Katie Hill Wasn’t the Only One Betrayed — Her Constituents Were Too

Like so many activists who have supported the rising star Democrat since the beginning, I’m angry beyond belief

Credit: Mario Tama/Getty

As many of us in California know, the winds of October can be cruel. And for the congresswoman in my district, rising star freshman Katie Hill, the month was particularly brutal. Her life and our district went up in flames on the very same day.

Fire rushed down the hillsides last Thursday afternoon toward the exurbs of Canyon Country. We had to pack to leave before it consumed us all.

Our congresswoman, unfortunately, had already been consumed that morning as far right-wing rags published intimate photos of her, allegedly taken by her estranged husband, Kenny Heslep. The couple is going through a bitter divorce. And Heslep allegedly decided that revenge porn and sexual humiliation were new tools he could use to destroy his wife and blackmail her into providing financial support once they split.

Days after the nude photos were published against her consent, Hill stepped down from Congress. Like so many activists who have supported her since the beginning, I’m angry beyond belief.

I had signed up to work in Hill’s campaign office during the 2018 primary season when there were at least two other Democrats running; She was considered a long shot. I really took to phone banking and was thrilled when I was able to help change people’s attitudes. Over several months, I heard people say the same thing over and over:

“This district will never vote for a woman,” they would tell me.

Or: “What are you doing? No one here will elect a woman. She doesn’t have a chance.”

CA-25 is a district in L.A. County, about a half an hour ride north from Hollywood. It is nestled in soaring canyons, where cowboys and stagecoach robbers used to roam and where oil rigs now jut out from the ground. It’s home to abundant numbers of law enforcement officers, retired veterans, and, more recently, an influx of progressives like myself looking for less expensive housing and the serenity of the canyons.

Within a short time, those stiff attitudes toward electing a woman began to soften, and Hill was no longer the underdog — she was everywhere. She was not just the hardest working aspiring congresswoman I had ever met, but one of the hardest working people, period.

When Hill went to Congress, she had raised more money than just about any other candidate in the 2018 midterm races. She emerged as a mediator among the various factions in the new freshman Democratic class, earning her a formal leadership seat at Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s table and a spot as co-chair of the influential House Oversight Committee. That panel served a critical role in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, which likely made her a very big target for the right.

So when the evil winds came roaring last Thursday to tear down our district and our congresswoman’s life, I was furious. We knew she was human. We liked that about her. She was a millennial, born with a cell phone attached to her umbilical cord and used to her peers (and husband) documenting everything in their lives, even when a cell phone would be better left in a dresser drawer.

Hill apologized immediately for having a consensual relationship with a campaign aide. But once she went to Washington and learned the new ethics guidelines that had just passed in Congress, she immediately ended that relationship because it was considered a grey area.

It’s a slap in the face to those who voted, to the thousands of us who volunteered and worked to bring the change we so very much believed in.

So why did she leave? Why now? Sexual humiliation is the only answer I can come up with. The oldest trick in the misogynist’s handbook.

The Republicans, for all their faults and the gross deterioration of their own party and presidency, do manage to support and rally behind each other. By the following Monday night, not one Democrat had come forward to defend or support Hill, only Republican Matt Gaetz. Pelosi released a quick statement saying her resignation was for the best.

As for Hill, the ethics hearing her congressional colleagues promised was never conducted. She exists now in a netherworld. She never was afforded the dignity to be exonerated or found guilty only to receive her punishment (the way the men do) and move on. It’s a slap in the face to those who voted, to the thousands of us who volunteered and worked to bring the change we so very much believed in. And I for one, am furious.

I’m furious the vultures are back. I’m furious that Hill’s Republican opponent in her 2018 race, Steve Knight, is looking to run again. The far-right conspiracy lovers and cellar-dwelling incels who endlessly trolled Hill, our local daughter, to resign are celebrating and saying this is an open seat, that they have a shot here. But they seem to forget that sexually humiliating a congresswoman into resigning will lose you votes among your likely voters. We don’t have time for these ugly schemes. We’re too furious for that.

Ariel Penn @arielpenn, Campaign volunteer for Christy Smith. Writer: “The Mrs. Club: A Witness to the Birth of Marriage Equality Finally Finds Her Bride.”

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