I am very honored that Tiffany Renée, a candidate for U.S. Congress in 2012, agreed to an interview with me. I have had the pleasure of meeting Tiffany in person, and I can tell you that she is a smart, kind, down-to-earth, woman of integrity. We need more people like Tiffany Renée in politics. Be sure to read what she has to say about campaign reform, below…and everything else, because her answers are excellent.
Bio: Vice Mayor Tiffany Renée is the first Latina elected to Petaluma City Council and is currently a candidate for U.S. Congress District 2. Prior to elected office, she served on the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women. As a Transit-Oriented Design advocate, she currently serves on Association of Bay Area Governments; the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District; Sonoma County Transportation Authority and Regional Climate Protection Authority, where she is seeing her work to create Sonoma Clean Power become a reality.
A descendant of cotton and walnut farmers, Tiffany’s other passions are local food systems and the environment. In her service as a public official, she has worked for policies that promote healthy and sustainable communities. This has led to co-founding the Petaluma Grange Local No. 851, to provide the small farms community with political and social network and place to gather to celebrate their bounty.
Tiffany has two grown daughters and lives in Petaluma with her husband, Jaimey Walking Bear.
Peggy: You are running for Lynn Woolsey’s congressional seat, in hopes of becoming the 9th Latina ever elected to the U.S. Congress. What is it like being a young (you’re only 40!) Latina woman in politics?
Tiffany: Having been elected to office in the worst recession since the Great Depression, it has not been easy. The challenges our communities face are daunting. Now the assault on women’s rights has come to a choice between one’s health and being forcibly raped. So it’s important to have representation that can take on those challenges. I came into office in a year that saw the first Latino Supervisor of Sonoma County and Mayor of Santa Rosa and the first Black President. I was thrilled to be elected on the same Progressive Democratic ticket as Barack Obama. And while Latinos’ political differences are as diverse as our cultures, being able to represent many Latino issues that have gone ignored is an important step forward. The demographics of our country are changing, and that change is being represented in new leadership from the local to the national level.
Peggy: You are one of eight candidates running for this seat, and you are not one of the leading fund-raisers. Competing against opponents whose campaign contributions dwarf yours must be difficult. I admire your tenacity. Why are you running?
Tiffany: I am running to represent the needs of our newly formed District 2, which runs from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border and includes Marin, western Sonoma, Mendocino, Trinity, Humboldt and Del Norte counties. Having faced the challenges of local government in protecting and improving our quality of life during the Wall Street created foreclosure crisis, I have the experience and the know-how to fight for our district. The old paradigm of political elections is ending. With the gridlock in Sacramento and Washington DC, citizens are tired of candidates that say they are for change, but continue to use a corrupt campaign financing system to become elected. Last fall - after spending 30-40 hours a week dialing for dollars and being told I would have to continue doing that once I got to DC - I realized that gridlock comes from our representatives’ constant campaigning rather than doing the people’s business. So, as a leader in campaign reform, I’m shifting the paradigm. I am running a right-sized, public-financed style, all-volunteer campaign. We refuse to accept corporate cash or fund corporate media in getting out our message. Having a technology background, and being prolific in social media, I’ve taken to using free and earned media to retain my integrity in the race. I’m walking my talk.
Peggy: What are your plans if you don’t win the congressional race?
Tiffany: My family motto is “A quitter never wins and a winner never quits.” I ran for council in 2006 and came in last. I won in 2008. I will represent District 2, if not in 2013, then maybe 2015. I plan on being in the top two in June and running a fantastic campaign for November. I will continue to serve my community and the beautiful surrounding environment as I have always done, no matter what happens. It’s in my blood.
Peggy: Have you always been interested in politics? What were you going to be when you grew up?
Tiffany: The political landscape of my family is very diverse. My parents divorced when I was two. So I grew up in two different worlds. My mom was an environmental activist. Both she and my first step-dad also supported LGBT issues. One of my elementary teachers was a closeted lesbian in fear of losing her job. They supported her teaching at a time when doing so was so taboo. It left a significant impression on me. The importance of civil rights was a continuous thread as I grew up.
Even though my dad and grandparents were as conservative as you could get, they were very active in promoting and celebrating Latin culture through a community group called Circolo Hispano. My grandparents were very politically active Republicans. Having spent much of my life at their house growing up, I feel like I’ve been campaigning since I could walk and hang door hangers. They wanted me to run for Congress to beat Democrats Matsui or Fazio (Sacramento-area). But becoming a Progressive Democrat wasn’t what they expected. Being the geek that I am, having an interest in science and technology, I wanted to be the first female astronaut. By the time I got to college, I just wanted to see more women in science, technology, engineering and math — especially women of color. With a lack of women in political office, I’ve spent a great deal of time campaigning for women and encouraging women to boldly go where women haven’t gone before. It’s more important than ever.
Tiffany: I embraced my adversity. My adversaries became my noble enemies. I learned very quickly that one’s perspective and attitude on life is what makes the difference between just surviving or thriving. I’m a”thrivalist”. I have an insatiable work ethic and desire to improve people’s lives and protect this pale blue dot. I came into the world fighting for my life. A fellow candidate commented that there is too much fighting in politics. For someone with life experiences like mine, and for the 99%, that seems like a privileged point of view. People are fighting for their lives now — more than ever — because Wall Street has lain waste to the moms and pops of Main Street. I learned too early that life is short. I am grateful for every day of life that I, and my family, are given and cherish every moment.
Tiffany: I’m running an historic campaign to become the 9th Latina elected to U.S. congress in our nation’s history. I’m writing about this incredible journey in an e-book that will be published in May. My Struggle for Justice explores my early political roots, my experience in public life, and the realities of running for office within a corrupt system. The 2012 elections present our country with a choice to embrace our heritage of a liberal democracy utilizing our constitutional republic or move ever faster towards a corporatocracy. This is our struggle.
Tiffany: My favorite quote comes from my Grandma Bea: Haz bien, y no mires a quién. It translates to: Do good, and don’t look at whom. My mother is French Canadian. She always said to treat people how you want to be treated — her version of the Golden Rule. In politics and life I bring a sense of being respectful of others — where they are — and never giving up on doing what is right for the common good.
Tiffany: Food is important to any celiac. I must prepare much of what I eat. I focus on organic, locally grown foods. I’m mostly vegan at this point, but I have to source protein from local fish and lamb, too. I exercise regularly, walk as much as possible, and meditate. I do a lot of driving in this campaign. And so, it has become a rather Zen mindfulness art form to be in the car as much as I am. Music is a huge release for me. I have a wide taste in music. My favorite Pandora stations are Beethoven, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Duran Duran, Adele, Eminem, and Daft Punk depending on my mood.
Tiffany: Dark. I was spoiled with good chocolate from an early age by family friends from Switzerland. I’ve had to cut back on chocolate since becoming gluten-free (celiac) because it’s hard to find. But I love non-GMO Dagoba Xocolatl chocolate bars. Thousands of years of culture have gotten me to where I am today. I appreciate connecting with my Mayan heritage, so I start my day with a banana, chocolate, hemp seed, maca and Guayaki tea smoothie every morning.
Tiffany: I am really a policy wonk. I have a special style of judo politics - maximum efficiency, minimum effort (effort meaning spending tax dollars). Enacting good policy takes time. So, I’ve learned how to become efficient through studying political will and harnessing what the electorate’s common goals are to achieve success. People tend to underestimate me because of my diminutive stature and quiet nature. It’s really a technique I’ve used to subdue my opponents and seize opportunities to bring effective change. There is really a lot more to it than what meets the eye. Timing is everything.