Tulare County native Amanda Renteria was a small-town girl who left the Central Valley to attend Stanford University, where she played softball as a Cardinal third-basewoman before graduating in 1997.
After earning another degree a few years later at Harvard Business School and serving eight years in Washington, D.C., working for two U.S. senators, the mother of two young boys decided it was time to come home.
Sunday, at a city park in the Fresno County town of Sanger, Renteria, 38, is expected to officially launch her campaign to run for Congress in the 21st District against freshman Congressman David Valadao, R-Hanford.
In Kern County, the 21st District includes parts of Bakersfield plus other communities including Arvin, Shafter, Delano, Wasco, Buttonwillow and McFarland.
Renteria visited The Californian on Friday to talk about her valley roots, the chance at higher education that changed her life and her vision for the future.
“I’m frustrated,” she said of the gridlock in Congress. “We don’t even have a process for people to sit down and talk. We need to get back to the table.”
Even as she spoke, the nation appeared to be drawing closer to a government shutdown, a possibility that Renteria said shouldn’t even be part of the political conversation because it would be too damaging to the country.
“You can’t have a shutdown,” she said.
And it’s not just the billions of dollars placed at risk or the potential damage to the economy. It’s the nation’s very reputation here and around the world that is at stake.
“It’s what people think about us,” she said.
The daughter of farmworkers, Renteria grew up in the tiny agricultural community of Woodlake.
“I was lucky because I got to really focus on school,” she said.
She had originally decided to attend college in the valley, but one day, someone convinced her she was being shortsighted.
“This isn’t about you,” she was told. “It’s about the community.”
After Stanford, Renteria worked three years in the financial services industry in Los Angeles. At the end of that period, she paused to assess where she was headed.
“Is this why I left my little town?” she asked herself.
The answer was no.
After earning an MBA at Harvard, Renteria began to think about how she could combine her passion and work ethic with her desire to serve her community. “Maybe government,” she thought.
When she was asked to join the staff of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, she jumped at the chance. She later worked in the office of Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow. It was there that she became the first Latina chief of staff in the U.S. Senate.
Despite the polarization, despite the political gridlock, Renteria said she discovered she had the ability to form bipartisan coalitions, and most importantly, to get things done.
“What I realized is you can be effective.”
Tal Eslick, Valadao’s chief of staff, said Friday he didn’t have much to say about Renteria as she wasn’t yet a declared candidate.
But he suggested Renteria’s years-long absence from the valley may have made her something of a visitor to her childhood home.
Valadao agrees, Eslick said, that a government shutdown is a terrible idea.
And he’s proud of the congressman’s independent-minded record on immigration, his opposition to high-speed rail and his efforts to ensure a consistent water supply for the valley.
Indeed, Valadao has shown he’s not afraid to vote against the Republican grain.
He was one of just 15 Republicans who voted against proposed cuts to food stamps.
For Renteria’s part, she said the experience she received working on the 2012 farm bill will help her, if she is elected, to work with valley growers and understand and fight for their concerns.
But she’s also concerned about the least powerful among us who live in a congressional district where unemployment rates and poverty remain stubbornly high even as some call for cuts in food stamps and benefits to the elderly.
She’s a moderate, she said, someone who finds the middle ground.
“My dad’s first political rally was a Reagan rally,” she said. “My mom is a Democrat. And they’re still married.”