Few undergraduate students are offered the opportunity to work in the office of a powerful United States congressman before they get their diplomas. Even fewer have the fortune to draft federal legislation a few years removed from college.
In a time when a segment of the population views legislators at all levels of government with a mix of skepticism and sometimes contempt, others see the value of an officeholder or candidate with political connections and/or experience in government.
Kate Anderson thinks the latter is definitely an asset, largely due to her time spent in the Washington, D.C. office of Rep. Henry Waxman, an influential Westside lawmaker.
A Mar Vista resident and an associate at the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson, LLC, Anderson, a Democratic candidate for the 53rd Assembly District, has arguably one of the most politically impressive resumes in the Assembly race. She was elected student body president at UCLA, is a member of the Mar Vista Community Council and also serves as the president of the Hilltop Homeowners Association.
“Being student body president at UCLA was my first political experience,” Anderson told The Argonaut in a recent interview at her Venice campaign office. “I hadn’t really been political before, but it was the thing that inspired me to want to see if there was anything like that in the real world.”
That curiosity lead to an internship in Waxman’s office, which four days later turned into a full-time job on Capitol Hill.
“It was during the first time working for Rep. Waxman that I decided that I wanted to spend my life working in public service,” she said.
Following law school at the University of Chicago, Anderson was invited back to work in the congressman’s office, where she wrote legislation pertaining to the United States Postal Service. She also helped draft amicus, or friend of the court, briefs for her local council and a neighborhood group that was suing the Santa Monica Airport.
It is that kind of legislative experience that Anderson and her supporters are banking on to separate her from a crowded field of eight candidates, each with their own set of diverse pluses and minuses, in the June 8th primary.
Throughout the interview, Anderson referenced her time working in Washington with Waxman and what she learned from one of the Westside’s most popular and powerful members of Congress.
“Rep. Waxman provides an example of government being a force for good in people’s lives,” she said. “Politics can be very frustrating, but when you get good people working really hard, tremendous good can happen. And the same can happen in the Assembly.”
The admiration is mutual.
“I have known Kate Anderson for over 15 years,” Waxman said. “She is an exceptional candidate who is deeply committed to working to improve our state and our community.”
Anderson says that she can apply some of those principles she learned in national politics in Sacramento, such as an ability to build coalitions and find areas of agreement even when none seem to exist.
“We had tried to pass (the postal legislation) for a number of years, and the value that I brought in that process was figuring out what the good policy was and how to bring groups that have very different views and perspectives into that policy,” she said. “I’m very proud to say that I, along with Rep. Waxman, was able to get that support from Republicans and Democrats and a lot of different groups and (ultimately) passed a bill in a Republican Congress and signed by a Republican president.”
Anderson said she supports the abolition of the two-thirds requirement necessary to pass a state budget.
“We’re one of only three states in the country that require the two-thirds majority,” the candidate said. “There’s lots of reasons for the dysfunction in Sacramento, but I think this is one of the biggest.”
Despite public apathy toward state lawmakers, Anderson says she views the current circumstances as an opportunity for someone with her political connections and optimism.
“I think it gives us an opportunity to make some big changes up in Sacramento and get this government working again,” she said.
One of those changes that she would like to tackle is the initiative system, created by reformist California Gov. Hiram Johnson in 1911.
“This has been a growing problem in California in that we have more and more initiatives on the ballot and it makes it harder and harder to legislate, and frankly I think that’s one of the things that we need to change,” the attorney said. “We’re the only state in the country that allows our voters to amend statutes or the constitution by initiative without either involving the Legislature or those initiatives sunseting (laws with a fixed lifespan).”
Anderson says the ballot process has effectively become “a tool of special interests” to get around elected representatives.
“We elect representatives to go up and govern for us, and so we should be doing our jobs and not turn all this legislating over to the voters,” she said.
One accomplishment that Anderson is very proud of lies outside the traditional political spectrum.
Upon returning from maternity leave five years ago after the birth of her twin daughters, Anderson realized the difficulties that working mothers encounter and asked her law firm’s partners for the opportunity to create a childcare center at Munger, Tolles & Olson. After doing research and presenting the plan to the firm’s partners, Anderson said she helped create a daycare center at her workplace, the first of its kind at a law firm west of the Mississippi.
“This is one of the things that inspired me to run for the state Assembly,” she explained. “I was really good at figuring out who my skeptics were, who my allies were and how to address the concerns that many of them had.”
Being a mother affords her a different perspective than other candidates on many fronts, which Anderson sees as an additional strength.
“Some of the biggest issues facing our state right now are issues surrounding education, the economy, the budget and the environment,” she said. “As a mother, I approach each one of these differently, especially in terms of the education system.”
The Assembly contender, who is the co-chair of her community council’s education, arts and culture committee, has mixed feelings on charter schools, a popular concept among some Mar Vista parents.
“Charter schools are complicated,” Anderson noted. “There are some charters that have provided a phenomenal alternative to parents, like Ocean Charter in Mar Vista.
“On the other hand, there are a lot of bad charter schools out there and there are some charter schools that should have their charter pulled,” she continued. “We have not done nearly as much to hold charter schools accountable. So I think we should continue to support charter schools, but we need to increase accountability for them.”
Rob Kadota, a former Mar Vista Community Council chair, thinks Anderson would make a good state lawmaker.
“I really think she has the skills, experience and temperament to be wonderful,” Kadota said.
As a member of the neighborhood council system, Anderson says her connection to the community in the grassroots local endeavor can serve as good experience for higher office.
“It has connected me to constituents in a very deep and meaningful way,” she said. “It is a lesson and an experience that I hope to replicate in the Assembly.”
Asked to elaborate, the candidate said her feelings about democracy and how the local councils function, interacting with residents often face-to-face and solving some of their immediate concerns is what should be most important to any legislator.
“Representing constituents means understanding where they’re coming from and what’s important to them and getting it done,” she said. “That’s what I learned working for Rep. Waxman and during my time on the community council.”
More than a decade after her political baptism, Anderson has concluded that public service is the life for her.
“I really love talking to people about what they want and how I can help them get it,” she said. “Apart from being a mom, there is nothing that has ever felt more right to me than what I’m doing now.”