Cal is an incubator for the politically engaged, and many students move on to careers in public policy. Some even run for office. In the latter case, though, they usually wait until they pick up their diplomas. Claire Chiara is an outlier. She’ll graduate in May 2017 with a political science/economics major, and she’s also the Republican candidate for the California State Assembly’s 15th District.
Her Democratic counterpart, incumbent Tony Thurmond, is widely considered a shoo-in; only about 8 percent of the 15th District’s registered voters are Republicans. Further, high voter turn-out is expected in the current election, a trend that usually favors Democrats. Chiara is realistic about her chances.
“I put them at about 1 percent,” she says. “The 15th District invariably votes Democratic. But I didn’t really run because I expected to win. I ran because Tony was running unopposed both within his party and in the general election. An uncontested race is fundamentally un-American. Voters should have options on Election Day.”
Chiara, who has been active in promoting Republican doctrine on campus, says she was encouraged to run by political associates and friends, and decided to give it a shot.
Though the 15th District is overwhelmingly Democratic, Chiara says she has been met with comity and encouragement wherever she goes.
“It’s been a long and enlightening journey,” she says, “and it’s also been pretty hectic—in addition to running for the Assembly, I’m going to school full time and working part-time as an accountant for a law firm. But I’ve met thousands of people in the district, and I’ve had opportunities to discuss points of view that wouldn’t have been presented if Tony Thurmond had run opposed.”
Chiara says her campaign was never likely to draw much financial support, so she spent her time connecting with constituents rather than on fundraising.
“I focused almost exclusively on attending community events,” she says. “It made more sense for me to go out into the district and meet people and talk with them rather than trying to raise $25 here or $50 there. Plus, most community meetings are held at night, and I can’t do much campaigning during the day because I’m in class or at work.”
Chiara also sparred with Thurmond at two debates during the course of the campaign. Though the 15th District is overwhelmingly Democratic, Chiara says she has been met with comity and encouragement wherever she goes.
“I’m speaking to a senior center in Oakland tonight,” she says. “They approached me, told me the residents were almost unanimously liberal, but they liked the fact that I was a young candidate and they wanted to know what it means to be a Republican in a very blue district of a blue state.”
Chiara also believes California is hobbled by excessive taxation and onerous regulations.
Chiara’s platform focuses on three points.
“First is education,” she says. “There are serious systemic problems with California’s public education system. We’re near the bottom for the nation, and we should be at least the equal of other states. We need to establish performance metrics for teachers, and institute graduated pay scales based on competence, not longevity and tenure. We also need an effective means for removing incompetent teachers.”
Chiara also believes California is hobbled by excessive taxation and onerous regulations. Undue burdens on business, she maintains, hurt working people.
“Thousands of jobs have left the state because the business climate is so oppressive,” she says. “When you hurt business, you hurt employees. Further, it’s usually low-income employees who are hurt the most. When you legislate against soft drinks, for example, you take away jobs from people who manufacture, transport, and sell soda —people who can least afford economic disruption. We have to keep our public goals reasonable. American workers must be the priority, not lofty ideals.”
Finally, says Chiara, she wants “to break down the walls between the legislators and the legislated. Most legislators champion the public interest, but they’re deeply out of touch with the daily lives of their constituents. We have to align the interests of the people with the bills that are passed. So many bills are introduced with good intentions, but they end up having unintended negative consequences.”
Chiara describes herself as a moderate Republican, and some of her positions would mark her as a flaming liberal to deep-dyed conservatives. She supports gay marriage and is pro-choice.
“My ideology doesn’t come from the Republican Party,” she says. “I choose my own ideology. It just happens to align more with the Republicans than the Democrats.”
Indeed, few Democrats would sanction her choice of presidential candidates. She was a delegate for Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention, and will vote for the real estate mogul on Tuesday.
“I feel the media on both ends of the political spectrum have favored sound bites over facts in this election cycle,” she says. “For both candidates, the press is obsessing on 10-second sound clips and what happened a decade ago. We need to focus on present circumstances and prescriptions, and from that perspective, I believe Trump is the better choice. He is a businessman, not a career politician, and I believe he wants to be a successful president. He’ll fill his cabinet with hard-working people who will help guide him through the issues.”
So what are Chiara’s plans if she isn’t sent to the Assembly? First, is graduation, of course.
“I certainly don’t plan to become a career politician,” she says. “The main reason I got involved in this race is because I care about community issues and participatory democracy. After I graduate, I’ll probably take a gap year. Or two. Then I’d like to get a fellowship or internship that lets me combine my views on business with activism. I want to work on issues of public interest, but from the private end, not the public sector.”