The race for Congressman Kevin McCarthy's 23rd District seat is beginning to get crowded.
Bakersfield resident Mary Helen Barro is the latest to announce her plan to throw her name in the ring. Fellow Democrats Wendy Reed and Tatiana Matta have already entered the race, as well as James Davis and Jonathan Hall, who are running as alternatives to the mainstream parties.
If Barro is able to top the other challengers in the June 5 state primary, she will face McCarthy in the November election. Barro acknowledged that it will be an uphill battle to get to that point, not to mention actually beating a politician who has been entrenched in Kern County politics for nearly 20 years, but she is hopeful.
“People continually compare this to a David versus Goliath contest,” she said. “Just remember that David won, so I’m hoping that this time the people of the district will win.”
The 23rd Congressional District, which is a firmly Republican district, starts in the Sequoia National Park area and makes its way south to Lancaster, affecting Kern and Tulare counties.
Barro has had a varied career working as a teacher, insurance agent and a broadcaster. She has also been a board member for many local organizations over the past 30 years, including the League of Women Voters of Bakersfield, Democratic Women of Kern, Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Kern County Democratic Central Committee.
She has also been part of nationwide organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the American Hispanic Owned Radio Association, through which she served as vice president and spearheaded projects aimed at providing better business opportunities for Latino broadcasters in America and Mexico.
Barro said she decided to run because she feels that the 23rd District hasn’t been getting much attention from McCarthy, who she believes is focused more on national politics, choosing to spend time with President Donald Trump and other major movers and shakers in Washington, D.C.
“Over the years, I really feel that the representation in the 23rd District has really deteriorated,” she said. “Regrettably, Kevin McCarthy is more and more out for himself rather than his constituents. He’s a good schmoozer and glad-hander, but he’s not out fighting for the 23rd District. It’s not his top priority.”
Barro also criticized McCarthy, who has served as a congressman for the district since 2014, for not spending enough time interacting with people in his district through town hall meetings and other venues.
If she was elected, Barro said she would put the 23rd District first and hold monthly meetings with constituents. Barro said she would also hire a diversified staff that represents the voters of the district.
“It’s about providing accessibility,” she said. “I want to meet face-to-face with constituents and find out what their needs are. I will fight for my constituents.”
Barro said that because of her background as an educator, some of her biggest goals are to help improve literacy in the Valley as well as improve access to vocational programs in community colleges, which she believes will help more people get jobs.
Preserving entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is also a top priority, as she said many people in the district rely on them.
Barro said making sure veterans have access to health care is an important issue for her, as well as working to provide equal pay and better representation for women in the workforce.
“Our vets have to fight and struggle to get the quality of care that they are entitled to,” she said. “I want to work very closely with the Veterans Administration to see what actual improvements they’re making and what more can be done.”
While Barro said achieving those goals wouldn’t be easy, she’s excited that being part of the 23rd District race may give her the chance to make a difference.
“I’m a doer,” she said. “Policies are passed, but nothing gets done. Cutting through red tape is what I'm good at.”
Barro will have some tough competition in the state primary, especially from the other Democrats. Reed, who is from the Lancaster area, is vying for the seat a second time after facing McCarthy in 2016 and losing by nearly 40 percentage points.
On the other hand, Matta — who has her own public relations business and lives in Rosamond — is a newcomer to the race. As a native of Puerto Rico who moved to Kern County only two years ago, one of Matta's motivations is to provide a voice for the district's Latino community, she said.
Hall, a Tehachapi resident, is running under the Libertarian platform while Davis is running as what he calls a "Deviant for Congress." He does not represent any particular party and is running his campaign himself, according to Davis' Facebook campaign page. Neither candidate is likely to make it to the November ballot.
Two others, Robert Owen and Joe Aleman, had previously announced plans to run but dropped out of the race in 2017.
Barro said she believes her many years of experience with local organizations and those across the nation sets her apart from her competition.
"Both of the Democrats running are very able individuals, but what I’m bringing to the table is a long history of working on issues at the local, national and international levels that my worthy competitors don’t bring to the table," she said.