California's GOP-led campaign to repeal the most recent state gas tax hike has Democratic candidates on the defensive, despite the liberal party's massive fundraising advantage.
The effort just gained a late-hour recruit: Katie Porter, who is running against Rep. Mimi Walters (R., Calif.) in the conservative enclave of Orange County.
Porter, a University of California at Irvine professor who studied under Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and touts the progressive senator's endorsement, released a campaign ad Tuesday pledging to fight Gov. Jerry Brown and the other Democratic powers in Sacramento over higher gas taxes.
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"I oppose higher gas taxes, and I won't be afraid to take on leaders of both political parties," she said in the ad, the first her campaign has cut during the general election season.
The sudden support has those spearheading the gas-tax repeal crying foul.
"This takes real chutzpah," said Carl DeMaio, the conservative radio talk show host and former San Diego councilman who is leading the campaign. "We reached out to Katie Porter's campaign over the past seven to eight months, and she has been no help to the gas-tax repeal."
"She is backed by the same people who raised our taxes—she is a tax-hiker," he told the Washington Free Beacon. "I don't believe a word she says because she has stood arm-in-arm with the tax raisers. We are not letting people lie to the public and say they did anything to help this campaign when in fact they have been detriments to the effort."
The Porter campaign clarified that Porter is supporting Proposition 6, the formal name for the gas-tax repeal that will be on the ballot in November.
"Yes, Katie opposes higher gas taxes on [Orange County] families, especially after Mimi Walters and Donald Trump just raised taxes on middle-class OC families," Porter campaign spokeswoman Erica Kwiatkowski said in an email.
She was referring to the GOP tax bill that President Trump signed into law earlier this year. The law lowers income taxes for most Americans but increases the tax burden on some homeowners by capping the property-tax deduction at $10,000.
Kwiatkowski added that the district needs "real infrastructure investments, but this [gas] tax doesn't do that."
California voters will decide in November whether to overturn the most recent 12-cent increase in the state's gas tax, along with other new fuel and vehicle fees.
That gas tax hike was passed last year by a super-majority of Democrats in the state legislature to fund $5 billion in transportation spending. Republican opponents criticized the tax increase as another effort by Democrats to shift California lawmakers' overspending onto the taxpayers who are already struggling to meet the state's high cost of living.
Even before the latest 12-cent hike, California gas prices were among the highest in the nation.
Californians pay nearly one dollar more per gallon in taxes and government fees alone. The new gas tax also increases each year until 2021, when consumers will be paying nearly two dollars extra a gallon in taxes and fees.
Critics noted that in years past California's infrastructure funds have been diverted from road construction to transit buses and trains, light rail projects, bike lanes, and park acquisitions.
California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who used his political muscle to pass the gas tax increase, has vowed to fight its repeal: He and his allies have amassed a $14 million war chest.
Supporters of Proposition 6 have raised just $3.5 million as of Aug. 1.
Recent electoral history has given Democrats reason to believe they need to take the campaign seriously: voters in Orange County recalled Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman in June over his vote in favor of the gas-tax increase.
National Republicans, including Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), recently cut large checks to the campaign in the hopes having the gas-tax repeal on the ballot will help blunt the Democratic "blue wave" in the state that could sweep Democrats into power.
Rep. Mimi Walters (R., Calif.) donated a total of $339,000 from her campaign committees to "Yes on Prop 6" campaign. DeMaio credits Walters's contributions for making it possible for the proposition to garner the signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.
Porter's newfound public support for Prop 6 comes just days after GOP-affiliated Congressional Leadership Fund launched an attack ad that blasted Porter for refusing to oppose "Sacramento's gas-tax hike," as well as supporting attacks on ICE, sanctuary cities, and efforts to raise taxes on the "middle-class" to fund single-payer national government healthcare.
She called the Republican ad "a straight-up lie" and said she opposes higher gas taxes before pledging to "do what's right for Orange County taxpayers" and slamming Walters for voting with President Trump "99 percent of the time."
The decision by Porter to back the gas-tax repeal puts her at odds with Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is running to replace Brown, the California Democratic Party and the coalition of unions, construction companies, environmental and business groups who argue the tax increase will fix roads, bolster mass transit, and help keep and create jobs.