After Katie Hill: Post-Scandal House Hopeful Christy Smith Urges SB Political Women to Persist
Christy Smith cites one over-arching reason for confronting the ordeal of three election campaigns in eight months, as she battles for a fiercely contested congressional seat.
A Democratic rookie Assembly member from Santa Clarita, Smith is running to succeed former Rep. Katie Hill, who resigned amid a sex scandal last year from the 25th Congressional District, which spreads from Simi Valley to the northern San Fernando Valley.
As it happened last week, Hill at the last minute also withdrew from a speech to the Women’s Political Committee in Santa Barbara, because of illness, leaving Smith once more to dive into the breach.
“I have two daughters, 24 and 20, and both of them say at this point they don’t want kids,” the 50-year old House candidate and legislator told a sold-out crowd of more than 150, “because they are concerned about what the future of this country looks like, and whether or not the planet is livable enough to feel confident in bringing children in it.”
She paused for a moment over the silence her words drew, before adding, “So my service is framed by wanting grandkids.”
Smith’s adept timing earned a big laugh, a rare moment of glee at the WPC’s annual Presidents’ Circle Luncheon at El Paseo (chicken tostadas and iced tea), where a combination of events – among them, the just-announced withdrawal of Elizabeth Warren from a presidential primary race now consisting of two white male geezers; lingering dissent over the First District supervisor’s race; the specter of the coronavirus, which led to elbow bumps in place of hugs -- – made for a more subdued mood.
“What I know is that people are tired - I know some of us feel that here,” she said, describing three years resisting Trumpism. “But that’s what we’re up against. We have to keep doing that…The alternative is almost unthinkable.”
Why it matters.The 25th CD race has drawn national attention, largely because it is one of seven key California districts that flipped from Democratic to Republican control in 2018’s “blue wave” midterms and now is crucial to the party’s struggle to hold the House in 2020.
Last week’s primary also gained notoriety because the circumstances of Hill’s resignation attracted an oddball collection of wannabes into a 13-candidate field, including George Papadopoulos, a former Trump aide who served time for misleading the FBI in its investigation of Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election, and Cenk Uygur, a Bernie Bro You Tube host with a history of misogynist social media posts, along with Steve Knight, the previous GOP incumbent whom Hill ousted.
The 25th CD, once a longtime Republican stronghold, has grown more Democratic in recent years, and Hill and Smith have been allies in trying to switch it from red to blue. Voter registration now is 38 percent Democrat, 32 percent Republican, 23 percent No Party Preference independents and the balance third parties.
Smith, whom Hill has called “the mom of Democratic politics” in the district, is a former U.S. Department of Education analyst who’s served eight years on the Santa Clarita school board; in 2016, she tried and failed to win the 38th Assembly District seat, which represents about half the congressional district, then ousted GOP incumbent Dante Acosta in 2018.
“Katie and I campaigned very closely together in 2018 to flip both of these seats at the same time and I consider her to be a friend,” she told us in an interview. “I had looked at the congressional seat for several cycles before, while Knight still had it, and passed it by in 2018 when Katie chose to run because I knew that from that state legislative role I could continue to do the work that I wanted to do, and Katie seemed well poised and positioned to take the seat, as she did.”
When Hill’s career suddenly collapsed amid the publication of intimate photographs in right-wing publications and the disclosure that she had slept with a campaign aide, Smith was the first to declare her candidacy, moving almost immediately after Hill resigned.
“So, I had been in communication with her, mostly for her personal well-being,” she said. “I wanted to be sure that she was surviving a very awful time in the national political spotlight…
“But from the moment that it seemed inevitable that she would be resigning what I did not appreciate was this outside focus and we saw it – people like George Papadopoulos and the Cenk Uygurs of the world, people who had absolutely no connection to the district, but looking to promote a television show or a book, and that is not what these communities need now,” Smith added.
“They don’t need to be a national spectacle. They need someone who’s willing to step in and continue the work of great leadership," she said. "And it was resoundingly rejected.”
The November matchup. In the primary, Smith finished first among six Dems, six Republicans and one independent, with the current tally (thousands of uncounted ballots remain) giving her 31 percent, ahead of Trump Republican Mike Garcia, a former Navy pilot who, at 25 percent, beat former Rep. Knight, who failed to regain his seat despite House GOP leadership backing, at 20 percent.
“I am running against someone who, if you can believe, is running to the right of Trump,” Smith said in her Santa Barbara speech. “He doesn’t believe in reproductive choice even for victims of rape or incest. He does not oppose family separation at the border. He does not believe in any kind of gun control.”
“And it is astounding to me that he is the front-runner on the Republican side,” she added. “We know that that base remains motivated and wants to try to take some of those seats back that we won in 2018.”
The most unusual aspect of the campaign is that it’s a three-act production: Smith and Garcia next compete in a May 12 special election, to complete the nine-month balance of Hill’s term, then face-off in November over a new two-year term.
