A collection of photos submitted by women running for office this year as part of our series, "The Long Run." Images courtesy of candidates
A collection of photos submitted by women running for office this year as part of our series, "The Long Run." (Images courtesy of candidates)

'Worth the Fight': Meet the California Women Running for the First Time

'Worth the Fight': Meet the California Women Running for the First Time

3 min

Record numbers of women have been energized to get involved in politics since the 2016 presidential election. Be it running for office, supporting a candidate or marching for a cause, women are flooding the political scene.

As the 2018 midterms approached, KQED decided to help tell those women’s stories and asked our audience to join us in this endeavor, for a project we're calling, “The Long Run.”

We posed the question,"Tell Us: Know a Woman Running for Office?, published a survey -- that we shared out broadly across many groups and political affiliations -- and we got nearly 50 responses.

We heard from women from across California -- from Corona to Orange, Hayward to Folsom, Rocklin to Morro Bay. Their ranks include black, Latina and Afghan-American women, lesbians, single moms, working moms, retirees and professionals. They range in age from 18 to 62.

They're running for city councils, school boards, the state assembly, community services district boards, mayor and more. And while there were some women making their second bid (or more) for office, most of those who responded were making their inaugural run.

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Candidates cited a variety of challenges along the way -- fundraising, time management, name recognition, juggling family and the campaign, networking, running against an incumbent, finding volunteers, landing endorsements, “dialing in the messaging,” political relationships and dealing with the "’good ol' boys’ network of politics.”

But one thing they all had in common: Enthusiasm. Here's a sampling of what they had to say:

Emeryville, Alameda County

Sarah Nguyen, 44, retired elementary school teacher
Running for: Emery Unified School Board
First run for political office

Sarah Nguyen, candidate for Emery Unified School Board.
Sarah Nguyen, candidate for Emery Unified School Board. (Sarah Nguyen)

Seeing increased violence in schools across the country has been one highly motivating, and also deeply painful, factor in my decision to become a school board candidate. As a classroom teacher my observations of school violence include harm which is much more subtle. Last year, for example, there was a student who was injured on the playground before school. I took the student to the office to help them clean up, and they did not want me to cover their wounds with adhesive bandages. I came to find out that they had concerns--based on previous experiences at our school--that other students would tease them about the color of the bandages being very notably different than the color of their skin. By the end of the year, we had four different colors of bandages in our classroom. Seeing the needs that existed around me in school every day, and hearing about them first-hand from my own two children at the dinner table, gave me no choice but to become more involved as an advocate for students and families.

Hayward, Alameda County

Aisha Wahab, 30s, Business IT consultant
Running for: Hayward City Council
First run for political office

Candidate Aisha Wahab (Courtesy of Aisha Wahab, photo by Jack Owicki)

I'm a millennial. I'm a woman of color. I'm an organizer. I'm an Afghan-American. I grew up in foster care and know what it means to have community support. Today, I see that being a big reason to run for office. Housing prices have skyrocketed, debts are increasing and working-class families like mine are struggling each month. I have stated "if you don't see the woman, be the woman," so I'm stepping up and seeing what I can do to make change.

Oakland, Alameda County

Pamela Harris, 47, Mother, wife, nonprofit finance professional
Running for: Oakland City Council, District 4
First run for political office

Candidate Pamela Harris (Courtesy of Pamela Harris)

I was walking to work one day in downtown Oakland and came across the body of a dead homeless man. It shook me deeply. I felt responsible for the man's death. I could not shake the feeling. I decided to run for office because I feel that it is a moral imperative for us to improve our communities in any way that we can.

I have always been of service in my community in the nonprofit sector. I got involved in more overt political activity after the last election because I felt that the National Democratic Party took my vote as an African-American woman for granted.

I would be the first openly gay African-American councilperson in Oakland.

