The first Democratic Representative for the 45th Congressional District—Orange County—and tenured UCI Law Professor, Katie Porter, had a reputation for holding banks and businesses accountable for their corrupt behaviors.
Wells Fargo CEO, Tim Sloan resigned two weeks after a 2019 congressional hearing in which Porter pointed out how Sloan claimed that the public should trust their rebranding, but his lawyers previously claimed all statements from the campaign “can be ignored as hyperbolic marketing.”
President Trump’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson received similar treatment from Porter later that year. She questioned him on properties that do not sell at foreclosure auctions, known as Real-Estate Owned Properties. She used the acronym “REOs,” Carson heard “Oreos,” and once clarified, he still did not understand. Her supporters thought the interaction showed Carson’s ignorance of his own position.
Born January 3, 1974, Porter was raised on an Iowa farm during the 1980s “farm crisis,” described by Natalie Shure in 2019 for Vice as “years of intense pressure on farmers to take out loans to expand, followed by a painful bust.” This caused her community to largely go bankrupt. It was no surprise, then, that she would dedicate herself to bankruptcy law.
Her first Harvard bankruptcy class was taught by now-Senator Elizabeth Warren, who described bankruptcy as “the flip-side of capitalism” because it gives aid to those on the “losing end.”
By 2006, she served as a bankruptcy attorney, got married, and had three kids, then passed on her expertise in 2011 as a UCI Law Professor. There, she taught bankruptcy, commercial law, consumer law, mortgage foreclosure, debt collection, credit and debit cards, and empirical studies of legal systems—the observed data on law enforcement and implementation issues.
In 2012, the then California State Attorney General, now Vice President, Kamala Harris, recruited her as the state’s independent monitor over the nation’s five largest banks to ensure they would comply with the 25-billion-dollar settlement over foreclosure misconduct. She caught Harris’s attention with her first of its kind 2007 study which highlighted the issues that caused the 2012 case against the banks. She got UCI Law students involved in the program with the Consumer Law Clinic.
With a positive reputation in California state government, she began her campaign for Representative of the 45th District during the 2018 midterm election.
The first election over the 45th congressional district was in 1982. By 2018, the district was on its fifth representative. All five had been Republicans.
Running against the incumbent Mimi Walters would be difficult, especially as a Democrat in a red district, but the Republicans would not be her only adversary. During the Democratic primaries for this seat, Dave Min, a fellow UCI Professor, received more delegates on initial count. But the margin between Min and Porter was only one vote. “Under the state party’s rules,” wrote Laura Bassett in her 2018 Huffpost article, “Opponents could challenge his win on the convention floor by gathering 300 signatures and forcing a new vote.”
Porter and her team went after the 300 signatures, a difficult task, as rumours about her character arose and Min’s supporters allegedly used intimidation tactics.
She was victimized in 2013 and filed a restraining order against her ex-husband because he was violent during their divorce when they still lived together. He would scream insults at her and threaten to kill himself in front of their three children and prevented her from leaving home on some occasions. She filed a restraining order.
Desperate to halt signatures, Min supporter Kevin Matthews called her “Restraining Order Porter” on Twitter in 2018, implying that she faked a domestic violence charge. She was forced to address the issue.
“I’m not embarrassed that this happened to me because I didn’t do anything wrong… what happens here matters, because voters around the country are gonna see ― does this mean you can’t run for office, because you’ve been hurt or a victim?” Porter told Bassett, “We don’t silence victims, and we don’t silence women for having experiences that are frankly all too common among us.”
Ultimately, Porter gained the 300 signatures, won the second vote, and ran against Mimi Walters in the general election.
Porter was the more progressive candidate against both Min and Walters. She supported single-payer healthcare. A 2018 campaign volunteer, Audrey Woodsum, says she supported her because she is an environmentalist, she is committed “to getting more funding for schools. She's a mom, and she uses that part of her identity to connect with that community… her commitment to fight for gun control… her commitment to the LGBT community.”
While progressive voters were drawn to Porter, it was still a conservative district. Woodsum described a difficult race, as she canvassed in the largely conservative congressional district. Once the election ended, Woodsum said, “The results came in as slowly as the 2020 Presidential election,” and about as close. Porter won by 4.1%.
Once inaugurated in 2019, Porter got right to work confronting bankers, businessmen, and politicians, working on the House Financial Services Committee. Though she lost that seat after the 2020 election, she had a huge impact, scaring lawyers and CEOs into rehearsing, with her in mind, before hearings.
In office, committed to helping her fellow single parents run for office, she created the Help America Run Act that gives candidates the right to use campaign donations on childcare.
“People will remember her as an underdog figure who really refused to be shut down,” said Woodsum.
Interview with Porter 2018 campaign volunteer Audrey Woodsum