Congress has nothing to do with California’s decisions about how to finance state and local road and bridge repairs. But Republican efforts to repeal a 2017 gasoline tax hike that is paying for a wave of construction projects around the state are spilling over into the Golden State’s critical U.S. House races, with four Democratic candidates splitting with their party on the subject.
Three of the four are challengers to Republican incumbents in very close House races that might well help determine control of Congress: Josh Harder, who is opposing Jeff Denham in the Modesto-based Tenth District in the San Joaquin Valley; Katie Porter, who faces Mimi Walters in Orange County’s 45th District; and Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is battling scandal-plagued Duncan Hunter in the San Diego-based 50th Congressional District. The fourth, Jessica Morse, is running against Tom McClintock in the Sierra Nevada-based Fourth Congressional District, which is a potentially competitive race but a bit of a reach.
Polls differ on the ballot initiative (Proposition 6) Republicans secured to repeal the gas tax increase, but it’s not terribly popular at the moment. That’s particularly true in suburban and rural areas where long commutes to work are commonplaces,like those in all four of these districts, as the Los Angeles Times reports:
Repealing the higher tax and fees was supported by 51% of the state’s registered voters surveyed in May, according to a statewide USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. The Times survey also found the repeal measure supported by 56% of voters in the Central Valley and 64% in Orange and San Diego counties and the Inland Empire.
A lot of money is going to be spent on both sides of this initiative fight. Republicans have openly hoped an anti-tax frenzy will goose their turnout in November (several GOP campaigns invested heavily in the initiative certification effort). If that happens, their positions on Prop 6 may not insulate the Democrats who have endorsed it. But it will help them avoid attack ads accusing them of supporting higher gas taxes at a time when they’d prefer to focus on broad Democratic themes, including hostility to Donald J. Trump. And to be cynical about it, there’s not much of a downside to rebelling against their party on this issue: supporters of higher gas taxes and the badly overdue transportation repairs (now intensely under way all over the state) they are financing aren’t likely to tilt to the GOP, whose candidates are almost uniformly opposing them.