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‘I Like to Think I’m Blazing a Trail’

Catharine Baker, the Bay Area’s one and only Republican state representative, tries to survive a GOP apocalypse.

Assemblywoman Catharine Baker.


This is "Think Tank," an occasional series of conversations with Bay Area power players, conducted by San Francisco editors. Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.  

Name: Catharine Baker
Occupation: Assemblywoman, 16th Assembly District
Age: 45
Residence: Dublin

San Francisco: It’s no secret that the Democratic Party is gunning for you this November. What about you don’t they like?
Catharine Baker: Well, I don’t think it’s about me. Almost all of my bills are coauthored by Democratic colleagues. I think we’ve got a good relationship, but it’s a political game. When I won in 2014, it broke the majority party’s two-thirds supermajority [in the assembly]. They really want that back, because it means completely unchecked power.

Democrats in Sacramento already get pretty much whatever they want. Their majority is so solid that even when you vote against them, it rarely makes a difference. So what does a supermajority get them that they really don’t already have? 
Well, a couple things. When you have a two-thirds supermajority, the majority party never has to talk to the other side. They never have to consider another viewpoint. They can, through the sheer political power that they have, get their own members into line and pass anything in California. And if they get the two-thirds supermajority back in this cycle, they don’t just have it for two years. They likely have it for 10. When Governor [Jerry] Brown is termed out [in 2018], I don’t see a bench in the Democratic Party that’s anywhere near as moderate as he is, and that’s what we’re looking at for the next 10 years.

Are you telling me that Gavin Newsom isn’t as moderate as Jerry Brown?
[Laughs] Uh, yes.

On most issues, do you find yourself voting along with Bay Area Democrats, or do you vote with Republicans?
Almost half the time I’m voting with Democrats. I was one of only two Republicans to vote for the Death with Dignity bill. I’ll give you another example: the environment. I was one of only two Republicans to vote for climate change legislation. I got a huge amount of flak for that, but for me, I thought it was the right thing to do.

But there’s also been a couple of issues in which your votes might have been at odds with the will of the majority of your district [which leans Democratic]. For instance, banning possession of high-capacity gun magazines: You voted against that.
I did. But I also voted for expanding the assault weapons ban to include more guns, taking out the bullet-button exemption, having background checks for ammunition, making sure that those who have the ability to sell guns now through straw-man purchases can no longer do it. I was the only Republican to vote for almost all of the gun control legislation that has come up in the last year.

According to the American Conservative Union, you are the least conservative Republican in the entire assembly. In other words, you’re not the biggest thorn in the Democrats’ behind.

But they’re still targeting you.
It’s OK. This is politics. What they don’t recognize—and what they didn’t recognize in 2014—is that the voters in this district are very conscientious. They pay attention to not just something like “Did you vote 80 percent or 90 percent or whatever with your party?” They ask, “Where did you vote?” “Were you willing to be independent from your party?” I like to think I’m blazing a trail, and there’s not a lot of people who’ve trampled on it for a while, but it’s an important one to have. 

Your thoughts on Donald Trump?
Well, I’m a big believer in the 11th commandment: I don’t generally speak ill of another Republican. But I’ve publicly stated for months now that I will not be voting for Trump. And I’m just continuing to focus on this race, you know. He’s not running for assembly in this area. I am.

Are you worried that he may suppress turnout, and that could affect your election?
I’ll leave the presidential politics where they are. I fully expect my opposition to try to tie me to him, but I think it would be disingenuous and wrong to the voters of this district, because it’s so clear where I stand.


This interview was conducted in cooperation with the This Golden State podcast and has been edited and condensed for publication. 

Originally published in the October issue of
San Francisco

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