Michael Maher wants voters to know he is his own man.
The Kingsburg Republican is once again challenging Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, in the 2024 Congressional District 21 election.
Costa, the 10-term congressman, has represented the Central Valley since 2005. While Maher provided Costa with his toughest challenge in eight years, the incumbent still won by 8 points in 2022.
Maher says he will turn the tide in 2024.
“I am a new generation of Republican. I am a husband. I’m a father. I am tied to this area and have seen opportunities brought here. I’m not here to play divisive politics,” Maher said. “I’m tired of seeing our Central Valley on the losing end and getting a smaller piece of the pie when we should at least be getting equal, if not more.”
Maher said Costa has not gotten the job done.
“Why hasn’t he delivered anything substantial for our Valley? It’s a pittance,” Maher said.
GV Wire offered an interview to Costa, but his campaign said he was not available at this time.
Maher is a Navy veteran, signing up after 9/11. His parents are both Air Force veterans.
He medically retired from the Navy with injuries suffered while on active duty — fractured ribs and vertebrae, a dislocated shoulder — and still suffers their lingering effects.
Maher joined the FBI in 2012. He worked in national security — specifically biological weapons — mainly based out of Los Angeles. He left after five years.
“I left because the last three years I was in the bureau, I averaged about 30 days with my family,” Maher said. “I had to start questioning my priorities as a believer, as a person of God, family, and country.”
“I absolutely loved that job. But it was when we were pregnant with our second son and he started getting older. It was just … not the right decision for a father,” he said.
Maher now operates OTN Aviation, which focuses on aviation and medical flight technology. He has also worked in construction management.
Energy, Veterans Issues Are Maher’s Top Priorities
Maher said energy and veterans are his top priorities.
“We need to focus on alternative energies … especially with the topic of our environment and climate. We see that Westlands Water District just put 100,000 acres for solar. So those are alternative forms. One that I’m very passionate about is the hydrogen community and hydrogen fuel,” Maher said.
He also advocates for major federal investments.
“The Central Valley is Saudi Arabia for sustainable fuels,” Maher said. “We are so rich in our earth and the dirt here in the Valley that we need to be making pragmatic solutions to how we manage that.”
He said Costa does not have the “experience” nor “focus” on energy policy.
Maher said he would also advocate for improving the Fresno VA hospital.
“I’ve received treatment in a VA hospital, and that was my biggest bone to pick with (Costa) in the beginning. I met with him when I was injured and I was on a cane learning to walk again. I needed access to the hospital. There wasn’t enough parking and there’s still not enough parking. He promises that we’re going to build a parking garage, take care of that one issue,” Maher said.
The Trump Factor
In the 2022 campaign, Costa’s campaign linked Maher to Donald Trump, saying he pledged “loyalty” to the former president.
“The only time I’ve ever pledged allegiance is to the U.S. Constitution when I served in the military and the FBI. And I made another pledge when I married my wife. I did not pledge allegiance to any politician or any person,” Maher said, remembering as if the ad said he pledged “allegiance.”
Maher deflected when asked whom he supports for president. He did not offer a clear answer.
“I am not dancing around it. I’m running for U.S. Congress,” Maher said.
Asked if he would accept a Trump offer to campaign on his behalf, Maher countered, “I would accept President Biden to campaign on my behalf.”
On Trump, Maher said “I do not like inflammatory rhetoric. I do not like divisive politics. And I think the damage that has been done to our nation by driving a wedge of divide when we have so many more issues that bring us together, that is not who I am. That is not what I support.”
The Reedley Lab
Maher said he is better suited than Costa to handle the fallout of the Reedley biological lab.
The lab, associated with Chinese-American companies, was discovered by Reedley code enforcement in December 2022. The public only became aware in July. The lab — where 1,000 test mice with various diseases including COVID were discovered — has since been shut down.
Maher said this was in his FBI wheelhouse while Costa did not handle the situation correctly.
“He doesn’t have any direct or requisite experience in this matter, but I would be the guy who would be dealing with this for the government, should I have been still in the government. I think it needs to be looked at in a way that is going to address the concerns of the people that are still absolutely furious of being violated in their community,” Maher said.
He agrees with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, that there should be a congressional investigation.
Ukraine: Cautious of the Money
Maher referenced Ronald Reagan and said that America should support the Ukrainians if they are willing to fight on their own.
But he is cautious about the costs.
“The money that is being spent in Ukraine is concerning to me. The accountability of the money and where it goes is extremely concerning. The red flags that have been raised,” Maher said.
He said the war is pushing Russia and China closer together.
“We need to be operating from a position of strength, supporting our allies, and ensuring that our enemies know you don’t mess with the United States,” Maher said.
The Fundraising Stats
Maher looks to become the second political rematch Costa faces since Riverdale Republican Johnny Tacherra, 2014-2016. It was so close in 2014 that Tacherra went to Washington for orientation. The final results saw Costa squeak it out by 2 points.
The rematch was a Costa laugher, winning by 16 points.
Could Maher face the same fate?
In the last five election cycles, only one Costa opponent started fundraising the year prior to the election. Tacherra raised $126,000 through the second quarter, the same time period as now.
Maher doubled that amount, raising $247,000 for the year. Costa, though, has raised $440,000 this year.
Costa has raised between $1.5 million and $2.1 million total in each of the last four election cycles. In 2022, he outraised Maher, $2 million to $312,000.
That meant Costa advertised on television, and Maher did not.
“I absolutely think I have the money to fight back this time. And the thing is, I want to fight back against those who are not supporting our Valley,” Maher said.
The Election Numbers
Even with redistricting taking effect in 2022, Costa still enjoys a significant Democratic voter registration margin. In the last five cycles, his advantage was a 16-to-20 point advantage. It is currently 17 points, the same as last November.
Costa underperformed in 2022. His margin of victory was less than the Democratic voter advantage (8 vs. 17).
Is that too big of a gap for Maher to turn around?
Maher said he came closer to Costa, while spending less money than previous opponents. He expects a different result in 2024.