Nayeli Maxson, Executive Director, The Alliance for Community Development
Running for: Oakland City Council, District 4
First run for political office

From left: Nayeli Maxson, Betty Valencia and Stacey Ashlund (Images courtesy of candidates)

I’ve seen that Oakland is full of problem solvers and our community is incredibly innovative. But when people bring solutions to City Hall, they are met with a wall of inaction, divisiveness and a mindset of scarcity. I’m running to transform local government into a responsive resource for our community.

I want to transform community engagement and uplift solutions to the civic problems we face.

Concord, Contra Costa County

Candidate Rebecca Barrett (Courtesy of Rebecca Barrett)

Rebecca Barrett, 29, Development director/education policy advocate
Running for: Contra Costa Community College Board, Ward 3
First run for political office

I was in a campaign office on Election Night 2016 with my interns: immigrants, LBGT, college students, working moms, teenagers... and when the national results came in they just started crying. I still spend a lot of time with those interns. In some ways, I want to show them, by example, that we can and must keep working to make our bit of the world a better place.

Lafayette, Contra Costa County

Claire Chiara (Courtesy of Claire Chiara)

Claire Chiara, 24, Consultant, Workforce of the Future @ Bay Area Council
Ran and lost in 2016 for: State Assembly, District 15 (her first run for political office)

No one, NO ONE, should run for office unopposed! The idea that voters would go to the polling booth and see ONE name on the ballot was so disheartening to me that I realized I needed to step up and offer the voters of my district a choice. They didn't choose me, but they still had a choice.

Orinda, Contra Costa County

Rebecca Bauer-Kahan
Running for: California State Assembly, District 16
First run for political office

As the mother of three young children, it has been especially challenging balancing my family -- which always remain a priority -- and the campaign. I am a hard-working, focused person and it has been difficult learning how to manage the long, irregular hours of a campaign with the needs of my family. However, I am lucky to have a supportive partner in my husband, as well as an incredibly supportive network of friends and family who have allowed me to pursue this effort. There are very few mothers of young children in public office, largely because of this challenge, and I feel that it’s vital that our voice is represented in Sacramento.

Cameron Park, El Dorado County

Samantha Parcher, 28, High school english teacher
Running for: Cameron Park Community Services District Director
First run for political office

Candidate Samantha Parcher (Courtesy of Samantha Parcher)

There have been huge attacks on youth recreation in [Cameron Park] with campaigns against our local skate park and pool. I want to be a voice for the young families and children in our town.

I felt that after the 2016 election, being educated in politics wasn't enough. I needed to become more involved. In June of 2017, I became pregnant. This doubly motivated me to become involved because I want to do everything I could to make the country a place I would be proud to have my daughter grow up.

Shingle Springs, El Dorado County

Janelle Horne, 38, Mortgage loan officer
Running for: El Dorado County Recorder-Clerk
First run for political office

I was the unknown candidate running against two well-known, male, political candidates in the primary. A group loosely referred to as "The Good Ol' Boys Club" intended to place one of the "groomed" candidates in that office. I upended those plans when I finished as the front-runner. I believe this shows that the public is more interested in someone with knowledge, experience and no political agenda. It's about public service, not politics.

Fresno, Fresno County

Aileen M. Rizo, 43, Research associate/professor in math education
Running for: California State Assembly, District 23
First run for political office

Candidate Aileen M. Rizo (Courtesy of Aileen M. Rizo)

In 2012, I began a fight for pay equity and became an advocate for the economic security of women in our state, working with legislators and advocates to pass some of the strongest pay equity bills in the nation. I believe that when we pay women fairly, we make families stronger and communities stronger.

The issues that affect the growing diverse people in our district such as workers rights, education and safe and healthy environments are currently being ignored. As a mother of three children I want to know that they will grow up in a place where they are treated equally, where they can get a quality education and where they can be healthy. Change can happen if we stand together.

Bakersfield, Kern County

Candidate Whitney Weddell (Courtesy of Whitney Weddell)

Whitney Weddell, 53, High school teacher
Running for: Kern County Supervisor
First run for political office

It is time to “be the change I wish to see in the world.” I tell my students that all the time; it’s time I listen to it myself.

