Christine Kehoe (D)
Born October 3, 1950
State Senate, District 39
San Diego, California
Elected to the City Council November 1993
Elected to the State Assembly 2000
Elected to the State Senate November 2004
The photograph above was taken when Christine Kehoe made an unsuccessful run for the US House of Representatives in 1998.
Essay by Christine Kehoe for Out and Elected in the USA
As an elected official, and before as a volunteer and active citizen, my guiding principal is respecting other people and making things better. That's always been my "thing."
I grew up in what today would be called a "functional" family – with value placed on self-reliance and good manners. As the middle of 5 kids, I kept my nose in books and my mind on the possibilities of life. My folks taught me that a level head and hard work could surmount most problems, and they were right.
After I finished college in Albany, I headed for California. When I got here I knew I was home – in the land of optimism with its sights on the future. I soon got involved in initiative drives, served as director of a local business association, ran campaigns, ran a community newspaper and learned the local political system. I found that the real action was working to change things from inside the government.
My first “inside” job was as a staff member for a city council member, which I did for about two years. It was a surprise to me when he decided not to run for a second term in 1993. It left the seat wide open for any number of candidates and we wound up having 13 candidates in the primary. Over a two-week period I went from not even thinking about running for office to deciding to launch a campaign. I felt I had a strong base in the gay community, but I also felt that my time as a city council aide working in the neighborhoods gave me a grasp of the issues and contacts all across the district that would be unmatched.
The campaign itself is something I’ll never forget. It really became a crusade in the gay community where people felt and thought that this could be a winner; that it was worth getting on board, writing checks and volunteering for. We had a tremendous base of walkers and phoners that I believe really made the difference.
To avoid the claim that I was a one-issue candidate, I had to work extra hard to reach people on issues that were important to all of us. It was a high-crime period in the city's history and we were in the middle of a recession. I told voters that I’d work for all of them and listen to what they thought was important. This has been my philosophy throughout my career in elected office.
Once I was elected, my work was cut out for me: reduce crime, revitalize our older urban communities and get the city to be more responsive to neighborhood needs. I responded by building a police station in one of the more challenging neighborhoods in the city. This led to $100 million redevelopment with public and private capital.
Another major problem was the right-of-way for the construction of Interstate 15, a major highway that went through the heart my district. It had been partially cleared, but the funding was seriously stalled at the state level. It was a no-man's land of vacant lots, boarded homes, drug dealing, graffiti, and prostitution. With community pressure, we pushed forward and broke ground in 1995. The road is now open and connects Southern California with the Canadian border.
Apart from working on the larger issues, I wanted to do something significant for the gay and lesbian community. Getting domestic partner benefits for all city employees was my goal. Some of the councilmembers and the mayor refused to support it, but we did get a majority of votes. It remains in place and is an important benefit for our city workers. I was also able to get more gays and lesbians appointed to city boards and commissions. I like to think that because of my service as an openly gay person, that others were encouraged to give of their time and expertise as well to help make a difference.
Serving on the City Council was a privilege and an incredible time in my life. The opportunity to do innovative programs and to build public facilities that are important to people’s lives is the most rewarding aspect of my time in office. These are the experiences I take with me to Sacramento as a California State Assembly representative. When I'm voting in the Assembly, it's the citizens in North Park, and Tierrasanta and Rancho Penasquitos who I’ll be thinking of. That's what I'll keep in mind. It's about all the people I'm elected to serve.
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For information on a touring exhibit version of Out and Elected in the USA: 1974-2004, contact Ron Schlittler at firstname.lastname@example.org.