There are seven social workers in the U.S. House of Representatives. Kristie Holmes wants to be the eighth. An adjunct associate professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, she is one of 21 candidates who will compete in the June 3rd primary to replace the venerable Henry Waxman as the Democratic candidate for California’s 33rd Congressional District. She is 39 years old with an MSW from USC and a Ph.D. in community social work.
Kristie is facing formidable hurdles including two strong opponents in Wendy Gruel who ran for mayor in Los Angeles last year and State Senator Ted Lieu. Yet, she has chosen to spend her time and money in an uphill run for Congress. Social workers should support her because we need more social workers in Congress and other legislative offices. A strong showing of support for Kristi will encourage others to run. In this day and age, policies matter, but politics perhaps more. I got the opportunity to talk to Kristie about her improbable run and why she is willing to take risks to win a seat in Congress.
How did you get the idea to run for Congress?
I was talking to friends and it occurred to me that I seem to have hit a wall when it comes to making change. It’s not happening because we’re not in the places we need to be. I said maybe I should run for Congress or something. I didn’t mean it seriously but they said it was a great idea and I should do it. Then I got a text message that Waxman was retiring and his seat was open. I have been talking to students in my class about making change for years. And with the opportunity to be at the UN and watch how organizational change is made in the world made me even more interested in how our government works. I was probably among the more apathetic social workers when it came to politics other than voting and signing petitions. I had no interest in getting involved politics.
When did you get serious about running?
We talked about the vacant House seat in my policy class and someone said we should go to the pre-endorsement conference in Norfolk. I posted it on Facebook and suggested that someone should run. So I decided to attend the conference to see what the process was like. It was confusing but I stayed and made a two-minute speech. When I went back to class there was great interest and then I had to make the decision to file as a candidate. I decided to pay the nonrefundable $1740 filing fee because I figured that’s about how much I would pay to go to a conference. Next I was told that I would have to file forty to sixty signed petitions and that they were due by 5:00 p.m. that day and had to be collected in the district in Los Angeles.
I was an hour and forty minutes from the district but discovered candidates had five additional days to file if the incumbent was not running. After I turned in the petitions I was told there was another fee of $18,940 if I wanted to have a blurb with my information as well as my name printed on the sample ballot in English and Spanish and it would cost more if I wanted the blurb printed in additional languages. It was Monday when I turned in the ballot and I had to hop a plane to New York City for a conference at the UN. While in session I got a call that only 38 out of 60 of my petitions were valid. My husband was able to get the additional signatures to the office and I was officially on the ballot.
What is your strategy for winning the primary?
I realize there is going to be an incredible of money spent on stuffing mailboxes. I suppose Ted Lieu and Wendy Gruel are going to spend a lot of money on television advertising. My idea is to mobilize younger voters who are more electronically connected, especially social workers. We can make a huge difference and that doesn’t cost much money or time. I have students and we have campus full of students. I know I have to raise money but we can do a lot with eighty to a hundred thousand dollars. I have many talented friends and supporters who are good with things like creating online videos. We do need to raise some money to do thing like targeted mailings and I have friends who are willing to help.
So are you beyond the point of no return . . . fully committed?
Even my father was not very happy about the idea at first. He was worried about the bad things that can happen in politics. But he’s come around and says he’s proud of me and that I shouldn’t jump off the moving train. My colleagues are very excited about it and want to be helpful. They are introducing me to their networks. There’s no turning back now.
What are your expectations?
I’m worried that if I start making headway in the race, my opponents will come after me. I’ve seen what’s happened in past races and it makes me nervous. I don’t want to expose my family to any grief. One of my opponents hired a very scary guy and that gives me concern. I would not want to reciprocate but the truth is I cannot afford to go there so I have to do something else. People are weary of negative politics. The one thing I can do is research and I know traditional methods of outreach like TV advertising are reaching a smaller percentage of voters. One thing that motivates me is that only eighteen percent of the members of Congress are women and there are few members under the age of fifty years old.
Do you see your candidacy as inspirational to other social workers?
That is the hope. That is truly the thing that is driving me because of the apathy I’m seeing. I want to see more social workers doing this at a younger age. I have nothing against older people but we need a variety of ages and perspectives. It’s hard to get young people to be politically active unless they see other young people involved. I am more surprised than anyone that I am doing this. It took me paying the filing fee and taking a look at the process to make me realize there is a whole other well that impacts our clients that needs to be addressed.