered Harris a mentor since 2012, when the then-California Attorney General appointed Porter to be California Monitor overseeing big banks for the National Mortgage Settlement.
But Garcia, of Long Beach, also is close to Harris, having served as co-chair of her 2020 presidential campaign in California.
With so many qualified names in play, Balma said it’s pure “fun speculation” right now for Democrat-leaning political insiders and observers to guess what dominoes might fall.
In the meantime, Porter insists she’s keeping her eye on her current position.
“I’m focused on the work that needs to be done today through November: winning my own tough reelection race, taking back the White House and the Senate, building a strong bench of Democratic elected officials in Orange County, and getting help for working families during this pandemic.”
Source: Orange County Register
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