April 14, 2024

Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, did not bring her trademark whiteboard to Fresno over the weekend, but the U.S. Senate candidate showed up with the blunt talk and progressive philosophy that was received warmly by fellow Democrats at a meet-and-greet downtown.

Porter is one of three leading candidates – including fellow House Democratic colleagues Adam Schiff and Barbara Lee – to succeed the retiring Dianne Feinstein. A Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies survey released Sept. 9 shows Schiff with 20% support, and Porter 17%, but 32% of voters still undecided.

In a 43-minute chat with about 70 at the Fresno County Democratic Party headquarters, Porter staked out her positions on Social Security, immigration reform and campaign financing.

Porter, a 49-year-old single mother of three, said the San Joaquín Valley has challenges that are similar to the rest of California, like housing affordability, Yet, it has unique issues like “environmental justice.”

“We need leaders who recognize the diversity of the Central Valley,” Porter told Vida en en Valle during a short interview prior to her mid-morning talk.

Rep. Katie Porter poses for a photo with Kevin Romero of Mendota during a campaign stop at the Fresno Democratic Party Headquarters in Fresno on Sept. 16, 2023. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA/jesparza@vidaenelvalle.com

Rep. Katie Porter poses for a photo with Kevin Romero of Mendota during a campaign stop at the Fresno Democratic Party Headquarters in Fresno on Sept. 16, 2023. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA/jesparza@vidaenelvalle.com

“In urban areas like Fresno, we have environmental justice issues, it’s not all agricultural,” said Porter. “Some of the changes that we’re seeing with technology, with AI, with autonomous vehicles, with warehouse jobs are reshaping the Central Valley.”

Porter said she wants “a vibrant, healthy future for the Central Valley.”

“One of the things that’s been important to me is not to treat the Central Valley as a monolith,” she said. “For instance, Modesto is quite different from Bakersfield. Some of the small communities are quite different from the large cities.”

Rep. Katie Porter, one of three top Democrats running for Senate, made a campaign stop at the Fresno Democratic Party Headquarters in Fresno on Sept. 16, 2023. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA/jesparza@vidaenelvalle.com

Rep. Katie Porter, one of three top Democrats running for Senate, made a campaign stop at the Fresno Democratic Party Headquarters in Fresno on Sept. 16, 2023. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA/jesparza@vidaenelvalle.com

Porter said Fresno and the Central Valley “sometimes get dwarfed by the political power of San Francisco and of Los Ángeles.”

“I want the people of Fresno, the people of the Central Valley to know I’m running to be Senator for Californians; not the Senator for Los Ángeles or the Senator of San Francisco, but the whole state.”

She pointed to her 47th Congressional District – a purple district in Orange County where Democrats have a 2.67-point edge over Republicans and 12-point advantage over those with no party preference –.as proof she knows “how to engage across party lines” and connect people with elected officials.

“That’s something I want to do across the Central Valley, as well as Northern California and east of the Sierras, the entire state,” said Porter.

Asked about reaching out to Latino voters, who represent 21% of those likely to vote, Porter said “Latinos want the same things that most Californians want.”

“They want an opportunity for their family, to be able to afford housing, for their kids to be able to go to college without being saddled with debt, to retire with security,” she said.

Porter asked about Social Security, etc.

In introducing herself to supporters, Porter accepted the media description of her as a watchdog.

“I really, really love oversight,” said Porter, whose vanity license plate on her van is OVRSITE.

“Oversight is about being a watchdog for our tax dollars, for our retirement savings, for our budgets, for our future, for our pensions,” she said. “Oversight is about closing that gap between what politicians announce at press conferences and then what really happens in people’s lives.

“Oversight is not about punishing Republicans. It is about holding every member of government, Republican or Democrat, accountable for what they are doing and what they are delivering to their constituents.”

Among the audience questions she answered:

–Special interests: “I am one of 11 members of Congress out of 435 who doesn’t take contributions from federal lobbyists. The American people don’t believe that you can be sipping bad Chardonnay and eating cheese cubes and collecting corporate checks at 7 p.m., and then the next morning at 10 forgetting all about that when you vote.”

–Representation: “I know what it’s like to represent an area that Democrats don’t pay attention to. We need to spend more and more time where it’s purple, more time where people, even those who share our values, have less confidence in Democrats to fight for them, where people aren’t sure what our values are because we’re not being plainspoken enough about them. Where people share our values, but they’ve given up on voting because they vote the same way and their lives don’t change and improve.”

-Housing: “There is no issue that Washington has failed to tackle than housing. The last time the federal government made a big investment in helping regular, ordinary people, working people afford housing was the G.I. Bill 80 years ago. Think about how transformative that was for so many people. It is time for the federal government to make a big investment in housing that’s going to have some zeros behind it.”

–Funding for Ukraine: “I don’t think we blink because I think that’s what Putin’s counting on. But we do have to, and we should have done this right from the start, be thoughtful about the accountability that’s going to be necessary when you’re engaged in any kind of overseas military operation.”

–The whiteboard: “It’s a tool to help make it easier for people to see what’s going on in Washington. I was a professor at UC Irvine. I worked at public universities my whole career, and we need to make it easier for people to see what’s happening in Washington. Too many people, when they hear the word politics or Capitol Hill, they turn the volume down.”

–Student debt relief: “What is missing in Washington is, again, that future orientation. What good does it do to forgive the debt of this generation if the next kids graduating are winding up in the exact same place? We’re not going to do biblical debt jubilees. We need a long term solution.”

–Social Security: “Social Security is a promise and we as a country don’t break our promises. It doesn’t add one cent to the federal debt. The program is the greatest anti-poverty invention that has done more to lift seniors out of poverty. We need to expand Social Security. One of the ways we can do that is to scrap the cap so that if you earn more, you pay more. And if we did that, we would be able to guarantee that Social Security is stable for years to come. Every Congress I’ve been there (three Congresses now), everybody signs on, the Democrats all sign on and then we don’t put it on the floor for a vote. So this is an area to hold Democrats and Republicans to account.”

–Immigration reform: “I don’t think we’ve done enough, including as Democrats on immigration, including some of our California Democrats. I don’t think they’ve been at the forefront of fighting for our immigrant communities and they absolutely need to be and should be. When people say look at the border crisis, I say, let’s be clear. The border crisis in Texas, created by crappy Texas state policies, the border in California is a totally different place. Right? Because we as Californians are different. Because we understand that immigration makes our society and our economy stronger. The truth is, neither Democrats nor Republicans have had the political courage to deliver on immigration.”

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