When the Daily Independent first encountered Tatiana Matta, she had just thrown her hat in the ring in the race against Republican incumbent Kevin McCarthy for the position of 23rd California Congressional District Representative. Matta, a Democrat, spoke about her candidacy for the first time at a meet-and-greet given by Ridgecrest United at Desert Valleys Federal Credit Union Dec. 4, 2017.
A lot has happened since then. Matta received the endorsement of the Democratic Party and secured a spot running against McCarthy in November.
Matta caught up with the Daily Independent in a phone interview Wednesday, during which she talked about her platform, her priorities, and how she has been formed by her background as a military spouse.
‘Healthcare is not a partisan issue’
Matta is running on a platform that emphasizes education, economic development, and healthcare.
“I want to make sure that everyone in this country has access to high-quality healthcare,” she said. “I want that for everyone. Healthcare is not a partisan issue. It is a human rights issue. We need to fully fund and expand the Affordable Care Act, but we do need to look into a healthcare system that will benefit everyone.”
She added, “I think the conversation about affordable healthcare for everyone is something we need to debate on.”
Also important, she said, is making sure accessible healthcare is available in rural communities.
Economic development and education
Matta said she has talked to many members of the public, and one priority she has heard is the desire for better-paying jobs.
“I am going to fight for education and economic development,” she said. “We need those high paying jobs … at a district level we need to make sure our people have the jobs they need and we need to ensure the focus is on the community.”
She said it is crucial to diversify the local economy.
“We need to diversify the local economy so people aren’t afraid they are going to lose their jobs,” she said. “We need to understand that we can’t move ahead if we don’t diversify the economy. I listen to the people, and what the people have said is that they want more high paying jobs and diversification.”
She also wants to see more federal funding for public schools.
Matta was born in Puerto Rico and is 34 years old. She is married with a son, Kevin. She and husband Eugenio, a bio-environmental engineer, live with Kevin at Edwards Air Force Base.
She was raised by a single mother who was a public school science teacher. Her father was a member of the National Guard and a corrections officer.
Matta moved with her mother to the mainland U.S. while she was in the second grade.
“That was one of the most important moments of my life because she gave up her career to give me an opportunity at the American Dream,” she said.
Tragedy struck when the apartment they lived in burned down and they lost everything. Matta and her mother lived in a shelter for a short time.
The event was pivotal. Matta credits the experience with giving her an appreciation of the healing and supportive value of community.
“It wasn’t a handout, it was more of an opportunity to keep going,” she said. “Without that church, the community, and the government helping us we could not have kept going.”
She and her mother moved to a tiny studio apartment. They went to the library every Saturday for a literacy program so she could learn English. Matta said she was very proud when she learned enough to be placed in an all-English-speaking class the following year.
Eventually she returned to Puerto Rico. She studied political science and eventually graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice.
Matta worked for eight years in tourism and transportation on the island. She said she hopes to put this experience to use to benefit the local area.
“I love tourism, I am going to talk about bringing that here,” she said.
Along the way, she married and had a son, divorced, and married again. She said her entire family fell in love with California when they were stationed at Travis Air Force Base.
The family moved to various locations and Matta became involved in advocating for military families while in Ohio. She started small and eventually worked her way up to help thousands of military spouses and eventually helped create a nonprofit that advocates for military spouses.
In addition to being politically active as a military spouse, supporting veterans and military families, Matta also has a consulting business and has worked with nonprofits and political candidates.
Matta said it was a similar desire to help others that brought her to her work in the local Democratic party. She described her entry into national politics as a natural extension of her earlier work with military spouses and community issues.
In addition, she said, she has always encouraged other women to enter politics.
“I have been very supportive of women running and supporting them running for office. I took my own advice,” she said with a laugh.
Matta said people frequently ask her what she is doing challenging someone in the leadership position of McCarthy, who is currently House Majority Leader.
“When I decided to run, I knew the challenge was tough,” she said. “I don’t have a fear in challenging him. I think this is healthy that we have a voice. We need to unite and bring on the fight. It’s not about me, its time we bring on the people.”
