Last week, nearly 100 people packed a Hope Ranch living room to hear Katie Hill, a 31-year-old first-time Democratic candidate in one of the country’s most consequential races of the 2018 election.
Hill, running what one national news organization dubbed “the most millennial campaign ever,” is campaigning to oust Republican incumbent Rep. Steve Knight in California’s 25th Congressional District, the closest battleground to Santa Barbara amid the desperate Democratic struggle to stem Trumpism by capturing at least one house of Congress.
The daughter of a cop and a nurse and executive director of a nonprofit that advocates for people experiencing homelessness, Hill identifies as bisexual and lives with her husband, Kenny, and a batch of rescue animals on a small farm in Agua Dulce in the district where she works and was born, raised, and educated.
“The overall reaction to Katie was, ‘She’s so authentic,” said former supervisor Susan Rose, the matron saint of electing liberal women to office, who hosted the fundraiser. “Her family history, her work with the homeless, and her political agenda impressed everyone.”
STATE OF PLAY. The 25th CD includes Simi Valley in eastern Ventura County, plus the high desert, bedroom suburbs, and aerospace facilities of northern Los Angeles County. Represented by a Republican for a quarter century and the only GOP district in L.A., it favored Hillary Clinton by six points in 2016 while reelecting Knight, a veteran and former cop whose voting record aligns with Trump 99 percent of the time, according to the data journalism website FiveThirtyEight.
“I spent my whole life there,” Hill told the Independent. “We’ve got major problems we’ve got to fix, and the people we’ve sent to Washington aren’t doing it, because they’ve sold out to huge corporations and special interests and partisan politics, and all that has to change.”
Seeking the 23 GOP-held seats they need to flip nationally to win the House, Democrats have focused on the 25thand a half-dozen similar districts in California. The most recent campaign filings show Hill clobbering Knight, $6.2 to $2.2 million, but big money comes from the parties and independent expenditure groups; political professionals estimate the campaign’s total cost may exceed $20 million.
Three weeks before the November 6 election, prominent prognosticators rate the race a toss-up: A New York Times poll last month showed Knight with a two-point lead, while a more recent survey by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies put Hill four points ahead. It might take weeks of post-election counting to determine the winner.
“There’s actually a good chunk of independent voters in our district,” Hill said. “I think districts like ours, and so many other purple districts across the country, we have a way of finding that middle.”
AIDING AND ABETTING. For some Santa Barbara voters, urgently seeking ways to fight Trump and the Republican hegemony in Washington while comfortably ensconced in a liberal district, candidacies like Hill’s represent a practical pathway, as shown by the large turnout at last week’s fundraiser, expected to raise more than $50,000.
It was notable that Reps. Salud Carbajal and Julia Brownley, D–Thousand Oaks, showed up to speak on behalf of Hill amid their own reelection campaigns, to an overflow crowd that included not only dozens of the Usual Suspects (shout-out, Lois Capps and Judith Hopkinson!) but also grassroots types more recently drawn to politics.
“Presidents are winning elections without winning the popular vote — I think that’s why so many people are paying attention to districts that aren’t their own,” said Erinn Lynch, an S.B. public relations executive.
Lynch attended with several colleagues from SPARC (Sparking Political Action, Response & Change), a group they established after Trump’s election that convenes an educational speaker series and promotes grassroots actions. Volunteers and members have handwritten and sent more than 1,500 postcards to Democratic voters urging support for Hill, have raised $5,000, and will walk precincts for her.
“We researched flippable districts,” Lynch said. “The candidate is important to us — we don’t want to be knee-jerk ‘D’ supporters. We want the best people representing the people.”
Interview with Katie Hill, Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives in California’s 25th Congressional District, recorded in Santa Barbara on Oct. 11, 2018.
The transcript has been rearranged and lightly edited for clarity.
On Running in the Year of #MeToo
A recent CNN poll showed a massive gender gap – women favoring the Democratic Party by 30 points, but men favoring the Republican by five. Why is that? For women, the numbers are so stark, if you look at the stark disparities where women are overwhelmingly moving toward the Democratic side are younger women and we saw that over and over in our polling – I was winning younger women by huge margins in the primary and now, but the older women got, the harder it was for me to pull.
You’ve got women of my generation who are really thinking about things like equality in a different way, things like sexual assault in a different way, are thinking about what they’re going to leave for their daughters, what kind of world they want their daughters to grow up in, and their sons to grow up in.
I think they’re having a harder and harder time reconciling what’s going on with Republican leadership and within the Republican Party, its quote unquote “values” and being able to support that. And so it doesn’t surprise me at all to see that kind of a gender gap.
I think on the side of men there’s a lack of understanding on a lot of these issues.
