Los Angeles Magazine: How Millennial Congress Member Katie Hill Is Changing the Game
By Gwynedd Stuart
On the final night of Congress’s new-member orientation in early December, recently elected California Rep. Katie Hill took a photo of a banquet hall at Harvard University and tweeted it to her followers. “Our last night of #CongressCamp is coming to a close,” she wrote, referring to a two-week crash course in governance and ethics that’s apparently like summer camp but with less macramé and better food. “Look at this actual dinner at Hogwarts.”
Texas-born, Santa Clarita-raised Hill, who ousted Republican incumbent Steve Knight in November’s midterms to represent California’s 25th District in the U.S. House, is emblematic of both the blue wave that ushered in a Democratic majority in the lower chamber and the pink wave that saw a record number of women elected to Congress in 2018. At 31, she’s also one of a growing cadre of U.S. lawmakers young enough to have actually been Harry Potter fans as kids.
From the time the then-30-year-old announced her candidacy, the media clamored to cover Hill and her staff, otherwise known as the “most millennial campaign ever” (her words, from a four-part Vice News documentary). But the fixation on her age didn’t bother Hill, who stood out for a variety of reasons, including that she’s a political first-timer, she ran a completely grassroots campaign that refused money from corporate PACs (even so, she raked in $8.4 million in donations), and she’s openly bisexual. Before declaring her candidacy, Hill was executive director of People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), a Silver Lake nonprofit organization that finds and builds permanent housing for homeless people and families. She helped spearhead Prop HHH, a ballot measure that set out to reduce homelessness in L.A. through the creation of affordable housing units, which passed in 2016.
The eyes of the world have been on Hill and her fellow millennial lawmakers, including 32-year-old Lauren Underwood from Illinois (Hill’s roomie in D.C.) and 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Hill realizes that’s not likely to change, but she sees the attention as an opportunity rather than a burden. “The public is going to be looking for examples of immaturity or inexperience or whatever it might be, but I think that’s where we have to prove what we’re capable of doing from a policy standpoint and from a leadership standpoint,” Hill says over the phone from Boston’s Logan airport the day after Congress Camp wrapped.
Hill is the youngest person to represent District 25, which comprises the Simi, Antelope, and Santa Clarita valleys (she and her husband, Kenny Heslep, live on a farm in Agua Dulce, northeast of Santa Clarita). Since the district was created in 1953, it’s never been represented by a woman.
Although the rigor of the campaign sometimes made her feel “like an asshole,” as she told Vice News, the new federal legislator feels that she’s forged connections in the district—via videos and social media as well as one-on-one contact with constituents—that’ll be invaluable going forward. If voters remain engaged between election years, she explains, they’ll be rewarded with an unprecedented level of transparency from their new representatives. “The reality is that government is a participative process,” Hill says. “If you want something to actually happen, just voting isn’t enough.”