Democrat Katie Porter’s opposition to gas tax costs her labor endorsement

Orange County Democrat Katie Porter, challenging Republican Rep. Mimi Walters in one of the nation’s most hotly contested races, lost the laborers’ union endorsement after she ran an ad opposing California’s new gasoline tax.

Porter, a UC Irvine law school professor, is challenging two-term incumbent Walters for the Irvine-area congressional seat. It’s one of the seven California congressional districts where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in 2016. A recent New York Times-Siena College Poll showed Porter narrowly leading Walters.

In an interview, Porter said she intends to vote for Proposition 6, the initiative to repeal the $5 billion a year tax, which is funding road and bridge repairs. Porter denounced the 12-cent per gallon tax, approved by the Legislature in 2017, as “regressive,” meaning it takes a larger bite from low-income workers than from wealthier people.

She added that gas tax revenue would do little to help congestion in her district, and that road repairs could be funded by other means such as by general taxes or vehicle registration fees.

Orange County GOP Rep. Mimi Walters and Democratic challenger Katie Porter

Orange County GOP Rep. Mimi Walters and Democratic challenger Katie Porter

Congressional Republicans funded the petition drive to place Prop. 6 on the Nov. 5 ballot, believing they could use Democrats’ support for the gas tax to amp up up conservative turnout and hold onto their seats. Walters donated $135,000 to the measure.

Indicating that Prop. 6 is driving a wedge between organized labor and Democrats who oppose the tax, the Laborers’ International Union of North America revoked its endorsement of Porter after she appeared in a campaign ad opposing the tax. That stand, the union said, was in “direct conflict with the values of LIUNA and its membership.”

Porter said she was “sorry to lose the support of hard-working folks” in the union, but added: “I am not going to be cowed into taking a position that hurts families in the 45th Congressional district.”

Pivoting to her opponent, Porter noted that Walters voted for President Donald Trump’s tax overhaul in 2017. That measure cuts taxes for corporations and some individuals but will raise taxes on many Californians.

“She didn’t stand up for her constituents and did exactly what Donald Trump told her to do. I will stand up to leaders in both parties,” Porter said.

Carl DeMaio, the San Diego radio talk show who is leading the Yes-on-Proposition 6 campaign, isn’t buying it, saying Monday that the union may have revoked its endorsement to give Porter “street cred on the gas tax repeal.”

“What she needs is their scorn right now,” said DeMaio, who supports Walters. “What you see with your own eyes is not actually is happening.”

Rocco Davis, who signed the letter pulling Porter’s endorsement, scoffed at DeMaio’s theory. He called road and bridge repairs funded by the gas tax a “public safety issue,” and said Porter’s support for Prop. 6 “is a direct shot at our members,” 20,000 of whom will be working on road projects. The laborers’ union has spent $3.4 million to defeat repeal, and intend to spend another $1.6 million.

“Our pulling the endorsement is absolutely real. Anybody who is Yes-on-6 is not a friend of the laborers’ union,” Davis said.

The decision to revoke the endorsement, he said, was the first he can recall in his 30 years with the laborers’ union. The California Labor Federation, the umbrella organization for labor in the state, did not withdraw its endorsement of Porter.

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