The California Senate race is well underway with the March 5th jungle primary less than 6 months out. Multiple big-name candidates have thrown their hat in the ring to replace the late Senator Feinstein, who served California since 1992. Of those big names, Representative Katie Porter is clearly the best progressive choice to represent the Golden State in the U.S. Senate.
On economic issues, among the most important for California, Porter has a masterful understanding with an unrivaled ability to communicate. Her viral white board videos showcase her strong progressive economic understanding, as she takes on corporate greed and CEO incompetence. The use of whiteboards and other visual aids to break down complex economic topics into digestible sound bites help spread a progressive understanding of economics to the public.
Simply put: Katie Porter is smart, unafraid, and easy to understand.
However, Porter is not the only Democrat nor the only candidate running as a progressive. In fact, all three candidates with a significant chance of winning identify as progressive Democrats. Progressive icon Representative Barbara Lee and self-proclaimed progressive Representative Adam Schiff both hope to win over the party’s progressive base.
Barbara Lee has spent the better part of 25 years tirelessly advocating for progressive causes in the House of Representatives. She may be best known for casting the only vote against the War in Afghanistan in 2001. Lee took a stand against rash military action, while 518 other members of Congress voted in favor of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force act which led to two decades of fighting in the Middle East.
In many ways, it is fair to call Barbara Lee more progressive with a longer track record than Katie Porter. It would be fair to say that Lee represents the Bernie Sanders wing while Porter represents the Elizabeth Warren wing of progressive politics. The comparison is especially apt given the two pairs endorsed each other for presidential runs and senate runs respectively.
So why should a progressive vote for Katie Porter instead of Barbara Lee?
Over the past few years, Americans have been grappling with members of Congress and presidents in their 70s, 80s, and sometimes even their 90s. This is especially true for Californians who had to navigate the difficult realities of late Senator Feinstein’s advanced age and the health complications that came with that.
At the time of her passing, it had been evident for several years that Feinstein’s cognitive decline was severely limiting her ability to effectively represent California. However, at the time of the 2018 election, it was not evident that she would become unable to perform her duties for a full six years.
If Lee were to win, she would be 78 at the time of her swearing-in. While she’ll be much younger than Feinstein was in 2018, she’ll be as old as President Biden on the eve of his inauguration. Once again, this is not to say that Lee will have similar cognitive troubles that Biden has seemingly had during his tenure. However, there is a genuine risk that what Barbara Lee is capable of at 78 will be far different than what she will be capable of at 84. Given that Californians just had to deal with the controversy associated with Feinstein, is it wise to risk putting ourselves in the same position again?
Beyond questions of Lee’s ability to do the job, progressives must seriously consider the long term advantages of incumbency. For better or for worse, incumbent politicians tend to win around 90 percent or more of their elections. Given that California will be a safe blue state for the foreseeable future, whoever wins this election could potentially represent progressive politics in the Senate for the next 30 years. This is especially relevant since Bernie Sanders and Elizebeth Warren are unlikely to serve much longer given their age.
Do we really expect Barbara Lee to run again when she is 84? Do we believe the electorate will want to reelect an 84 year old who would serve until they are 90 like Fienstiene?
These questions can easily be avoided by backing 49 year old Katie Porter. Age and mental ability are unlikely to be serious questions for decades to come. Her ability to run again and hold the incumbency advantage will not be in question, as she would only be 55 at the time of her reelection.
Katie Porter might not be the perfect progressive on every issue, but she has the potential to hold the seat for progressives for the next two decades. Barbara Lee might offer good policies for the next six years, but opens up the door for an open primary where more conservative candidates will have a good shot at winning. In overly simple terms, we could have a true progressive economic champion for two decades or we could have a strong overall progressive for the next six years.
The best option is the former: Katie Porter.
Now it’s time to turn towards the Schiff in the room. The argument here is simple: while Adam Schiff styles himself as a progressive, he simply is not. At least not in the sense that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, or Elizebeth Warren are progressives.
If Lee’s nearly 25 years show a dedication to progressive causes, Schiff’s two decades show a career of centrist/conservative approaches with occasional progressive flares. Only last January did Schiff apply to join the House Progressive Caucus, an application he later withdrew. He spent the vast majority of his career with the centrist/conservative Blue Dog Coalition and the New Democrat Coalition.
It is true that in the past few years,Schiff has come out in support of progressive policies from Medicare-for-All to the Green New Deal but a look into his career paints a very different picture. Early in his career Schiff was extremely close to the defense industry. This is evident in his support for the Iraq War and the 10s of thousands of dollars he took from defense contractors like Raytheon.
Some will point to Schiff’s leading role in the Trump impeachment trials as clear evidence of his progressive bonafides. This is really just a conflation of liberal never-Trumpers with actual progressives. If the metric of who hates Trump the most were the only determining factor, then Schiff would be the best choice. In reality, we need a Senator who can represent California long after Trump, one who will be clear minded when it comes to foreign wars, can lead us through economic downturns and support the middle class.
We can risk backing Adam Schiff, someone who has spent much of his career as a conservative centrist, or we can pick the representative without a 20 year history of questionable decisions. Katie Porter is not the perfect progressive, but her record is by far more consistent and aligned with progressive values.
The bottom line is this: Katie Porter has a proven track record of effectively selling a progressive view on economics to a broader political audience, she is relatively young with the potential to maintain incumbency advantage for decades to come, and does not have a long history of taking conservative opinions. Katie Porter should be the next California U.S. Senator.
Photo Credit: United States Congress