Perched atop a 1962 Crown Pumper fire engine, Hannah-Beth Jackson sat on a plastic bucket labeled “Class A Foam” that was nestled between two rolls of fire hose, using her teeth to pull on a pair of white Mickey Mouse gloves. Preparing to ride in Simi Valley’s big annual Pioneer Days parade, the Democratic state senate candidate had made a command decision to go with the gloves, which had been the subject of intense discussion among her campaign handlers a few minutes before.
“Is that the right statement?” one strategist worried, as Jackson showed him the gloves she’d brought down for the occasion. “I’m not sure we want a legislator with three fingers.”
A few hours later, after drawing hundreds of delighted laughs and smiles along the parade route with her enthusiastic, two-handed Mickey wave-“Hey folks! “How are you? Good morning!”-the candidate pronounced herself pleased with overruling her brain trust: “I’ve got to say, the gloves are the hit of the day.”
For Jackson, who stole the idea from political veteran Jack O’Connell, the stunt was a way to add a splash of Santa Barbara style to the traditional parade in the conservative bastion of Ventura County. Battling against hometown favorite Tony Strickland, the Democrat is working as an underdog to introduce herself to tens of thousands of new voters. So far trailing Strickland in the chase for campaign dollars, she has driven her green Prius nearly 15,000 miles since the June primary, using her high-energy, passionate campaign style to urge support, especially among moderate Republicans and independents.
On a recent day campaigning with me in tow, Jackson spent hours in the car with aide Janice Rocco navigating from the backseat. Moving from one sparsely attended event to another, she was determined to meet voters face-to-face in every nook of the spacious 19th District, which alternates between lovely, rolling lemon orchards and dense commercial neighborhoods packed with car washes, carpet stores, coin dealers, cut rate dentists, and muffler and transmission shops owned by guys named Bob.
“Is this in our district?” she asked Rocco more than once.
“I think it’s in the district.”
“We’re definitely going in the wrong direction.”
On the stump, Jackson speaks in detail about issues and at length about bills she has authored in support of schools, healthcare, and the environment. She punctuates her programmatic pitch with personal stories about kids playing in clouds of agriculture sprays or developing asthma from poor air quality. The day after the deadly Chatsworth train accident, she seized on the incident to argue that government should do more to regulate public health and safety conditions.
“Maybe now we can put pressure on them to move safety measures forward,” she said at a stop following the parade, after calling for a moment of silence for the dead.
At a county central committee rally, she spoke from the front porch of a Santa Paula farmhouse that looked like it set down from Iowa: “I know these issues and I am committed to protecting our people.” After shaking hands and grabbing an iced bottled water, she was back in the Prius and bound for Santa Clarita, the most conservative outpost of the district.
On the road, like a kind of Dean Moriarty of California politics, she performed a soliloquy that veered from her daughter coming home from law school to the late Julia Child shopping in the Vons on Coast Village Road to the Chatsworth rail accident to the Santa Susana landfill and the general problem of cancer clusters caused by toxic dumping. “Which brings me back to this train incident,” she said at one point, hitting her stride.
In the race against Strickland, Jackson is wooing moderate Republicans. Some GOP members view their nominee as an arch-conservative in the mold of his mentor, outgoing Senator Tom McClintock. (Strickland says most of the Republicans backing Jackson are former party rivals who were defeated by him or his wife: “It’s less about philosophy and more about sour grapes.”) Former state senator Cathie Wright, who clashed with McClintock in the Legislature, is among the prominent Republicans backing Jackson, as is community activist Lou Pandolfi.
“Hannah-Beth Jackson was always there, looking out for Simi Valley,” he said as she opened a campaign headquarters there. Praising her help in fighting for the clean-up of the nearby Rocketdyne Field Laboratory while in the Assembly, he said, “With her, we have somebody on our side.”
Jackson reiterated that to the Simi Valley crowd. “This is not about a party, it’s about how we get from point A to point B. We need a change of attitude-we can get things done,” she pledged, adding, “I will fight like hell for you.”