Rep. Mike Garcia’s voting record: Will it be an obstacle to reelection?
As Rep. Mike Garcia reflected on his first year in office, he highlighted stands that many Californians would favor: Urging the repeal of a Trump-era tax measure that hurts residents in high-tax states. Fighting against federal funding for the state’s troubled high-speed rail project. Helping military spouses maintain professional licenses when they move.
“One year in, and we are just getting started. California is home, and it’s too good to give up on,” Garcia wrote in a May article in Santa Clarita’s the Signal newspaper. “We owe it to our children to make sure that they have the same incredible opportunities and assured security that this nation and this state afforded us.”
The congressman, whose district includes northern Los Angeles County, omitted other parts of his record: Voting against the certification of electoral votes in Pennsylvania and Arizona that helped cement Joe Biden’s presidential victory. Opposing the impeachment of President Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Standing against legalizing Dreamers and reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. Cosponsoring legislation that would effectively ban all abortion and some forms of birth control.
Garcia, who won his seat by 333 votes in November, is up for reelection next year in what is expected to be among the most contested congressional races in the nation. Millions of dollars will likely be spent on the race because it will be key to determining which party controls the House.
Garcia’s portrayal of his record reflects the dichotomy he is straddling as he tries to keep his GOP base united and energized while not alienating the growing number of diverse, liberal voters in California’s 25th Congressional District.
A Republican who supports Garcia doesn’t agree with some of his votes but thinks the congressman is positioning himself to be a rising star if the GOP takes control of the House and he wins reelection.
“Let’s be honest about it — he’s between a rock and a hard place. In order to be effective in D.C., he’s got to take positions that I think sometimes are not supported by his district,” said R. Rex Parris, the GOP mayor of Lancaster. “He’s walking that tightrope more than any other man in Congress right now.”
Political experts say the stances the 45-year-old former Navy pilot has staked out reflect modern-day politics after four years of Trump, who focused on rallying his most ardent supporters at the expense of alienating voters in the middle.
“It is so important now in both parties to hold your base to win, especially in legislative elections,” said Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A. “The question is not, ‘Is he reflecting his district?’ The question is, ‘Is he reflecting his party in his district?’ And the answer is yes.”
Garcia declined to participate in an interview for this story.
He represents a region that includes Simi Valley in Ventura County and the Antelope Valley and Santa Clarita in northern Los Angeles County. Once a longtime Republican stronghold, the area has grown less conservative as the northern edge of L.A.'s suburban sprawl has grown more diverse. Democrats now have an 8-point voter registration edge, 39% to 31%, according to the secretary of state’s office. No-party-preference voters make up another 22% of the district’s voters.
The district could grow even more Democratic if it is redrawn as part of the decennial redistricting prompted by the 2020 census. Population fluctuations mean the state is losing one of its congressional seats for the first time in its history. That seat is widely expected to come from Los Angeles County, which could pull the 25th district into a more populated, liberal area.
In 2018, Democratic newcomer Katie Hill flipped the seat but she resigned a year later after the unauthorized publication of intimate photos and amid allegations of inappropriate relationships with subordinates.
Katie Hill’s meteoric congressional career is coming to an abrupt end.
Republicans say they are confident Garcia will be reelected because the party that holds the White House typically suffers losses in the first midterm and because Democrats have overreached in their healthcare, climate change and spending proposals. Voters who lean Democratic, including young people and minorities, are also less likely to vote in non-presidential elections.
“It’s really hard to take out an incumbent, especially in a non-presidential year,” said Parris, Lancaster‘s mayor.
Parris disagrees with Garcia’s opposition to issues such as a path for permanent residency for young people brought into this country illegally, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and the certification of the electoral college results in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
“I think he was recognizing in order for him to become a power in the House, there were certain things he had to do, and he did them, and I think the district will benefit as a result,” he said. “A lot of people have a bad taste in their mouth because of it, but I would much rather have someone in there who can help the district in things that matter. And that’s money.”
David Wasserman, a nonpartisan elections expert with the Cook Political Report, agreed that Garcia could be a powerful player in a GOP-led House — if he is able to hang onto his seat after redistricting.
“He is a highly prized member of the Republican conference because of his high profile in a Biden district, his biography and his willingness to vote to the right of his district. So there’s no doubt that if he were to stay in Congress, he would have a bright future in a Republican conference,” he said. But “his career could be over in less than two years.”
Democrats argue that Garcia has betrayed his constituents, and will pay for it at the ballot box.
“He doesn’t care about his district. He cares about his base,” said Stephen Daniels, host of the Talk of Santa Clarita podcast.
Daniels is among the locals who say that Garcia has changed since he first ran for office in a campaign that leaned heavily on his biography as a native son of the district whose parents were Mexican immigrants. He was a fighter jet pilot who flew dozens of combat missions during the Iraq War and later worked in the defense industry.
Daniels found the candidate likable despite their opposing political views when they taped a podcast together early in his 2020 run.
“He struck me as a really nice guy, someone who is more about logic and looking at the facts than partisanship.” Daniels said, adding they developed a friendship and exchanged texts for a period. “That’s changed completely. He has voted as a Trump acolyte continually.”
Daniels labelled Garcia a “traitor” on Facebook after the congressman voted not to certify the Arizona and Pennsylvania election results the day of the insurrection. Garcia has declined to return to the podcast.
Daniels is mystified by Garcia taking positions that will alienate the majority of his constituents.
“This District went for Biden by 10 points. And [Garcia] won by 333 votes,” Daniels said. “For Mike Garcia to not take that into account — what kind of district he’s got — makes me wonder if he wants to be in Congress. He’s not thinking very well. This is a purple district.”
Garcia’s narrow victory came over Democrat Christy Smith as Democrat Joe Biden won the district by more than 35,000 votes.
Democrats blamed Smith’s loss on a combination of factors: liberals being demoralized after working hard to get Hill elected; Smith running a centrist campaign that didn’t excite progressives and the party eschewing in-person canvassing because of the pandemic.
Smith is among the Democratic candidates who have announced they are running against Garcia next year. Others include Simi Valley Councilwoman Ruth Luevanos, combat veteran John Quaye Quartey and Rhoda Nazanin, a project manager at the Skirball Cultural Center. Hill is also pondering a run.
Former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill of Santa Clarita is pushing to make revenge porn a federal crime.
Garcia’s district is one of 22 that Democrats are already targeting for the 2022 election. The congressman was one of a handful of GOP House incumbents who raised more than $500,000 in the first three months of 2021. In May, he started running radio ads in English and Spanish touting his background as a fighter pilot and calling for his reelection.
Garcia’s supporters argue he has been successful in looking out for his constituents, securing $20 million for infrastructure projects and helping more than 1,000 people who had disputes with federal agencies. He’s a familiar face in the district because he returns to his Santa Clarita home every weekend.
He has outlined ways he has bucked his party, such as supporting the renaming of military bases that honor Confederate soldiers and the $2,000 COVID stimulus checks, and has explained his votes to his constituents.
“… my votes and principles are anchored only to the Constitution and the country,” he wrote in a Jan. 30 article in the Signal. “I have no blind loyalties to a party, to a president or to any individual.”
Get our Essential Politics newsletter
The latest news, analysis and insights from our politics team in D.C.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.