At the end of August, after the news organization she helped launch shut down, Wendy Carrillo rented a red Ford Fiesta and took off on a road trip with Lulu, her Maltese poodle. At Reported.ly, where Carrillo was the West Coast anchor and producer, she covered the pipeline protest at Standing Rock in North Dakota.
Now, newly jobless, she wanted to go and see things for herself.
Carrillo drove across the country, talking with voters as she traveled, stopping for a time in New Orleans. Eventually, she made her way to North Dakota, where she stayed for two months.
“I just remember thinking, ‘Where’s the president? Where’s Congress? Where’s everyone that should be caring about our First Amendment rights?'”
On her way home, Carrillo stopped at the casino in Standing Rock, the one place in town where internet is available, and checked her phone. She saw that her congressman, Rep. Xavier Becerra, was leaving that role to serve as California’s attorney general. That’s my district, she thought.
What would it look like, she wondered, to have someone like her — formerly an undocumented immigrant, a woman of color, a Latina, an entrepreneur, a journalist, an activist — in Congress?
“And I thought ‘well, if Congress isn’t coming here, then I’m going to Congress.”
Carrillo, a Democrat, is one of 12 people vying for the soon-to-be open seat in the 34th Congressional district in an election that doesn’t yet have a set date. Her choice to leave journalism for a shot at public service offers a response to the vision of our president-elect.
“I think what my candidacy is is more about the promise of America than about the fear we’re currently facing,” she said.
Carrillo, who spent 10 years hosting a radio show on L.A.’s KPWR, describes herself as a journalist and activist. She doesn’t have policy experience, she said, “but I understand policy because I talk to the people that that policy impacts and I tell their stories.”
Carrillo’s also working her digital skills for her campaign, creating regular videos for social that feel raw and personal instead of overproduced and polished. Those skills, she said, give her an upper hand in distinguishing herself from her competitors.
And a candidate, Carrillo said she’s seeing the other side now, “like this interview with you for example, that is fairly new to me. I’m the one that’s used to asking questions.”
She still thinks like a journalist, though.
And while she’ll miss the ways that journalism lets her hold people accountable, if she’s elected, Carrillo said, that’s exactly what she’ll continue to do in Congress.