They aren’t the primary caretakers nearly as often as women are. They aren’t the primary caretakers of their parents, they aren’t the primary caretakers of the kids, if you see single parents, overwhelmingly they’re going to be single moms.
You also see that men at far, far smaller numbers experience sexual assault.
On Fall-Out from the Supreme Court Hearings
What’s been the effect of Kavanaugh? The thing that’s been the most discouraging thing for me with this whole Kavanaugh thing is that I honestly believe, I’ve had conversations about this with my dad, and with other men that I really respect, and who I would expect to get it more, who just don’t. You have to break down so much that they’re not getting about your experience. And the only thing you can do is by sharing your own experience.
Which you did (Hill recently revealed on social media that she had been a victim of sexual assault). Me saying to my dad, “Dad, this is what happened to me. And I never reported it – and here’s why.” And it could have been 30 years later and the only reason I reported it was because he’s in consideration to be on the Supreme fucking Court. You know what I mean? It’s something we have to be having so many more conversations about.
On Millennial Women
Are we getting anywhere on the #metoo issue? I think the way we’re getting somewhere is the younger generation of women is getting it.
Are they gonna’ vote? Yeah, they’re gonna’ vote. I don’t think we’re going to see all of them vote but we’ve got a better chance now than we ever had, with the Kavanaugh stuff. I think our generation, at least the women I talk to, and when I say our generation I’m kind of referring to 40-ish women to all the way down, I just think that we’ve been brought up enough in believing that women should be equal, but then to see when that doesn’t match up there’s this…cognitive dissonance that really creates a problem for you.
And to see that we have so far to go, that certainly was true with Trump getting elected.
What I thought was. my country, and my reality as a woman, the possibility of a woman becoming president and of someone this qualified (Hillary Clinton) and then she’s shut down by someone who I thought was a joke, who millions of Americans thought was a joke, and who’s a misogynist, a borderline rapist.
And he’s the President of the United States. And so I think that’s one of the reasons why you saw so many women step up after 2016.
How is this all playing specifically in your race? I think it’s actually been politically risky for me to be doing this, but I could not stay quiet. I’m a survivor of sexual assault and I’m, like, ‘no – I’m talking about this and I’m being loud about it, I don’t care.’
I took a gamble and I think it’s paying off.
On Middle-Aged Democratic Women
One of the things you talked about on the Vice News series (a three-part series on the Hill campaign produced by HBO) was the difficulty you had with women in a Democratic primary. How so? So we’re still seeing huge numbers of women that made it through the primaries not as many as I would have liked, but certainly more than any other year and especially in these key races.
Fifty-one percent of the red to blue seats on the DCCC list are women candidates, which is a total historic first. But I think it put into perspective how many challenges there still are for women as candidates that men just don’t have to deal with
And one of those is that there is still a bias even among women that are hard on other women. And that see male figures as more closer aligned with their perceptions of authority as a politician. So the hardest group of voters for me to break through with in the primary were Democratic women over 50. (Hill’s primary opponent, Bryan Caforio, a fellow Democrat) was winning in the last poll leading up to the election, he was winning Democratic women over 50 by over 20 points.
So I don’t know if that’s me, if that’s unique to me in some ways because I’m young and older women have a harder time with me as a younger candidate or if it’s something that is part of the trends at large.
On Her Background
What was the point when you decided to get into politics?
I wasn’t planning on going into politics at all – I was planning on becoming a nurse, like my mom and both of my grandmothers. I had several different experiences, including a young man coming in with multiple gunshot wounds when I was working (as a volunteer) in the ER, who died while I was holding his hand.
I was talking to his sister about how he’d bounced around the foster care system and their mom was a drug addict and he was a good kid who got in with the wrong crowd, it wasn’t supposed to end up like this and she had no one else left in the world.
And that was a moment when I realized that it’s not necessarily the health care issues directly that land people in the ER, but social ones and that’s what I wanted to work on. So I shifted directions, transferred schools (around 2005)…
Then I got the opportunity with PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) went there in January of 2010, helped the organization grow from about a $5 million a year organization. with about 75 staff just in L.A., to a $50 million a year organization with 400 staff working all across California, including here in Santa Barbara where we took over Casa Esperanza. And literally helping thousands of individuals, veterans and families move off the streets every single year.
So through that work, also making a huge impact on a one-on-one, on an individualized basis.
On Trump’s Election
But none of that had anything to do with running for office. So then in 2016 we started working on this (L.A. city) ballot measure called Prop. HHH. We had taken years to build the political will, it was a historic initiative, $1.2 billion to provide housing for people experiencing homelessness and we passed it with a historic margin of victory in November of 2016, almost 80 percent of the vote.
