Like many Democrats, Regina Bateson woke up November 9 convinced she had to do something: Take on one of the most conservative politicians in her home state.
Regina Bateson has got skin in the game. She grew up in the district she hopes to represent (California’s district 4, which includes Lake Tahoe and Yosemite) and her parents never left. She went to the public schools there, too, and recently gave up a tenure-track position as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and uprooted her young family to move back, in part because one of her many issues with Congressman Tom McClintock is that he doesn’t live in the district he represents.
“He’s from southern California and he’s been promising since 2008 to move here but it still hasn’t happened,” she says.
Bateson was up with cranky infant twins when the election results began coming in last November. “I realized what had happened and I was holding both of them and just thinking, ‘I have to do something. I don’t want them to grow up in a world where bullying is the norm.'”
Like many Democrats, Bateson felt an urgent desire to do something, but wasn’t sure what. The mother of three had joined the foreign service after 9/11 and spent a few years working in the U.S. consulate in Guatemala. She has a PhD in political science from Yale, and was researching and teaching in the political science department at MIT, so government and policy weren’t new to her, but becoming a candidate herself hadn’t crossed her mind. “At first I donated to a few places, but you know, that’s not my unique strength in the world, I’m not a wealthy, fancy person,” she says. “So then I thought, ‘I’ll create a SuperPAC—if John Oliver can do it, so can I.'”
It was in the course of researching how to set up a PAC that Bateson came across the political crowdfunding site Crowdpac, which helps people set up PACs, Super PACs, and test the waters on their own campaigns as well. Bateson set her sights on McClintock because she has long felt he does not represent the district that sent him to Washington. “He voted for the AHCA, which not only impacts people’s healthcare here but also—and I don’t think people realize this—would have had a really negative impact on our rural public schools [which receive reimbursements from Medicaid through Medical],” Bateson explains. “Now he’s explicitly supporting the Graham-Cassidy bill, which would be a disaster for this district.”
“The number one thing I hear about him from people who still support him is that he’s a fiscal conservative, but I’d like to challenge that notion,” Bateson continues. “He voted for the government shutdown in 2013, which resulted in an epic waste of money. And here you have someone who votes no on everything, from funding the school lunch program to the Republican-backed Violence Against Women Act, but he’s voted in support of the government paying for Trump’s trips to Mar-a-Lago, for extra security so that the Trump family can stay in New York, and for a border wall that he initially told voters Mexico would pay for. Now he wants the voters of this district to pay for it.”
At first, Bateson was tryng to recruit a candidate to run in her district. “I kept asking people and getting turned down–because of course the more established you are in your career and your life, the less likely you are to want to do this.” It was a former professor who turned the question back on her and suggested Bateson throw her hat in the ring. “I said no, too,” she says. “But the seed was planted.”
As someone who handled the maternity costs of two pregnancies, including one with multiples, and a woman who struggles with a genetic disorder, Bateson has a personal passion for the Affordable Care Act, which she says she would fight to improve. She also wants to protect the environmental resources of her district. “A lot of people here may not consider themselves environmentalists, but they do love spending time outdoors, and I think about that in terms of this core value of freedom and liberty that we share across this district; people want to preserve their freedom to enjoy the natural beauty here, which for a lot of people is why they live here.”
A devotee of data and research, Bateson approached the District 4 campaign the same way she does everything else: “I took a deep dive into the last ten years’ worth of races to see what was happening, why McClintock hadn’t had a serious contender in a decade.”
She pinpointed three key issues: campaigns started too late, didn’t raise enough money, and didn’t have full-time staff devoted to the effort. Armed with research and passion, but still no candidate to put it to work for, eventually Bateson created her own page on the Crowdpac site, “just to see what kind of feedback I’d get,” she says. Within 24 hours she had raised $4,000 and been overwhelmed with emails and comments on the Crowdpac site. “Most people say generating interest in your campaign is the biggest hurdle with this, but I’ve found that actually responding to the interest has been the challenge here,” she says.
The interest has only increased in the months since she announced her candidacy. Bateson is doing events daily, and sometimes twice a day, has hired a full-time staffer, and brought on more than 100 volunteers, many of whom are or used to be Republicans. This is key in a district that is widely known as a Republican stronghold, but which Bateson describes as “much more moderate than McClintock.”
Bateson’s campaign is targeting not only Democrats, but also independents and moderate Republicans who feel that Trump and McClintock are too extreme for them. While McClintock is one of Congress’ most devoted climate deniers, for example, Bateson has announced her intention to join the Climate Solutions caucus if elected and has voiced support for Republican James Baker’s carbon tax plan. She also plans to join the bi-partisan Problem Solvers Caucus if elected. “I think for too long it’s been impossible to get anything done in Washington,” she says. “I’m committed to working across the aisle and compromising to get things done.”
Still, she’ll face an uphill battle in the historically Republican district, not just from the incumbent (who’s been in his seat since 2009), but also from a farther-left Democrat, Jessica Morse, a Princeton-educated national security strategist and Sierra foothills native. The fact that the region has two qualified Democrat women running against McClintock is a distinct change from past campaigns and should at a minimum deliver on one of Bateson’s key goals: “Our representatives should be forced to answer to their constituents every two years and face a real challenge.”
This profile is part of She Is Running–our ongoing series profiling some of the many women who have decided to run for office in the wake of the 2016 election. Read the intro to the series here, and stay tuned for more. In the months ahead, we’ll meet women running for office across the nation. We’ll focus on the stories of compelling candidates running for state representative, governor, and U.S. Congress—and of course, we’re open to suggestions. If you want to refer a candidate or make the case for interviewing a prominent mayoral candidate, get in touch at [email protected].
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