Asm. Catharine Baker Looks Outside Party Politics for Education Reform

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — Most Americans think of districts as being either red or blue; if the majority of registered voters in a district are Democrats, then it is assumed that the representative of that district will be a Democrat as well. However, in California, there is more to politics than this false dichotomy, and the 16th Assembly District is a prime example.

Voter Registration in AD-16

Democratic

39%
39%

Republican

33%
33%

No Party Preference

21%
21%

Minor Party/Other

7%
7%

Catharine Baker (R-Pleasanton), serving her first term in the California Legislature, was elected in November to represent California’s 16th district. Her victory in the midterm election was unexpected and extraordinary considering her district’s location in Northern California, an area that is known for voting for more liberal candidates.

District 16 is located in the East Bay and primarily consists of suburbs like Lamorinda and the Tri-Valley. Republican Party registration in the district trails Democrats by approximately 7 percentage points (39% and 32%, respectively), but unaffiliated voters make up over 22 percent of the registered voting population. A possible cause of Baker’s victory is California’s more competitive electoral system, which forces voters to focus on issues rather than simply voting with their affiliated party.

Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, carried Assembly District 16 with 62 percent of the vote in the 2014 general election. Baker managed to defeat Democrat Tim Sbranti 52 percent to 48 percent.

Before taking office, Baker was an attorney who worked with small businesses and nonprofits, served on several local school committees, and volunteered for education programs. Her emphasis on education in her professional life and in her political goals appealed to voters.

In an interview for IVN, she explained how aligning with her district makes all the difference.

“I will always be mindful that my purpose [in Sacramento] is to represent my district and do what constituents expect, not to represent my party,” she said.

Baker’s issue-based priorities allign with those of her contituents. Her values are complimented by her personal and professional experience to spotlight issues that need to be fixed and improvements that can be made in her district.

During her interview, Baker elaborated on her goals in education:

“We need to modernize [education] with support for innovation, for STEM, and the professional development [that] teachers and principals need and deserve.” – Asm. Catharine Baker, Assembly District 16

Baker said the influence of special interests and partisanship can be difficult to overcome when seeking real change in education. However, she added that her focus will remain on doing what is best for her district.

“I will address [the obstacle of partisanship] by focusing on advocacy and outreach in my district, and by focusing my legislation on the needs of my constituents in Sacramento,” Baker remarked.