When President Trump was elected, I realized that I had been somewhat complacent about the influence of the alt-right in our society. I felt kicked, and my complacency vanished.

Sausalito, Marin County

Lisa Bennett, 56, Retired certified public accountant
Stepped up activism: Started an Indivisible group, an ACLU People Power Group, and a Racial Justice organization since November 2016.
(Not running for political office)

The resistance is 65 to 85 percent female. None of us knew each other before the 2016 election. We're just taking it upon ourselves to fix this. [We're doing it in] fear that we'd lose everything we value, that all the progress we've made in the last 50 years would be wiped out.

Seaside, Monterey County

Kayla Jones, 25, City council member
Running for: Seaside mayor
This is not her first run for office

Candidate Kayla Jones (Courtesy of Kayla Jones)

When Bernie [Sanders] lost the nomination, he put out a call for people who share his philosophies to run for office. When he put that call out, I was asked to run for the City Council. I was only 22 at the time and knew it would be an uphill battle, but I felt a sense of obligation after his loss, and when Trump won. I feel that the millennial political revolution is upon us and my age group just needs to get out there and run. I hope my success and visibility encourages others like me: young mothers, queer people, black and Arab people, millennials, etc, to run for office.

Napa, Napa County

Liz Alessio, 52, Queen of the Valley Hospital outreach
Running for: Napa City Council
First run for political office

Candidate Liz Alessio (Courtesy of Liz Alessio)

I could not turn my back on an opportunity to serve the town and people I love. What if I could help the 40 percent of families in Napa who don't make a sustainable income? What if I could help bring more affordable housing, so residents can live here and work here and not be forced to move from a community they love? Or [create] a pathway for those who wish to join our community, bringing their gifts and talents? There are many challenging issues facing Napa, like in most cities in California. What if I can make a difference and empower others to do the same?

Mary Luros, 35, Attorney
Running for: Napa City Council
Second run for political office (same post)

Candidate Mary Luros (Courtesy of Mary Luros)

I’m running because I am honestly concerned about the future of Napa. People can’t afford to live here anymore, stores are closing because they can’t afford the rent and everything seems to be catered for tourists over our own community members. As a mom of a toddler and a baby, I am concerned about my kids’ future and I have a vision for what Napa could be. I am committed to serving our community, especially our working families.

Nov. 6 will be one of the most important elections our city has ever had. Facing our most critical challenges over the next few years requires leaders who know how to engage the community and to incorporate healthy goals into our planning.

Saint Helena, Napa County

Anna Chouteau, 40, Community volunteer and organizer & stay at home mom
Running for: Saint Helena City Council
First run for political office

I realized with the phone bank I first ran, that something would feel overwhelming at first but then I could make a difference if I pushed through and made it happen. From then on, when things came up if there was any way I could do it, I would. I want more women to be in politics and feel now is the time that being a woman in a leadership role can look and be different than it has been in the past.

Orange, Orange County

Beatriz "Betty" Valencia, 47, Vice president operations, auto finance
Running for: Orange City Council
First run for political office

After the 2016 election, I knew something changed for me. I am Mexican, an immigrant. I am a woman. I am gay. All the identities are under attack. If not me, then who? If not now, then when?

On April 10th, 2018, our city council brought forth a resolution, 11074, which basically was used as a symbolic stance with the current administration. At that time, the administration was taking California to Court against SB54. The resolution passed and we were shocked and disappointed. At 11:33 p.m. that same night, I decided to run for City Council. I looked at the entire city council and said, "You are in my seat". I just felt if I was in one of those seats, I could have made a difference.

Rocklin, Placer County

Candidate Jackie Smith (Courtesy of Jackie Smith)

Jackie Smith, 62
Running for: State Assembly 6th District
First run for political office

We must stand up to those that are tearing down things that matter!

One of the biggest challenges? Being a woman running against an incumbent with deep corporate funding. I have over 300 small donations and union support. It’s daunting but worth the fight.

