After the Democratic Party seized control of the House of Representatives in November, the historically Republican stronghold of Orange County, California became a central focus of the national media.
With four Republican districts flipping to Democratic control, Republicans are now mounting multiple challenges for 2020 to try to reverse what happened in 2018.
The 48th Congressional District includes the communities of Aliso Viejo, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel, Newport Beach, Seal Beach, and parts of Garden Grove, Midway City, Santa Ana and Westminster. The district has a 4-point Republican registration advantage, which led many to wonder where former Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher went wrong last fall. After the final results came in, Democrat Harley Rouda bested Rohrabacher by 7 percentage points.
A handful of Republican challengers have announced they are running against Rouda, the most prominent being 2nd District Orange County Supervisor Michelle Park Steel. The Epoch Times spoke with Supervisor Steel, who announced her campaign on May 2, about the state of the district and her decision to run.
Steel, whose maiden name is Park and who is originally from South Korea, is married to former California Republican Party Chairman, Shawn Steel, who currently serves as the California National Committeeman at the RNC.
Steel, who was educated at Pepperdine and USC, said her interest in tax issues began when she watched her mother fight the State Board of Equalization on a tax bill for their small family business that they believed was unwarranted.
After hearing about a vacancy on the State Board of Equalization in 2006, she decided to run.
“When I heard that a board of Equalization seat opened, my husband said that Claude Parish (the then incumbent) was asking him to run for that position.” After her husband said that he was disinterested in running, Michelle decided to run instead. “I said I want to run for that position. I think I can do a much better job than anybody else.”
After winning the race by 5%, Steel served on the Board of Equalization from 2007-2015.
In 2014, she decided to run for the County Board of Supervisors after the then-incumbent, John Moorlach, vacated his seat to run for State Senate. In June 2018, she won reelection with 63.4%, avoiding a runoff in November.
When asked about her decision to run for Congress, Steel said that it started after Rohrabacher’s loss last November.
“I always thought a congressional race would be very interesting, because I’m an immigrant who came legally and I went through those waiting [periods] to get a green card, and [after marrying] Shawn, waited another three years to get citizenship. I went the proper, legal way to [become] a citizen. I always thought that if I were to become a congresswoman, I can do a better job [than the incumbent] because I understand federal issues, especially immigration,” she said.
When the seat flipped to Democrat Harley Rouda, Steel says she saw an opportunity.
“Last year, when [the seat] opened up, I was really reluctant at first. I’ve won four campaigns and my life is [in a good place]. I said, ‘Do I have to go through another election cycle?’”
Ultimately, she decided to run for the 48th district in 2020, since two-thirds of her County Supervisor district overlaps the congressional district.
Steel was asked about what she thought were the biggest problems facing the district and California.
“It’s not just the district, but [an issue facing] California as a whole is housing. Too many taxes and regulations. Because of housing, we are not bringing the younger generation or businesses with high paying jobs. I think we need to loosen up the regulations and lower taxes, but that’s not going to happen [under the current leadership].”
When asked what she would do differently in 2020 than former Rep. Rohrabacher to secure a Republican win, Steel expressed her belief that her knowledge and understand of the issues facing her constituents would allow her to win.
“I am well known in my district,” she said. “It’s about 66% of [the 48th] district. I know the residents’ issues. Last Saturday we had a public safety talk. I had more than 250 people show up. We stayed there until all the questions were asked, so they know that I am very much connected.”
When asked about how she would overcome another Democratic “money wave” pouring into the district to assist her opponent, Steel pointed out that 2020 will be different.
“I think 2020 is going to be different because it is a presidential election year. So, it’s not going to be each congressional district [that will be targeted]. I’ll raise whatever I can. Dana lost 9% of Republican votes. We have 136,000 Republican voters. He lost by 20,000 votes. 15,000 votes were from Republicans. So, you target them and independents. As long as I have enough money to do whatever I have to do, then I think I’m going to win.”
Steel also explained her belief that her record and understanding of local state and federal issues would better suit the districts needs than Rouda, who she claims lacks experience.
“It takes a long time to understand to see what local people really want,” she said. “When I go in, I’ll be a new face and at the same time experienced. I want to ask Rouda, what he has done so far. He has only been in six months. I think there are a lot of things to learn, but I already know the issues, so I will be a better [representative] than he is.”
The Orange County Republican Party has endorsed Steel’s campaign for the Primary, essentially locking her in for a November general election contest with Rouda. California’s 2020 Primary election will be on March 3, 2020 for all presidential and congressional races.