Amanda Renteria began to think seriously about running for governor while sitting in the audience as the current crop of candidates argued it out at a January forum hosted by the Latino Community Foundation and Univision.
“It was all about who used their political power to get rich and how,” she told The Bee on Tuesday in an interview. “I felt like one of the people in the audience, thinking that’s what we’re going with? I dedicated my career to politics, but this is not (politics).”
The debate was the final straw. Renteria – the Woodlake native who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2014 and held a key leadership role in former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 presidential bid – had spent most of January going to art shows, demonstrations and the Women’s March. She said these events highlighted the disillusion felt by young people, minorities and women with the current political system, and she was discouraged to learn that many young people entering politics were only interested in getting rich.
Now, less than a month later, Renteria is diving into a crowded, fiercely competitive race that will decide who will lead the country’s most populous state.
She will face off against Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who have emerged as the Democratic frontrunners and have a massive campaigning head start on her. State Treasurer John Chiang and former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin round out the crowded Democratic field.
Two Republicans – businessman John Cox and California Assemblyman Travis Allen – are also vying for spots on the November general election ballot.
Many have questioned Renteria’s motives for jumping into the race less than four months before it’s paired down in the primary. Is she running at Newsom’s behest to disrupt Villaraigosa – perhaps in exchange for a spot in his government? Is she seeking to capitalize on the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements by battling two politicians – Newsom and Villaraigosa – who’ve both admitted to affairs during their time in office?
“I am not running as a spoiler,” Renteria said. “It’s the most emphatic no possible. I consider it a Trump-like conspiracy, because there’s zero fact in it.”
Renteria said she was barraged by calls, emails and direct messages from women offering support and pushing back against the idea she’s running to disrupt the race.
“There’s a deep cynicism – people cannot believe that someone can run for the right reasons,” she said. “But (women) are stepping up, and not because someone made us into pawns.”
Instead, Renteria said she’s running to help the people of California regain control of their state. She hopes to provide leadership and amplify the voices of those feeling silenced – youth, minorities and women – while also cleaning up the complicated political machine in Sacramento.
News of Renteria’s bid broke last week after she filed paperwork with the state. She officially announced her candidacy on Tuesday and set about giving interviews with media organizations across the state. Her campaign also released a video outlining a few positions and campaigning plans.
When asked about the considerable fundraising disadvantage – Newsom, for example, has more than $16 million on hand – Renteria said she was confident her campaign will “have the resources to get our message out,” but shied away from giving an exact number.
“It makes me uncomfortable to talk about whoever has the most money wins,” she said. “We can reach out and directly talk to voters. The go-between of having to raise money has largely gone away.”
Renteria, the daughter of migrant workers, said her gubernatorial bid is simply the latest in a string of efforts to serve the public.
Prior to her Congressional run, she worked as a teacher in Woodlake after graduating from Stanford. She eventually attended Harvard business school before diving into politics.
In 2014, Renteria ran against incumbent David Valadao for the California District 21 congressional seat in. The well-connected Woodlake native was believed to be a strong candidate in the mostly Latino, Democratic-leaning district. Vice President Joe Biden even rallied behind her campaign. However, Valadao soundly beat her by 15 percentage points.
She next emerged on the national stage as national political director for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid.
After the election, she said she turned down big-money jobs in the private sector to return to public service. She recently resigned as Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s operations chief, saying she did not feel comfortable continuing to manage 1,000 state employees and an $850 million budget while actively campaigning.
Now that the news is out, Renteria said she was “excited for people to see a different type of campaigning” over the next month.
“People are watching and engaged with their leadership now,” Renteria said. “Voters have power, and we have to have people dedicated to making (our government) better.”