By Ken Stone
Katie Memmelof El Cajon didn’t know her member of Congress a year ago. Now she’s running to unseat him.
But the 2002 San Diego State graduate is doing it the hard way. Memmel, 36, is a write-in candidate against Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, 39, and four older challengers in the 50th District.
“If there was any time for a fed-up nobody to run against the establishment, it’s now,” she wrote April 29 on Facebook. “However, since I decided to run well after the filing deadline, I’m running as a registered write-in candidate.”
Memmel, who works for a steel-industry trade journal, knows her quest is harder than bending rebar with her bare hands. She calls it “this crazy low-budget pie-in-the-sky adventure.”
But she’s undaunted in her cause — being a vanguard of “citizen representatives.”
“Obviously I don’t expect to get more votes than Junior at this stage, but the top two vote-getters [June 7] will move on to the general election in November. For now, all I have to do is beat out the four other randos on the ballot.”
A key difference in her race: She vows to serve only one term if elected.
“Win or lose, I’m hoping to start a trend,” said the mother of two, married for nearly 10 years to her Grossmont High School sweetheart, Michael Memmel. “Average citizens can and should run for Congress — the filing fee is daunting but not impossible, and two-year terms are manageable for people who, like me, don’t want to serve as a career.”
On Facebook, she discussed other opponents:
- Patrick Malloy: “Standard Democrat with an even Hillary/Bernie policy split.”
- David Secor: “Unconventional Democrat, superfeelin the Bern.”
- Scott Meisterlin: “Standard Republican in want of a time machine to live in the 1950s again.”
- H. Fuji Shioura: “Fellow Independent running on a firm Jesus ticket (which is fine, Jesus was cool, but his followers in politics aren’t the most benevolent bunch).”
A successful local write-in campaign for Congress has happened before. In 1982, Carlsbad Mayor Ron Packard lost the Republican primary to wealthy Orange County business scion Johnnie Crean, but beat the 33-year-old in the general as a write-in. At least 10 others nationwide have entered the House likewise.
But they often had name recognition or political experience. Memmel has neither. And Republicans like Hunter make up 49 percent of voters in the East County district (compared with 27 percent Democratic).
So what’s her path to victory? What led to her race? She answered our queries via email this week.
Times of San Diego: What Hunter stances or actions prompted you to enter the race?Katie Memmel: Total honesty time. Until late last year, I didn’t even know who the congressman was in my district! But after a particularly concentrated clump of mass shootings in the U.S. last fall, I joined the social media call to “Write your Representative! Demand commonsense gun regulation!” So I did — and received a form reply in response.
This happened about two more times. I’d write Hunter a heartfelt email only to receive generic responses, weeks later. It doesn’t matter how widely our political views diverge — sending form replies to constituents is absolutely unacceptable.
So I started paying more attention to Junior, like how he slid right into office on name recognition alone, and his House floor vaping, and his early endorsement of the most garbage human being to ever run for president. Oh and also all that questionable campaign fund use. Seriously, spending donor funds at Jack in the Box? Step it up to In-n-Out, at least.
It became clear that the 50th District was represented by the poster boy for entitlement and career politics at its worst. Hunter doesn’t care about what his district actually wants; he just wants to keep his cushy job and sail through elections until retirement — just like Daddy.
Sometime around February/March, I posted a screed on Facebook begging for someone, anyone to run against Hunter, to no avail. And by the time I realized that if I wanted something done I’d have to do it myself, the filing deadline had passed — not that I would’ve been able to afford the $1,740 filing fee anyway.
My last resort was running as a write-in candidate, which requires 40 signatures and no fee to be placed on a “supplemental ballot sheet” handed out at the polls on June 7.
Are you seeking any endorsements, or financial support? If so, whose and where? What’s your budget?
So far I’ve spent around $100 on a professional logo, custom pens, business cards and a T-shirt, and I’m not seeking out financial support or endorsements at this stage. If for some crazy reason I actually make it past the primary, I’ll launch a more “traditional” campaign, starting with crowdfunding. But if some folks in the ritzy areas of the district want to offer support with no strings attached, I’ll take that too.
Have you researched successful write-in campaigns, such a Ron Packard’s in 1982? Your takeaways?
Just read up on him. He handed out pencils, and I’m handing out pens! But other than that, our efforts couldn’t be more different. He was a Republican who lost the primary but didn’t give up, successfully campaigning as a write-in and winning. But then he served for 20 years and now works part-time as a lobbyist in D.C. — a typical career politician through and through, worried less about doing what’s right and more about getting re-elected, and still reaping financial benefits from his time in office.
Why should voters back you instead of the other challengers?
I’m sure the four other guys on the ballot mean well, but I’m not interested in a political career. Like many people in my district, I’m fed up with our do-nothing Congress and the culture of entitlement that keeps representatives focused on getting re-elected instead of actually helping their constituents.
You know what would help us out in East County and East North County? Eliminating tax loopholes that rob us of revenue for infrastructure and education. You know what we couldn’t care less about? Women registering for the draft, which hasn’t been used in decades and hopefully never will again.
