Congressional Hopeful Katie Hill Says She’s Running the ‘Most Millennial Campaign Ever’
Women Who Run highlights female political candidates on both sides of the aisle who are poised to change the face of local, state, and federal government for the better.
One and a half years ago, Katie Hill laughed when a friend suggested that she run for Congress to represent California’s 25th District. Now, she’s the Democratic nominee in a neck-and-neck race against the two-term, staunchly conservative incumbent Steve Knight, and she views the future as anything but a laughing matter.
“I believe we’re on the precipice of something that’s a once-in-a-lifetime political shift,” Hill says of the upcoming elections across the country this November. “This is that moment — either pushing forward in a huge way, or moving backward in a huge way. We’ve seen the clear face of the risks we’re dealing with.”
At 31 years old, Hill is one of the youngest candidates for Congress at a critical moment for young people in this country — and as a woman, at a moment that’s just as critical for the country’s women.
“People like me have felt like they don’t have a voice in politics for forever — we have to push hard, do everything we possibly can to make sure we land on the right side of history,” she said. “There’s no one else who’s going to do it for us. That’s us. The only way we make it happen is by really putting everything we’ve got into this, and showing up to vote. Frankly, the fate of our country, the world, and certainly the fate of our values — all of that lies in our hands.”
B+C: What inspired you to run for office?
Katie Hill: I wasn’t planning on going into politics. I was working on a ballot initiative here in Los Angeles called Prop HHH [the Permanent Supportive Housing Loan Program]. I’ve worked my entire career in homeless services, and it was a ballot measure to provide funds for about $1.2 billion in resources to invest in permanent housing and other solutions to homelessness. So, we had worked for years to get that on the ballot, and organizing to get it passed, and we were successful by a huge margin of victory.
But it was the same day Donald Trump won. Instead of being able to celebrate, the next day everyone was crying in my office, saying, “What does this mean for us? What are we going to do?” Around right after that, we were switching gears to focus on Measure H, which was the county-wide initiative to provide $355 million a year for 10 years for services related to homelessness. Between those two initiatives, I ended up finding that my district was key to flipping the House, and I thought, I want to get involved in some way and help whoever is going to run so I can have the right representation in my district.
And then, I ended up finding out the person who had won the nomination wasn’t able to win the House. Even though Hillary Clinton won the district by seven [percentage points], he lost by six [percentage points]. Finally, a friend said to me, “Maybe you should run,” and at first I laughed that off as a joke. But then it became more serious. And suddenly, a year and a half later, we won the primary, and I’m really excited for where we are right now.
B+C: What does a typical day on the campaign trail look like for you?
Hill: You spend a lot of time on the phone, fundraising, doing press calls — we call it “call time.” But then days are interspersed with meetings with various different stakeholders, endorsement interviews, and then we have events in the evenings — house parties, meet and greets, community events, fundraisers. You start the day at about 8 am, and you don’t get home until about 10 pm.
B+C: What are some issues you would focus on if elected?
Hill: My top three priorities are really broad, and I don’t think we should focus on one over the other. But health care, and really making sure we protect the health and safety of our communities, is so critical to me. Making sure that we get health care for everyone and people can afford it, and ultimately, working toward something like Medicare for All and doing this in a way that it’s stable and makes sense. Within that falls mental health and substance abuse treatment, which are both really crucial to me too.
Then you’ve got rebuilding the middle class, which includes addressing the incredibly high costs of housing. It also includes creating good-paying jobs, supporting unions and workers’ rights to organize, protecting Medicare and Medicaid. And the last big bucket is definitely being accountable to the people in my district, and not to corporations and special interest groups.
B+C: We’re seeing an increase in activism and political participation among young people since Parkland, and higher voter registration rates among young people. You yourself are one of the younger congressional candidates running this year. Have you seen this energy from young people reflected in your campaign?
Hill: Absolutely. We’re definitely a young group and have a ton of young people. We’ve been on Vice News, for a documentary about our campaign, and we called ourselves “the most millennial campaign ever,” and it’s true, because we really are powered by young people looking at the issues in a different way, and looking at how we run campaigns in a different way. Our volunteers and our interns are overwhelmingly young people. And on top of that, just the number of people who have gotten actively involved in politics in the past year and a half — it’s a new generation, and it’s just really exciting.
B+C: One aspect of your campaign that’s been inspiring for many is that you don’t shy from talking about your own experiences, as someone who has faced unwanted pregnancy and is openly bisexual. Could you speak to what’s empowered you to be so honest about your life experiences?
Hill: First, I think for me, as someone in a position of influence and with the ability to have a public voice, I feel it’s really important for me to show and not be afraid of these aspects of my identity and my experiences, because I think these are things that need to be normalized. I think the fact they’ve been taboo, or we haven’t talked about them enough, is exactly why we still have stigma around so many issues and experiences.
