This story is part of a weekly series of profiles of candidates running for the 15th Assembly District. You can see all the profiles and news about this race here.
Buffy Wicks starts each of her campaign house parties (more than 130 and counting) by asking residents gathered in living rooms around the district to voice the issues that matter most to them.
House parties have become the pillar of Wicks’ campaign: she tells East Bay residents she’ll come to anyone’s living room to make her campaign pitch to their friends, family and neighbors. And she ends each gathering by asking a visitor to be her next host.
“You find solutions to problems in these living rooms,” Wicks said. “To me that’s really the beauty of community organizing.”
Community organizing took Wicks from a small town in the Sierra foothills to the White House, with stops along the way to protest the Iraq War, rally for higher wages at Walmart and run Barack Obama’s California campaign.
“I definitely have a very unique profile,” Wicks said. “I have the experience and the relationships and the skills that I’ve developed over the course of time to be an effective legislator.”
In the White House, Wicks worked to mobilize support for the Affordable Care Act before its passage. She then ran Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign in California.
Wicks is the only leading candidate who is not in public office, so the house parties also provide an invaluable opportunity to introduce herself to voters.
“I’ve never been on a ballot before, apart from when I was president of my eighth-grade class,” Wicks recalls with a laugh. “But as someone who comes to this as a community organizer, I’m doing what I know how to do.”
The 10 Democrats running in this liberal district have precious few policy differences, so the positions Wicks has staked out apart from the field stand out.
She favors reforming, but not repealing, the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which limits local governments from enacting rent control. Wicks said the legislature should look at a rolling rent control policy, which would allow buildings to “age” into rent control after a certain number of years.
“My concern about a full repeal would be that it would halt any new building of homes,” she said.
And Wicks has not joined other Democrats in the field in calling for a moratorium on new charters schools in the state.
“I think local districts should decide how many charters and what their charter makeup looks like for their district,” she said.
But Wicks doesn’t end each house party with a laundry list of campaign promises. Instead, she emphasizes her intellectual curiosity and “solutions-oriented” approach.
“The answers aren’t easy, right?” Wicks said. “We need to figure out the right kind of policy, what’s also realistic within our politics. How do we go about actually solving the problems we need to?”
KQED pointed the microphone at Wicks. Listen here.