On the eve of the June 3rd California primary, social work professor and congressional hopeful, Kristie Holmes, will walk away from her first electoral contest a winner regardless of the outcome. “I got in the race to win. I want to win so badly because I believe it would change things,” she says. “Five years out there’s going to be a shift in how our political system works. Even if we cannot get the money out of politics, people are tired of the status quo. There’s a reason Congress had a five percent approval rate. I feel people will become motivated to make changes.”
If you have been following her quest to replace retiring Rep. Henry Waxman as the representative of California’s 33rd Congressional District, you know it’s been an uphill battle from the start. The 33rd CD is a silk stocking district containing affluent communities such as Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Marina Del Ray, and the resort city of Santa Monica. The median income for the district with a population of 701,000 is $92,111 and the median value for a house is $911,000. Among residents 25 years old and older, 96 percent has a high school diploma and 61 percent has a bachelor degree.
The 33rd CD is a Democratic stronghold with 43.6 percent of registered voters identifying as Democrats, 27.2 percent identifying as Republicans and 18.3 percent with no party preference. The remaining voters identify as members of the Green Party, Libertarian or other smaller parties. California has open primaries where Democrats, Republicans and other candidates vie for a chance to run in the general election. The top two vote getters will be on the ballot in the fall. In the 2012 elections, President Barack Obama received 60.6 percent of the vote. Waxman won the primary in 2012 with 54 percent of the vote. He is retiring after 40 years in the House of Representatives.
Money matters in the 33rd District primary. Kristie Holmes found that out early and it has been an issue that dominated the race throughout. “Money is a determining factor in the primary race,” Kristie acknowledged in our phone conversation last week. “The frontrunners and a few other candidates have spent a great deal of their time raising money. One candidate, David Kanuth, a lawyer raised almost a million dollars. I am anxious to compare our numbers. I want to see what a million dollars buys you.”
“Another candidate, James Graf, loaned himself a million dollars to enter the primary only to drop out of the race after spending $100,000 for polling that showed (frontrunners) Wendy Gruel and Ted Lieu equally sharing about 40 percent of the vote. He and his team decided no amount of money could make up the difference.” I checked his website and his statement says he could no longer in good faith raise money from others to compete in what he saw as a losing effort. Of the 25 candidates officially on the ballot, about 14 to 16 are left in the race leading up to Tuesday’s primary.
“Money is necessary but it should not be the end all, be all,” Kristie says. “The bottom line is getting people out to the polls to vote. I’d like to see more money devoted to nonpartisan efforts to get people to vote. Maybe we should adopt the Australian system that makes it a civic obligation to vote. They permit online registration in California. Maybe the next step is online voting.” It seems these days more efforts are being made to discourage Americans from voting in some states with the adoption of voter ID laws and restrictions on voting hours.
I asked Kristie if in hindsight she would do it over again and she says she would. “We need more women in Congress. We need more young people involved in politics. The few young people who show up to our events come flying up to me afterwards and tell me how much they loved what I said and that if more young people would vote, I’d win in a landslide. But too many are jaded. They believe the system is corrupt.”
She has learned that running for office is not for the faint of heart. “I am shocked by how often the media tries to sensationalize candidates’ position,” she says. “It disturbs me how candidates will dig up dirt on their opponents if they perceive them as a particular threat. On the other hand, one of the more rewarding aspects of my experience is getting to know the other candidates. They are really good people operating in the rough and tough world of politics.”
Kristie will not retreat back to the ivory halls of academia should she lose Tuesday’s vote. She will continue teaching and encouraging her students and others to be politically active. “I believe I can be a resource to other social workers running for office,” she says. “There is no other way to get the education I’ve gotten about politics other than being involved.” That is why CRISP is committed to expanding opportunities for social work students to fulfill their field placements in congressional offices. Our government may be dysfunctional in many ways, but it’s all we got and we can change it. Like Kristie Holmes—you gotta believe.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Desert Review