Smith joked that she was glad to pinch-hit for Hill in Santa Barbara, at the behest the day before of state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, because it got her out of “call time” – politico-speak for making fundraising calls.
Having raised $1.7 million for the primary, she said in the interview, she now seeks another $2 million for the special--.”and probably double or triple that between May and November.”
“The challenge will be continuing to mount a general election campaign in November,” she said. “But we knew that going in.”
Q&A with Christy Smith.
On Katie Hill.
It is no secret that the congresswoman who held the 25th Congressional seat resigned under a situation that was less than positive but which she dealt with, with the wisdom and maturity that she had developed over the course of a very long and challenging campaign herself for this seat.
But as a young millennial woman, someone who had probably had a cell phone in her hand from the time that she was a teenager, she had made life choices that unfortunately left her exposed in a way that ultimately led to her demise.
So at the same time that we have someone sitting in the Oval Office who brags on television about grabbing women in the genitals, this release of information about her and her lifestyle come to fore, she made a choice that was right for the district, and was right for the country.
And given the entire set of circumstances that she was up against, and that she has relayed to me multiple times, she did not want this to impact every freshman colleague that she had entered with.
She was in a significant leadership role in the freshman class. She did not want people to be asked to defend her, she did not want organizations…to have to make that choice, whether to defend, whether to engage, she just removed herself. And has chosen now, through her private life, to continue the great work of promoting women and women’s candidacies and women’s leadership.
On the speed with which she jumped into the congressional race.
Katie and I campaigned very closely together in 2018 to flip both (the congressional and Assembly) seats at the same time and I consider her to be a friend.
So, I had been in communication with her, mostly for her personal well-being. I wanted to be sure that she was surviving a very awful time in the national political spotlight...
I had looked at this seat for several cycles before, while Knight still had it and passed it by in 2018 when Katie chose to run because I knew that from that state legislative role I could continue to do the public service and the work that I wanted to do and Katie seemed well poised and positioned to take the seat, as she did.
But from the moment that it seemed inevitable that she would be resigning what I did not appreciate was this outside focus and we saw it – people like George Papadopoulos and the Cenk Uygurs of the world, people who had absolutely no connection to the district but looking to promote a television show or a book and that is not what these communities need now.
They don’t need to be a national spectacle. They need someone who’s willing to step in and continue the work of great leadership. And it was resoundingly rejected.
On running on local issues at a time when congressional races are nationalized.
That is literally the struggle that we started with.
I’ve been so focused on local elective service and the needs of my community, from education to public safety to transportation. All of those kinds of kitchen table issues that impact people where they live, in my state legislative service in my first year.
I had formed advisory committees in key issue areas so we are bringing stakeholders together, and at the same time working with all of my municipal governments, which decidedly have Republican majority boards, but we have wonderful working relationships because at the end of the day we’re not talking about partisan issues, we’re talking about red meat public policy, spending budget money wisely and getting results for taxpayer investment.
So yeah, when you start to have to put all of those issues into this bigger, national frame it becomes a real challenge, because the national frame just doesn’t allow a lot of capacity for these really important conversations about things that are actually impacting people’s lives.
If I’m fortunate enough to win this seat I know that what I need to do then is focus very heavily on that constituency (and) figuring out how we can move on local issues by capitalizing on state and federal resources that exist and marshalling them in ways to serve these local problems.
Because we might have four more years of stalemate…The reality of the job is that the work still has to be done.
On the coronavirus in her district.
The groups that I am most concerned with in my community, of course, would be our seniors because seniors tend to be impacted more significantly by the virus from what we’ve seen so far, and insuring that all of our seniors who are currently receiving services, whether from a senior center or a residential facility, that they have all the protection, supplies, support that they need.
Very concerned about our school age population. Children seem to be more resilient to it at this point. Yet we also know that children could potentially be carriers. They may not express the symptoms in quite the same way but yet they’re very mobile people so making sure their school environment is safe, that school officials have everything that they need. From a public health perspective just, are we doing everything we can.
My office has been in conversations of course with the governor’s office about the measures and the steps that they’re taking. It’s a challenging time but we want people to be aware of common health practices.
When you have the President saying, ‘we’re moments away from a vaccine’ but yet the specialists are saying ‘we’re over a year from a vaccine’ and what do we do in the near term?
In fact, some of the early cases that we knew that were attached to the United States were a couple of friends of mine from Santa Clarita. They are the owners of our local radio station, had been on that cruise, so they were actually quarantined as part of that cruise.
The husband contracted the virus, the wife did not, they were subsequently moved to a facility in Nebraska. They’re now home in Santa Clarita, but it really hit right in my district right away.
(A version of this post appears in this week's Santa Barbara Independent).
Images: Christy Smith addresses Women's Political Committee (Marian Shapiro); Katie Hill (campaign photo); George Papadopoulos (New York Times); Mike Garcia (campaign photo); Smith at the lectern; with Hannah Beth Jackson; interviewed by Newsmakers; listening to Jackson's introduction of her (Marian Shapiro photos).