This is Essential Politics, our daily look at California political and government news. Here's what we're watching right now:
- A scathing state audit says University of California President Janet Napolitano's office failed to disclose surplus cash and paid some staffers high salaries.
- An effort to ban the so-called '"Netflix tax" on streaming video failed in an Assembly committee.
- Challengers have emerged for two Republican incumbents, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) and Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton).
UC Irvine law professor Katie Porter is challenging Republican Rep. Mimi Walters in Orange County's 45th District in 2018.
The 43-year-old Democrat is an expert on consumer-protection law and banking and was an early whistleblower about mortgage fraud by Wall Street banks ahead of the 2008 financial collapse.
“I’m really running to do what I’ve always done, which is to stand up to special interests,” Porter told The Times in an interview. “I want to take that fight to Washington.”
In 2012, she was picked by then-Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris to monitor distribution of California's share of a $25-billion national mortgage foreclosure settlement. Harris, now a U.S. senator, has endorsed Porter.
“It was my job to hold those banks accountable,” Porter said. “We won thousands of victories."
Porter also enters the race with the endorsement of her former Harvard Law School professor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Porter and Warren co-authored a book on debt and credit law.
"Katie is a fighter! She's been in the trenches with me fighting for families for nearly two decades — and she's gotten real results. She's fought relentlessly for important protections that safeguard consumers and force banks to give families a fair shake. There's no one I trust more to take on Donald Trump and the entrenched special interests in Washington on behalf of working families," Warren said in a statement.
Even with two high-profile endorsements in hand, beating a Republican in the 45th District will be a heavy lift. Walters won reelection in 2016 with 58.6% of the vote, and prognosticators such as Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, from the University of Virginia Center for Politics, say even though the Orange County district went for Hillary Clinton by 5 percentage points in last November's presidential election, the seat is likely to remain in Republican hands in 2018.
Nevertheless, local activists have been particularly focused on Walters and the seat, protesting weekly outside her office and leaving petitions demanding she hold a town hall meeting.
Porter has been part of that activism, serving as spokeswoman for the local chapter of the protest group Indivisible and getting involved with some of the other local groups.
“I think those groups have done a great job helping to make families' voice heard,” she said.
National Democrats have their eye on the seat as well. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rolled out ads targeting Walters after she voted for the GOP's healthcare plan in committee. Walters, who serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, was one of the earliest supporters of the bill among the California Republican delegation.