It was a huge deal but instead of being able to celebrate, the next day everyone was in my office, crying, saying what does this mean for us, what are we going to do, we’ve got Donald Trump as President and a Republican-held House and Senate that’s made it perfectly clear that their first priorities are to completely gut the very programs that make it possible for our organizations and the people we serve to survive.
So I didn’t have a good answer for those people, except to say that we have to double down on local efforts to get local funding and we started working on getting a corresponding initiative onto the county ballot called Measure H. We did that, got it onto the March 2017 ballot, a special election.
On Becoming A Candidate
So how did you become a candidate? In between I ended up finding out that my district, where I’d spent my entire life, the 25th, was one of the key districts to be able to flip the House.
Funny story – I decided I wanted to get involved in a congressional race, I have to do something, wanted to find out my closest swing district, thinking that the district that I lived was totally conservative, there was no way that it was ever going to flip, that it was ever going to change.
So I plugged in my zip code on a site called “Swing Left” and then I found out that my district was actually one of the key ones and I was very excited and I said, ‘oh my gosh, this is so cool, I’ll be able to flip my own district and then I said, okay, great who’s running and there was no one running yet.
Then I started asking around about who’s running and no one knew anyone who was running, but they said the most likely person to run is the guy who ran the last time, Bryan (Caforio). And I knew from watching that election that he’s just not the kind of person who can win in our district against Steve Knight.
He’s from out of the district, he moved there, he’s a lawyer, I just thought his message was totally wrong in trying to appeal to people from our community and so I’m complaining about all this, saying “we need someone who can talk to cops and firefighters and nurses and teachers and who gets it.”
We’re one of those places that feels pretty distinctly like it’s got it’s own culture and so as I complain about this, one of my friends who worked in county government said, “you’re complaining about a lot of this, why don’t you run?”
And I laughed at first and then I thought about it a lot more and then I said “well, my dad is a police officer” – we’ve got the highest number of law enforcement professionals in our district than any where across the country
Your father votes Republican. He always has, until now (laughs).
My mom’s a nurse, we have a huge number of nurses, every generation of my family served in the military going back to the revolutionary war. We have the second highest number of veterans living in our district than anywhere across the country
And Steve Knight the biggest things he’s got going for him are that he’s a cop and a veteran and literally his signs say, ‘Law Enforcement/Veteran’ and so I can take those away from him.
And so I have experience working on policy, I have experience running a large organization and frankly I think I have a message that will resonate with people no matter what party they come from in this district.
And we started to get it all ready in case we passed (Measure H) and the next day, and part of the reason we did it this way, was because March 7 was the election and March 8 was International Women’s Day.
So it was a strategic time to announce.
On Her Opponent
What are the criteria of choice in this campaign – what are the three biggest differences between you and Steve Knight? The first is he has a track record of basically selling out – to his party, to Donald Trump, to big corporations. So over and over again its very clear that his loyalty lies with who makes it possible for him to get re-elected. And that’s not the voters, that’s the people who fund his campaign. So that’s one.
I think the other is basically being honest and being someone you can actually hear the words come out of his mouth and believe them. Steve Knight will say one thing and then totally do another and he just has no problem with that, it’s the strangest thing.
What’s an example? On health care, he voted nine times to repeal the (Obama’s Affordable Care Act), he voted four times for (Trump’s American Health Care Act) and now he’s saying he’s totally in favor of making sure people with pre-existing conditions can get health care.
Are you for Medicare for All? I’m for universal health care and I think that we can create a path to Medicare for all. But it’s a path and a transition.
On 25th CD Voters
What are voters telling you is the most important issue to them? The closer we get to the election — we hear a lot about health care, we hear a lot about affordable housing, certainly we hear about immigration and other things like that.
But the number one thing we hear about from voters is just disenchantment with the political system as a whole. Just a lack of belief or trust in politicians and a concern, a belief, a knowledge even that the partisanship squabbling is getting nothing done and so we have just completely ineffectual system of leaders who don’t care about you and also can’t anything done.
Is it corruption? It’s corruption, it’s the lack of representation about the things that they care about. It’s watching the frickin’ circus, you know what I mean, not getting anything done. And that’s what leads to voter apathy, right?
That’s why people don’t feel that their vote counts, or that they don’t have a voice, because they just see, for lack of a better word, the shit show. It’s just a total mess and they need to find something they can really believe in and that’s what we’re trying to give them with this campaign.
Our campaign message is the opposite of that. We’re saying “yes the system is broken” – we have to send people there who have our backs, who understand what we’re going through and who are not going to sell out to the highest bidder, who are going to be effective, who are going to work on these problems.