According to Matta, community input convinced her that many people in the district want a change.
“I think he [McCarthy] doesn’t understand that this community needs support at a local level. I think it’s important that we go back to the roots of what a representative is. A representative is supposed to be open and accountable for the things they vote on and they do.”
She cited McCarthy’s record of a lengthy stretch with no live town hall meetings as one issue.
“People want to be heard in person,” she said. “When I go and talk to the people, the first thing that comes to mind is, ‘I want change,’ [and], ‘This can’t keep happening; there is no progress.’ Part of my campaign is providing people a voice and actually doing the changes people want.”
She added, “I am running for the people. I want to give them something different that they don’t have here. My candidacy is an opportunity for people to see someone like me [bring about] change.”
Matta said hers has been a very grassroots campaign, heavy on first-person community feedback.
“I started getting involved,” she said. “The first thing I did was go through the community people’s needs. Healthcare, education, economic development: I think any community can benefit from those three.”
Matta said her campaign did not rely on mailers, radio, or TV ads. Instead, it was boots on the ground, as she spent a lot of time going door-to-door talking to voters, sometimes up to half an hour at a time.
“The reality of this district is that people want change,” she said. “I have discovered that [from] Democrats, Republicans, [people with] no party preference. The fact that they are going to me and asking means they are interested in a change. We are very optimistic the community is engaging with our campaign.”
She added that “the task ahead is making people know they have a choice.”
On immigration, Matta said that comprehensive immigration reform is needed.
“I do support our efforts to safeguard our nation’s border,” she said. “I do support modernization of our immigration system. Our immigration system is broken, we need to fix it.”
She added that “now more than ever it’s important we do not penalize people because of where they are from. I believe that we should be providing legal assistance to immigrant children fleeing violence. They should have legal representation if they cannot represent themselves.”
She noted that it is important to minimize illegal immigration, but that separating families to deter illegal entrance into the country is an inhumane way of dealing with it.
While noting that this is a divisive topic, Matta said, unequivocally, that she is a supporter of the Second Amendment.
“I think people should have the right to bear arms, but schools should also be safe as well,” she said.
Making schools safer is a conversation that needs to take place, she said, and she suggested supporting schools with federal funding to make them safer.
Matta said she is a big supporter of veterans.
“As a military family member, I see the military as what moves our country and keeps us safe,” she said. “Let our veterans have the care they need after service. That’s one of the most important things any congressman should be doing is to make sure [veterans] have a human retirement.”
She noted that she has worked on veterans issues in the past as well as supporting military spouses.
“I would love to tackle that issue at a national level,” she said. “At a district level, our veterans need more resources, and I know I could help them.”
Matta said national security is a big priority.
“National security is one of the most important things that we are going to be talking about. I think we need more female voices out there talking about national security.”
Conservation and water
Matta said the district needs to invest in water infrastructure.
“I am definitely committed to seeing our district forward,” she said. “I would be a leading voice within the Central Valley a supporter of people having access to water and clean air.”
She also supports clean energy technology.
“We do need to lead initiatives for cleaner energy technology,” she said. “The only way California is going to keep working toward energy independence is having leaders who believe in that. It goes to the point where we have a responsibility.”
She is also a supporter of environmental regulations. “We do have them in place for a reason, we need to create accountability.
Matta is pro-choice.
“My view is that women have the choice to do whatever they want with their bodies,” she said. “If we want to as leaders empower future generations, we have to be clear on that. That means everyone should have a choice.”
At her first meet-and-greet in December, Matta told the story of her own surprise pregnancy and her decision to have her son, who was in attendance at the meeting. She said that was her choice and she was profoundly grateful for the chance to make that decision.
She said her personal religious beliefs played a part in her decision, but every woman should be able to make the decision on her own.
“That doesn’t mean my faith should come in the way of their decision,” she said.
For more info, see tatianamatta.com, call 661-528-9573, or email email@example.com