Corona, Riverside County

Julia Peacock, 49, Public school teacher
Running for: U.S. House of Representatives, District 42
First run for political office

On November 9th, 2016 I walked into my high school classroom and realized voting had never been enough. As a white woman, I had no idea of the trauma this presidency would cause my students of color; many of them had been up all night wondering what would happen to them and to their families if Trump's promise to increase ICE raids came true (eventually it did, and many of our parents have been deported, leaving their children with no one and nowhere to go). I realized that I had to do more. Yes, I'd always worked in low-income, diverse schools. Yes, I'd raised my children to be open-minded and to see and celebrate color and culture. But it just wasn't enough.

Riverside, Riverside County

Erin Edwards, 34, Communications for global women’s rights
Running for: Riverside City Council, Ward 1
First run for political office

There are no women on Riverside's City Council. Not a single one. When I moved to Riverside four years ago, I was shocked to discover that our council was entirely comprised of older men -- all white but one. This is not the world I was raised to live in and it's not the world in which I will raise my 1-year old daughter. People have already said to me, "You have such a little baby! Why would you run for city council?" I say to them, "Who do you think I'm doing it for?"

Elk Grove, Sacramento County

Candidate Jaclyn Moreno (Courtesy of Jaclyn Moreno)

Jaclyn Moreno, 37, School psychologist
Running for: Cosumnes Community Services District Board
First run for political office

I couldn't stand by and do nothing while having two girls at home and a president who openly admits to violating women. I want to lead by example.

Fair Oaks, Sacramento County

Myel Jenkins, 47, Manager, California School Boards Association
Running for: San Juan Unified School Board
First run for political office

I had thought of running for some time [...] but felt that I wasn't qualified. After the 2016 election, I realized that I could run, that I am qualified and I have something to bring.

There are several black women in Sacramento County running for office. Not only are we a group of women running for office, but a group of black women looking for elected office.

Folsom, Sacramento County

Jaya Badiga, 44, Attorney
Running for: Folsom Cordova Unified School District School Board
Ran for Folsom City Council in 2010 and lost

I first ran in 2010 for Folsom City Council. I lost, placed 7 out of 7 candidates. This is my first run for school board at the Folsom Cordova Unified School District. Once I heard that the only female candidate dropped out in May of this year, I threw my hat into the ring. I want others to know that they can do it and I hope to set an example.

Our voices are being drowned out by extremist positions on both sides. Most of us have common opinions and beliefs, a common value system, however, this is getting eroded and civil debate and discussion is on the wane.

Sacramento, Sacramento County

Maia Schneider, 56, Executive director, business development
Stepped up activism, not running for political office (served on Truckee Town Council from 1997-2002)

Ways she has become politically involved: Hosted a Women’s March huddle at home; makes phone calls and sends emails to elected officials; plans to volunteer for local/state campaigns in 2018 and national campaigns in 2020.

I really would like to connect with women running for local office to encourage them and share my experience in public office. If there's a line to pursue about passing along village wisdom, I'd love to connect with the next generation.

San Francisco, San Francisco County

Christine Johnson, 36, former San Francisco Planning Commissioner and former San Francisco Director of SPUR (an urban policy think tank)
Running for: San Francisco County Supervisor, District 6
First run for political office

Candidate Christine Johnson (Courtesy of Christine Johnson)

I felt my work was an important contribution to the well-being of San Francisco and there was no need to run for office or participate in civil disobedience. But after 2016 (which is incidentally the year my son was born), I realized standing with the masses [...] was not only impactful, but the right thing to do. I've decided to run for office, but I've also attended the Women's March and took my son to a march to end family separation at the border.

