Throughout the first half of 2017, Laguna Beach resident Cottie Petrie-Norris already sensed momentum building among newly politicized progressive activists in Orange County.
Like others drawn to freshly minted grass-roots groups, Petrie-Norris regarded the results of the 2016 presidential election as a catalyst that provoked her to take part in protecting the nation’s democracy.
But her decision to seek public office crystallized more recently in the deluge of sexual harassment accusations that continues to topple abusive men from power.
“We need more people like me in public office; we need more women at the table,” said Petrie-Norris, 42, who this week announced her candidacy for state Assembly District 74.
Of the 120 elected officials in the legislature in 2017, just 26 are women, the lowest number since 1998.
“Cottie is the right person and the right woman for this seat,” said a statement from Karen Hinks, founder and director of WELead OC, which supports local women candidates. “And this is how we build a bench of Democratic candidates and a sustainable progressive movement across our county.”
The district of 465,000 residents spans the beach towns of Huntington, Newport and Laguna as well as Costa Mesa, Laguna Woods and Irvine. The incumbent, Republican Matthew Harper of Huntington Beach, defeated his Democratic challenger with a 12 percent spread in 2016.
Even so, four Orange County congressional districts returned Republican incumbents to office and also voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Those results tantalize Democrats, who lost their majority in the House of Representatives. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is expected to provide substantial funds in Orange County backing Democratic challengers, who are already jousting to take on Dana Rohrabacher, Mimi Walters and Darrell Issa.
With Assembly District 74 spanning two congressional districts, Petrie-Norris thinks she can take advantage of fired-up Democrats working to organize and register voters.
She doesn’t expect financial help from the state Democratic Party, as nearly 300 statewide offices will be in play next year. And she figures she will need to raise $100,000 for the primary and another $300,000 for the general election, but hopes for in-kind assistance from the county Democratic Party.
“We are going to throw all our weight behind her to win this race,” Aaron McCall, chair of Indivisible-OC 48, said in a statement.
With Democrats dominant in the state legislature, Petrie-Norris expects her corporate experience leading teams and managing projects will make her more effective than the incumbent, whose chances for carrying laws is hurt by the GOP’s minority in Sacramento. Education, job creation and the environment are her top priorities, but she has yet to formulate specific policy initiatives. She wants to consult with local elected leaders to learn their perspective on how best to represent them.
Raised in La Mesa, Petrie-Norris graduated from Yale University, an English and economics major. She went on to marketing and finance jobs with credit card issuers Capital One and American Express, helping launch a joint venture with a bank in South Africa. In London, she said she worked for start-ups Garlik and Indeed. “I did everything from making tea to raising millions of dollars,” she said.
She and her husband Colin, a Cape Town native, and two sons settled in Laguna Beach in 2012. They stopped for an oceanfront lunch while driving between Los Angeles and San Diego. “It grabbed onto our heartstrings,” Petrie-Norris said.
In the last year, while continuing to consult part-time for clients on marketing and business plans, Petrie-Norris deepened her involvement with the Laguna Beach Democratic Club and joined newly started groups such as the 200-strong Women For American Values and Ethics, based in Irvine. In Newport Beach in March, she helped organize an activist training workshop that drew 800 people. And she co-founded the 48th District Action Council – comprised of leaders from several local activist groups – to jointly organize efforts.
“This is an exciting time to be a Democrat in Orange County; there’s an unprecedented level of activism,” she said.