Rachel Payne, the most recent challenger to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in the 48th Congressional District, recently received a high-profile endorsement from the political action committee Emily’s List, which backs pro-choice Democratic candidates.
Despite her newcomer status, Payne proved adroit and articulate at a Feb. 6 debate on women’s issues organized by the grassroots group Indivisible OC 48. The “straw poll indicated Rachel a crowd favorite,” said one of the organizers, Sara Lowell. Payne was ranked second to candidate Harley Rouda, of Laguna Beach, as most knowledgeable on the issues, Lowell said.
Payne joins a crowded field of contenders vying to replace Rohrabacher in a district that spans Seal Beach to Laguna Beach. Along with Rouda, other Democrats actively campaigning in the race include Hans Keirstead, Omar Siddiqui, Michael Kotick and Laura Oatman, as well as Republican Stelian Onufrei, libertarian Brandon Reiser and independent Kevin Kensinger.
As the first member of her family to go to college, Payne, of Aliso Viejo, used scholarships, grants and part-time jobs to graduate from Smith College, one of the elite women-only colleges parallel to their male Ivy League counterparts.
It was a long jump from San Bernardino where she was born into a working class family. “My father found a new path forward because of his training and advancement through the operating engineers union. It helped our family in really important ways, so I understand firsthand how unions ensure working families can get ahead,” she said in a telephone interview.
After earning a master’s in business administration from Stanford, Payne worked five years for Google in San Francisco through 2010 in the company’s philanthropic arm, Google.org. That experience taught her that “women with access to financial services build on networks they already have and the result is economic growth.”
She advocates for more SBA loans to women because “small business is the backbone” of our economy. In the most recent tracking period, female business owners received 19 percent of the SBA loans made in California, a spokesperson for the SBA said in an email.
“Rachel Payne is a hard working leader whose experience and leadership in the technology industry means she knows how to create a new American economy that works for middle class families,” said a statement from Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List is an acronym for Early Money Is Like Yeast, (it makes the dough rise.) The name refers to the belief that receiving major donations early is helpful in attracting other, later donors.
An opponent of off shore drilling, Payne said, “the last thing we should be doing is going backwards. We could be creating the jobs of the future here in Orange County by doubling down our investment in clean energy production and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies.”
Payne supports increasing the minimum wage and believes that for now, the Affordable Care Act should be “shored up,” while a complete overhaul to a single payer healthcare system for the nation could be plausible in the future.
She is in favor of Prop. 68, the California water infrastructure and flood protection projects bond measure.
“Best practices are being violated,” Payne said in reference to the radioactive waste now stored at the closed San Onofre nuclear power plant. She finds the situation “gravely concerning,” and the thin-walled canisters that contain the waste, insufficient.
The candidate co-founded FEM, Inc. in 2012 a research and data analytics company, based in Aliso Viejo. She is also chief executive of Prizma, built with FEM Inc., to create video content. Both companies are owned and operated solely by women.
Payne entered the contest in November and has $136,828 in her war chest, including a $16,000 contribution out of her own pocket, Federal Election Commission reports through Dec. 31 show. The Emily’s List endorsement will likely generate more. Its members pledge monthly donations and receive emails about their candidates’ races. The group has turned the bundling of campaign contributions into an art form, enlisting its thousands of members nationwide to direct their money to key races, says Opensecrets.org, an online campaign contribution database. Emily’s List donated $5.7 million to 57 candidates in 2016, ranging from $4,700 to $428,000 in individual House races.
Payne represents an upstart against better-financed and better-known male candidates.
Rouda, who is largely self-funded and began campaigning nearly a year ago, leads all rivals including the incumbent with $833,687 cash on hand, according to the most recent FEC filing in February. Rohrabacher reported $713,144 on hand. And last weekend, Keirstead received the endorsement of the state Democratic Party delegates at its convention in San Diego.
Both a bankroll and support will figure in who succeeds in June to challenge the incumbent in November.
Lowell believes the endorsement by Emily’s List will be a boon for Payne. “Their track record is good; the majority of women they endorse are ultimately victorious in their races,” she said, adding “we are very lucky to have a slate of really great candidates running in the CA-48 congressional race.”