Lex Leifheit, 42
Running for: San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education
First run for political office

Candidate Lex Leifheit (Courtesy of Lex Leifheit)

Two things happened last year that made me step up. First, my close friend Ebony McKinney passed away unexpectedly. She was someone who had a profound impact on me and many others and was always challenging herself to do more for those around her. Second, my son started public school and we experienced a mass exodus of friends we had built relationships with over 10 years. So we had the discordant experience of loving our public school and seeing many people leave without even giving it a chance… because they’ve spent five years hearing negative things about our schools and very little positive. As a mom of two young boys, I worry what San Francisco will be like in 10 or 20 years if we allow our education system to continue as divided as it is today.

Candidate Schuyler Hudak (Courtesy of Schuyler Hudak)

Schuyler Hudak, 35, Startup entrepreneur
Running for San Francisco Board of Supervisors, District 2
First run for political office

In a city where our citizens are inventing the future of the way the world will work, our politicians continue to neglect problems that are solvable. In a city with an $11 billion dollar budget, there isn’t a lack of resources, there’s a lack of ideas, will, and leadership. It’s time for a new generation of leaders in San Francisco to lead the Bay Area into the future.

Sonja Trauss, 36, Executive Director of California Renters Legal Advocacy & Education Fund
Running for: San Francisco Board of Supervisors, District 6
First run for political office

Because San Francisco needs a strong pro-housing voice at City Hall. Homelessness and open air drug use are solvable problems but our current supervisor hasn’t made it a priority.

Candidate Dawn Addis (Courtesy of Dawn Addis)

Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo

Dawn Addis, 46
Running for: Morro Bay City Council
First run for political office

I want to create a prosperous future that protects and promotes all that we love about Morro Bay. Local activism and government affects people’s lives every day.

San Carlos, San Mateo County

Nilu Jenks, 39, Program coordinator
Stepped up activism; not running for political office
Way she has become politically involved: Helped to organize the San Mateo County gun buyback

I was especially upset by how many people simply didn’t vote in 2016. I really wanted to find a way to show people why participation matters, and how if you think you don’t have power and influence, you cement that belief in truth by not voting.

In my increased involvement, I’ve learned that most city council and school board positions are essentially volunteer positions. By making these heavy time requirement positions virtually unpaid, we close these opportunities to most people.

Marni Rubin, 48, Full-time volunteer
Stepped up activism; not running for political office
Way she has become politically involved: Working as a house party coordinator for a local city council candidate

I also want to show [my 11-year-old daughter], and prove to myself, that you can’t sit on the sidelines. If you want to see change, you must be the change you want to see in this world, and help the leaders you want to see become the people who represent you. I never realized it as powerfully before, but in a democracy, your vote is your voice, and you have to use it wisely.

Campbell, Santa Clara County

Anne Souza, 53, Business manager
Running for: Campbell City Council
First run for political office

From left: Anne Souza, Sonja Trauss and Myel Jenkins (Images courtesy of candidates)

We need more women in office. The time is now. I have been inspired by Barbara Boxer, Anna Eshoo, and Diane Feinstein. I have heard them all speak. I heard the message. We need more women in office.

Palo Alto, Santa Clara County

Stacey Ashlund, 55, User experience consultant
Running for: Palo Alto Board of Education
First run for political office

Sadly these days I've felt the need to protest more. I prefer to be able to work for change, rather than just protest against the inappropriate actions of our government -- but if that is what it takes, I'll do that too.

I am running to advocate that all children need to be supported and empowered equally through education, and to connect our community towards this goal.

Elizabeth Beheler, 42, Volunteer
Stepped up activism; not running for political office
Way she has become politically involved: Volunteering with close the gap (a campaign to increase the number of progressive women serving in the California Legislature).

Candidate Elizabeth Beheler (Courtesy of Elizabeth Beheler)

Whenever there was a small task to be done that I felt I could do, I volunteered my efforts to whoever was in charge of doing it. It turns out there’s a lot I can do, which is good because there’s a lot to be done. I urge you to consider giving whatever time and skills you have to an organization that needs you. Whatever you have, bring it to the table, and we’ll find a seat for you.