You have a tiny social-media footprint. Besides getting your name in local media, what’s your game plan for gaining attention? Walking precincts or planting signs?
I follow 51 people on my campaign Twitter account, but only eight follow me! I’m not surprised though — my other Twitter account only has 150 followers and I’ve been tweeting on it for two years. My Facebook numbers are better, but mostly due to paying a few bucks for promoted posts.
I’ve also been walking neighborhoods to get signatures and hand out pens and business cards, but I know that these efforts alone aren’t enough. Unless something I post goes viral and attracts the attention of traditional media, I know my chances are slim. But I’m sick of complaining about politics and sharing memes and arguing with people online. I’m trying to actually DO something so even if I lose, at least I can say I tried.
What are the most pressing issues in the 50th District? Your stands on these issues?
The most pressing issues in the district mirror the most pressing issue of the country: income inequality. Wages at the very top have been rising for decades along with rent and housing prices and food and cars and EVERYTHING else. So why haven’t the wages of everyone else increased as well? Because wealth redistribution is already happening — just in the opposite direction — with the consent and support of Congress.
Don’t forget that Congress repealed the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, which led directly to the economic meltdown 10 years later. Congress also voted to bail out the reckless banks responsible — billions of dollars for billionaires who haven’t repented or changed their ways. Thanks, Congress.
I’m East County born and bred. I know the struggle because I live it, my friends live it, I see it everywhere I go. And it’s frustrating because it doesn’t have to be this way! We’re the richest country in the world, by FAR. The fact that anyone here is living in poverty is absurd.
Other than that, I’m strongly for sanity in environmental legislation. Everyone in the district is already feeling the results of climate change. Remember how humid it was last summer? Southern California shouldn’t be humid ever! May shouldn’t be this cold! We watch so many movies and read so many books about the Apocalypse, but it’s not going to be robots or aliens getting us in the end. It’ll be our political leaders ignoring an increasingly hostile climate.
Related to that, I’d like to see solar power’s presence expanded in the district — businesses, homeowners, even parking lot shades. Two benefits for the price of one!
Have any shot at debating the other challengers? Aware of any debates Hunter will attend?
I would LOVE to debate the other challengers, especially Hunter. His smug face fuels my patriotic passions, but I don’t think he believes it’s necessary to defend his position. Like I said, he reeks of entitlement.
Your one-term pledge is rare. How did you decide on that?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t want to serve for more than two years. I have other ambitions aside from politics, plus a family that needs me more than the district. But there’s freedom in serving one term and one term only: My congressional votes won’t be beholden to re-election funds, and I’ll have no problem calling out bullshit wherever I see it.
When bills come up for vote that are clearly written by lobbyists, is there anyone on the House floor now who stands up to say “Wait a minute, this is wrong”? Probably not, because even if representatives don’t agree, they’re more concerned with keeping a low profile and maintaining quid-pro-quo relationships than doing what’s right for their constituents.
Who is advising you? How many volunteers involved in your campaign?
I don’t have any official advisers or volunteers outside my friends and family right now, but as I mentioned, if I somehow manage to squeak into second place in the primary, I’ll step up my campaign efforts tremendously.
Who do you support for president, and why?
I will vote for the Democratic candidate in November, no question. For the primary, I’m leaning toward Bernie. I like his ideas and agree that we actually do have the revenue to fund his policies; we just need to eliminate loopholes and collect taxes on all that hidden income out there (thank you, Panama Papers!).
I don’t think Hillary is horrible, but she represents the status quo and will likely maintain the toxic relationship between money and politics. If she secures the nomination, I just hope she’ll pick an amazing VP, like Bernie himself or my political crush Elizabeth Warren.
It’s important to remember, though: Whoever wins the White House and whatever off-the-wall or semi-reasonable policies are proposed, they’ll have to get through Congress first. That’s why this race is crucial!
What experience, skills or talents would help you be a successful member of Congress?
I have tons of leadership experience through various jobs and organizations, but I don’t think congressional representatives need to lead. Most importantly, they need to listen and give the opposing side a sincere chance to explain their position. Debating skills are also crucial, and I LOVE to debate. I also have a knack for asking questions that get to the heart of an issue, and I don’t suffer liars or cheaters or greedy self-interested careerists.
Anything else readers should know about your candidacy?
Win or lose, I’m hoping to start a trend. Average citizens can and should run for Congress — the filing fee is daunting but not impossible, and two-year terms are manageable for people who, like me, don’t want to serve as a career. Think about how much vitality and honesty and actual change would result from citizens all over the country serving a term or two and handing the office to someone else invested in the good of all, not the elite few.
If I can inspire just one more person to do what I’m doing, to stand up and sacrifice their time and effort and passion in the hopes of making this country better, it won’t matter if I lose the primary. If I can get this Citizen Representative trend off the ground, I’ll consider this crazy low-budget pie-in-the-sky adventure a win.
Times of San Diego contributing editor Ken Stone was a colleague and supervisor of Katie Memmel five years ago when both worked for Patch.com.
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