And hopefully, I’m on the front edge of more and more people being honest and true that are running for public office, and not being afraid of showing their diverse characteristics. I think the way that transforms politics is that you finally are able to get a class of representatives who reflect the people they’re supposed to be representing. So, that’s how we get to true equality.
B+C: The #OneInFour hashtag recently became popular on social media in light of the threat to abortion rights coming from the Supreme Court, as more women have risen to talk about their personal experiences. You’ve always been vocal about your experience with an unwanted pregnancy at the age of 18, which wound up ending in a miscarriage while you were deciding your options. Could you talk about your choice to share your story and your thoughts on the honesty we’re seeing from women?
Hill: I wanted to share that because that’s an experience so many women go through. Unplanned pregnancies, whether you’re young or not, are something women are just terrified of. But they also just happen. I was on birth control at the time, and it happened.
And additionally, miscarriage — speaking of that aspect of my experience — miscarriages are also something women are afraid to talk about. One in four women is going to have a miscarriage at some point. Those are two issues that need to be highlighted in women’s health and, also, need to be destigmatized.
Knowing that I was going to be running as a pro-choice candidate in an area that can be more conservative, it’s important for me to humanize the issue, and say, look, this isn’t about what you think is right or wrong. At the end of the day, the only person who can really make that decision is the woman herself, and the government has no place in that. Sharing that real, lived narrative is a lot more powerful than just trying to get into the argument of the morality of the action.
B+C: What advice do you have for the many young women aspiring to get more involved in politics or their communities?
Hill: I would say get started with an issue you care deeply about, whether it’s the environment or school safety and gun violence, or just improving your neighborhood — anything like that. And when you find a group working on that, you’ll find activists centered around that cause. Getting plugged in in that capacity, there are neighborhood councils you can visit, and find the local issues related to the cause you care about that need voices and advocates to make sure that policy — whether it’s city or state, or federal level — is reflective of the concerns of the community. Get plugged into those groups, and start from there.
There are also Democratic clubs, which are a great place to start for discovering who other people are in the community, who are like-minded, and who you should connect with to get the political landscape of everything from school board to Congress.
We really have to build the base of people who are willing and able to run for office. I skipped a lot of steps, in large part because it was a matter of timing and where I was in my life. I don’t regret any of that, but I do think had I gone through other parts of the process, I might have been better prepared for some aspects of the campaign trail.
B+C What are some ways people outside of your district could help your campaign?
Hill: First of all, resources are so important, so people can help by donating. And I’m sure people get so tired of being asked for money, but the truth is, we’re up against the Koch brothers’ money, and these huge corporations that are spending unlimited amounts of money to protect their interests. And for us to compete with that, we don’t have to raise as much as they do, but we have to raise enough to be competitive and make sure they can’t take over the airways completely.
We have seen $2 million in ads already bought against us by the Koch brothers in our district, and there’s more and more to come. There are so many resources plugged into our opposition, and we have to be able to fund ourselves and communicate our own message. So, money is important, whether it’s $10, $20, or $50, or maxing out, which is $2,700. Everyone can give something, and every little bit matters — every dollar counts for how many doors we can knock, how many pieces of literature we can print.
Also, sharing on social media and getting the word out about fundraising is really crucial. And people know people in their networks, so for someone in Chicago who shares about this race, their friend sees it, and they’re from my district — that’s how things spread.
Of course, if you’re more local [in Southern California], we have so many more doors to knock. We’re trying to get over 100,000 people to come out and vote for us, and that’s a huge number, so we’re going to need tons of volunteers to make calls.
B+C: Speaking of campaign finance, your campaign has been one of the most successful Congressional campaigns across the country in terms of fundraising — you were one of 20 non-incumbent Democratic House candidates to raise over $1 million in the second quarter alone. What do you think has been key to that success?
Hill: It’s really about capturing the enthusiasm of people who are really energized by this anti-Trump moment, and the possibility of changing the face of our democracy. And I think part of that is being young, part of it is being a woman, part of it is just being part of this resistance. There’s one element of just pure excitement that’s helped with fundraising.
But on the other hand, I would say it’s just hard work. You have to put in the hours, you have to ask everyone you know for money, you have to build up the ability to fundraise and consider that part of the job. Whether we like it or not, it’s the reality, and we can do that with integrity, without stamping out your morals or values. But it needs a lot of hours and a lot of people.
My fundraising wouldn’t have been possible without so many people — and overwhelmingly women who have kind of adopted me and the campaign, and gone through their networks to try to raise the funds we need.
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(Photo via Katie Hill; Design by San Trieu/Brit + Co)