San Jose, Santa Clara County

Pam Foley, 59, CEO of Foley Mortgage, San Jose Unified School District Board Member (elected four times)
Running for San Jose City Council, District 9

I challenged my recent college graduated daughter to follow her dream. This is my lifelong dream. How can I encourage her to follow her passion if I do not have the courage to follow mine?

Aptos, Santa Cruz County

Jennifer Holm, 45, Registered nurse
Running for: Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees, Area VII
First run for political office

Candidate Jennifer Holm (Courtesy of Jennifer Holm)

I’m a nurse, and I see so many ways in which education affects health. I see running for school board as a natural extension of my ethical responsibility for patient advocacy. Supporting students and schools today may help tomorrow’s patients and their families.

The more I get involved, the more I realize just how important politics are at all levels. 2016 only heightened a growing awareness that we must be active and engaged for our system of government to truly represent our communities.

Kimberly De Serpa, 51, Medical Social Worker and Pajaro Valley Unified School District trustee
Running for: Pajaro Valley Unified School District, Trustee-Area 1
This is her third run for political office. She is the incumbent.

Candidate Kimberly De Serpa (Courtesy of Kimberly De Serpa)

I would like to run for a different office eventually but every position is being held currently by very competent and smart white men. There’s no other position available unless I ran against them -- which would likely spell political suicide. Additionally, I feel that I still have important issues to support in my school board position.

Capitola, Santa Cruz County

Yvette Brooks, 34, Executive assistant and MIS technician
Running for: Capitola City Council
First run for political office

From left: Yvette Brooks, Jaya Badiga and Anna Chouteau (Images courtesy of candidates)

This is a time for working mothers to participate, get involved and be heard. I believe my voice should have a place at the table when decisions regarding my city are made. Most importantly, as a third generation Latina -- the first person to graduate from college in my family -- I am proud to show my daughter you can do it all and women are important.

Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County

Candidate Cynthia Hawthorne (Courtesy of Cynthia Hawthorne)

Cynthia Hawthorne, Psychotherapist
Running for: Santa Cruz City Council
Political office held: Santa Cruz City School Board Trustee for eight years until 2014.

I am back on the campaign trail because this is a time for women trained in governance, and there are not many of us, to step up and lead our cities, counties and states forward at this very fractured time in our history.

Watsonville, Santa Cruz County

Candidate Jenni Veitch-Olson (Courtesy of Jenni Vietch-Olson)

Jenni Veitch-Olson, 38, Nonprofit fundraising manager
Ran for: Watsonville City Council, District 2 (special election June 5, lost by 27 votes). It was her first run for political office.

The biggest challenge for me was how to deal with the "good ol' boys" network of politics in a city that drastically shifted in demographics in the last 20 years. My work in Watsonville is far from finished; this was the beginning of much larger things for me.

Santa Rosa, Sonoma County

Candidate Lyndsey Burcina (Courtesy of Lyndsey Burcina)

Lyndsey Burcina, 18, Restorative justice practitioner
Running for: Santa Rosa City Schools Board of Education
First run for political office

I have been planning on running for school board since the beginning of my junior year. Once I graduated, I hit the ground running. I was prompted to do so after speaking at a school board meeting on behalf of our restorative justice team and since then I knew I wanted to be part of the team that advocates for and supports our community.

There is a lot of change to be made and I hope to be a part of that change.

Thousand Oaks, Ventura County

Jenny Fitzgerald, 37, Attorney
Running for: Conejo Valley Unified School District School Board
First run for political office

Candidate Jenny Fitzgerald (Courtesy of Jenny Fitzgerald)

I have been interested in serving my community in an elected capacity since high school, where I successfully advocated our local school board for the building of a fine arts theater and classrooms, which had been promised to local voters as part of a bond measure but nonetheless had not been included as part of our school renovations.

This experience taught me the power of community activism, and inspired me to major in political science and pursue a law degree. I have been inspired by the many other first time candidates who have decided to step off the sidelines and create change.

These answers have been edited for clarity, style and length.

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