But how can bipartisanship work at a time of such tribal politics? I think our community is an example of one where, some people are incredibly tribal, right? On either side, you’re going to have some that you’re never gonna’ get past. But there’s also a big chunk of people in the middle, a ton of independents, a ton of people who could be registered one way or another, but they’ll say that, “Well, I don’t vote based on that, I vote based on the person,” or they’ll forget even what they’re registered as.
There’s actually a good chunk of independent voters in our districts. I think districts like ours, and so many other purple districts like ours across the country, we have a way of finding that middle. And if we can find that and communicate effectively to it, and kind of balance it as we legislate, then we should be able to find it across the country.
On Gun Control
Do you support a federal ban on assault weapons? I do, yeah. The way you define them matters. I’m not someone who supports a federal ban on automatic weapons, and I think that’s one of the things that people can get caught up in, because if you call it “auto” it brings into semi-automatic and semi-automatic is like most handguns. Anyway, that’s just in the weeds, but yes.
High capacity magazines? I definitely support a ban on them. The simplest way of thinking about my gun policies is that what we have in California should be nationalized.
On immigration, do you favor abolishing ICE? No.
Do you favor a path to citizenship for people who are here illegally? Yes.
Separation of families at the border? Terrible.
What would you do about it? I think a few things. One, we need to have a legal system in place that is actually dealing with that quickly. You can’t have these long delays for families that are seeking asylum.
What it really boils down to is these are people who are looking for asylum and we need to find ways for them to, they can have vouchers, or they have to show up for court dates. And it’s not easy, it’s not something there’s a going to be a simple solution for, but the solution can’t be separating them, and it can’t be warehousing them in what amounts to internment camps.
Would you vote against funding for building a wall? The whole concept of a wall is… there’s just never going to be a wall, a unified wall. I would vote in favor of increased funding for border security if it meant we’d be able to get real solutions around other immigration issues including for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), for TPS (Temporary Protected Status) recipients, for people who have been living here and working here for years and who want to be able to do so legally.
My compromise would be funding more increased border security and exactly what that border security looks like is up for discussion.
On Inside Baseball
There was a lot of commentary about why you didn’t attend an event (last month) with President Obama, along with other red-to-blue candidates? . Yeah well, I don’t think Obama was too offended. But the people who, if I‘d switched it the other way around, and cancelled on the people who’d given up their day to go to this labor picnic (at which she spoke) then it would have been horrible.
Would being with Obama have hurt you in your district? I don’t think it would have hurt me, but I do think that what I did instead was more important.
And we did the same thing with (former Vice President Joe) Biden. Biden visited and I was the only candidate who didn’t go because I had a thing for victims of sexual assault and I was not about to miss that.
My thing is just, I’m sure other candidates might have different priorities but like, I appreciate you guys, but if you really want to visit me, then you’ve got to come up here.
On Her Message
What’s your 30-second elevator message? Hi I’m Katie Hill, I’m running for congress. Look, I’d like to ask you a lot of questions about the issues that you care about the most.
But what I want you to know about me is I’m someone who grew up here.
My dad’s a cop, my mom’s a nurse, I went to all local schools, spent my whole life here. I spent my career working to end homelessness for individuals, families and communities and I was not planning on becoming a politician.
But I know we’ve got major problems we’ve got to fix and the people who we’ve sent to Washington aren’t doing it because they’ve sold out to huge corporations and special interests and partisan politics and all that has to change.
And I believe that we, as the people of this community have the power to change that, but only if we change who we send to Washington and I want to be your voice.
On Authenticity and Being A Candidate
You said repeatedly in the Vice series that, as a candidate you feel “like an asshole.” You don’t seem like an asshole. (Laughs) When I say that, I mainly mean a couple things.
One is, like to my family, to the people I care about the most. Those are the first things to go, those are the first things you have to sacrifice because you’re too busy, like you’re really saying to the people that you love, “sorry this is more important.”
You know, from a utilitarian standpoint it is, right? Like (laughs) the fate of our democracy actually depends on this. But it still sucks to say to your mom or your sister, “I can’t be there for you because I’m doing this.” Or to not call your friends back or in some cases not respond to their text messages because you don’t get it or forget it. So that’s the main thing.
And I think in other ways, it’s like turning down these events that people really, really want you to be at and having to say sorry.
Is the feeling about being an asshole at all connected to concern about being authentic as a political candidate? I went into this with the thought that it’s a false assumption that you can’t be authentic as a candidate.
Because I think most human beings know that most human beings aren’t perfect, so who are you really looking for in someone who’s going to represent you? This false idea of a politician or someone who is actually like you? And I think we’ve actually screwed that up for a long time, so I’m happy this campaign has given me the opportunity to actually show other people if they’re running for office they can be this way too.