Katie Porter, a university professor and Democratic candidate running against Rep. Mimi Walters (R., Calif.), dismissed the gas-tax repeal campaign in California as a GOP distraction four months before she vocally opposed higher gas taxes in a campaign ad.
Porter surprised GOP organizers of California's gas-tax ballot repeal campaign late last month when her campaign released an ad in which she came out in opposition to the gas-tax increase and pledged to fight Gov. Jerry Brown and other Democratic powers in Sacramento over higher gas taxes the Democratic-controlled legislature passed last year.
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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 had cut during the general election season.
Just four months earlier, Porter, at a well-attended public townhall event May 6, had repeatedly disparaged the GOP-led campaign to repeal the gas tax, reaffirming her support for those who voted in favor of the gas-tax hike and accusing her opponent of being "obsessed" with the gas tax.
"Mimi is all obsessed with the gas tax," Porter tells voters at the event, according to an audio recording of her comments.
She then goes on to say that she supports all the state lawmakers who voted in favor of the 12-cent gas tax increase, which went into effect in January across California.
"I support all the people who voted for it. I support [former State senator] Josh Newman who voted for the gas tax," she said.
Voters in the traditionally conservative Orange County where Porter is trying to unseat Walters recalled Newman in June over his vote in favor of the gas-tax increase.
"So, I think the gas tax is just an effort to distract people," Porter tells the crowd. She argued that Walters's support for repealing the tax increase is an effort to distract from her vote on the GOP healthcare plan repealing Obamacare and her vote for the Republican-backed 2017 tax cut, which she labels a giveaway to "big billionaires" and "big corporations."
Porter also seemed to imply that she supports the gas-tax because its backers say it will fund infrastructure investments and create jobs in California.
"I'm a single mom raising three kids here, and I understand people pay high taxes, and so I'm going to be very, very skeptical of any tax increase that is not going to be spent in a way that returns money to us through investment," she said in the audio recording.
"So, when I say they are going to invest in clean energy, that [it] is going to create jobs in Orange County, we have already seen that," she said. "If I say we are going to invest in infrastructure, that's going to help us create more jobs in Orange County."
Those spearheading the gas-tax repeal seized on the audio recording as proof of Porter's "flip-flop" and dishonesty on the gas-tax, which polls show an overwhelming majority of Orange County voters want repealed.
Carl DeMaio, a conservative radio talk show host and former San Diego City councilman who is leading the gas-tax repeal campaign, said the recording shows that Porter is not being honest about her gas-tax opposition.
"A lot of folks out there haven't been buying this recent surge in Democrat support for the gas tax repeal," he told the Washington Free Beacon. "Now she has been caught lying to her would-be constituents."
"She is the epitome of what's wrong with Washington. There are too many liars in Washington—we don't need to send any more," he said, adding that she never signed the initiative formally qualifying the Prop 6 measure for the ballot so he has doubted her support.
Rep. Walters, meanwhile, 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
When Porter, who studied under Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and touts the progressive senator's endorsement, first announced her opposition to the gas-tax increase, DeMaio said the position takes "real chutzpah" because his campaign had reached out to her several times seeking support and said he never heard back.
"She is backed by the same people who raised our taxes—she is a tax-hiker," DeMaio said at the time. "I don't believe a word she says because she has stood arm-in-arm with the tax raisers."
The Porter campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
In late August, the Free Beacon asked Porter's campaign if she is supporting Prop 6, the effort to repeal the gas tax, which will appear on the November ballot.
A campaign spokesman at the time said only that Porter's campaign ad saying she opposes the gas tax is "pretty clear."
The confusion over whether Porter's firmly stated opposition to the gas-tax increase meant she was backing Prop 6 has continued for weeks.
Just days later, at an Aug. 25 event at her campaign headquarters with campaign volunteers, she explained that her sudden opposition to the gas tax did not translate into backing the Prop 6 effort aimed at repealing it.
"I oppose the gas tax because we have a problem with transparency and accountability and tax fairness in this country and in this state," she said, according to an audio recording of her remarks. "And there are no meaningful infrastructure projects being built for people in the 45th district. And that’s what actually changed my mind."
"I was like, ‘I'm for it. I want infrastructure. I want jobs for union workers. I mean, right?' And then I got the list of projects, and we're getting signs on one road, and it's because our Republican Assembly people are trying to sink this gas tax."
She then goes on to say that she would use her position as a congresswoman to fight to bring home infrastructure dollars to the district, something she argues "Mimi has failed to do" and complain about for-profit toll roads in the district imposing fees of "$6 or $7 each way each day."
"This is an incredible burden on our families. … If I'm going to say I'm going to be on the side of the people of the 45th district, I can't say this [gas-tax] bill, this law, does this for us," she explained. "I get that it may do it for other people, which is why I am not going to be advocating either way on Prop 6. Everyone has to do what is right for themselves and their districts."
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.
National Republicans, including Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wisc.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), have cut large checks to the campaign in the hopes having the gas-tax repeal on the ballot will help calm the Democratic "blue wave" in the state that could sweep Democrats into power.
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 governor 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.