Growing up on the campaign trail

In 1988, Brian Brokaw was an 8-year-old Little Leaguer who hoped each Saturday that he’d be able to finish his game before it was time to head out and walk precincts.

“Not something that every 8-year-old dreams of doing, but it came with the territory in my house,” Brokaw said. Brokaw’s dad is Sacramento Advocates lobbyist Barry Brokaw, who back then was chief of staff to Sen. Daniel Boatwright. That summer, Boatwright was facing the toughest re-election fight of his career, and the younger Brokaws were getting a crash course in politics. He said he spent hours practicing his role – learning to read people’s faces so he knew the exact right time to reach out and offer campaign literature.

Brokaw added, “There was a weekly countdown for when the campaign would be over and we could have our lives back. It was good preparation for what I ultimately ended up doing.”

What he ended up doing was becoming a political consultant. These days, Brokaw is spending long hours out on the trail as head spokesman for Kamala Harris, the San Francisco District Attorney who is the Democratic nominee for attorney general. Meanwhile, his pregnant wife, Paige Brokaw, a consultant to Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, has been out walking precincts for Alyson Huber, D-Lodi, one of the races Democrats are targeting most heavily this year.

In terms of experience, though, an 8-year-old Brokaw would probably have been outdone by two-year-old Heath Ryan Lockhart. Lockhart’s mom is Sabrina Demayo Lockhart, a former deputy press secretary to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who is now communications director to Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Fresno.

The younger Lockhart is now on his fifth campaign — sixth if you count his in utero efforts against the Jeff Denham recall in 2008. He’s also walked as part of Senate campaigns for Greg Aghazarian, Sam Blakeslee and Tony Strickland. Currently, he’s helping his mom out trying to get Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Fair Oaks, elected to the late Dave Cox’s Senate seat, and with Anthony Cannella’s campaign in the 12th Senate District, where his mom is currently on loan part-time.

“We have to make sure that we get out early and do it before naptime,” Lockhart said. “As he’s starting to get more independence, he really feels strongly about helping me knock on the doors and give out campaign literature.”

Speaking of independence, Lockhart herself was raised by a pair of registered Democrats, though they’re now both decline-to-states. And they still let her and Heath stay the night in their Monterey-area home on some of their campaign trips.

While having the kids out on the trail is usually due to necessity, it can be helpful to both parents and kids. Simply put, having a kid in tow can reduce both the amount of hostility one may face when knocking on a door of someone who doesn’t support a candidate, or who just doesn’t want to be bothered.

“It’s a lot easier to slam the door on the  face of a middle-aged woman than a two-year-old,” said Lockhart, who, for the record, is only 33.

“The firearms disappear quite a bit when you have a kid,” said Republican policy consultant Matt Ross, the father of an eight-year-old son and a six-year-old daughter. “The mean dogs, you can avoid more.”

Then there was the bong he was offered once, Ross said (he said no), who said those sorts of adventures don’t usually happen when he has his kids.

Life can be particularly hectic when both parents are in politics. Tiffany Conklin is chief of staff to Sen. Tom Harman. Her husband, Damon Conklin, worked a decade in the Legislature. He took two months to work against the recall campaign against Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, in 2008, and also worked on Blakeslees Senate campaign this year.

“I just bring the kids so they remember who dad is,” Conklin joked of Olivia, four, and Grant, age three.

Grant, with his bright red hair, can be a real help in breaking the ice when she knocks on doors, Conklin said. Which was a big help with a “nice grandmother sort who let us use a potty in an incident of extreme emergency,” she added.

So how much do young kids actually know about what’s going on around them in a campaign?

“They’re still trying to understand that running for office isn’t a physically running down-the-street kind of thing,” said Adam Keigwin of his daughters Sienna, five, and Olivia, two. Chief of staff to Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, the Keigwins and their double-stroller are veterans of several campaigns.

Knocking on doors in San Francisco, the girls have occasionally seen things “beyond their years,” Keigwin said. Like many who walk precincts, they’ve acquired a fear of dogs. Their favorite campaign stop appears to be the time they got to stay at Circus Circus in Reno. But, Keigwin said, Sienna seems to be tuning into the whole concept.

“When I watch CNN, she’s always asking what they’re talking about,” Keigwin said.

In fact, early exposure to a political campaign seems to be a thread that run through many stories of how people ended up in the political life. Assemblyman Steve Knight, R-Lancaster, caught the bug when he was in high school and his dad ran for city council. Knight’s dad, incidentally, is the late William “Pete” Knight, the former astronaut who went on to serve a dozen years in the Legislature. Knight says his own 11-year-old son has now started a conservative club at his school.

Dan Chick’s kids actually came into his life on the campaign trail — and a couple of them now have the bug, too. A staffer in the building for nearly two decades, including time as chief of staff to former Senate Republican leader. Dick Ackerman, Chick met his wife on the 1992 Bill Morrow for Assembly campaign when she walked in to volunteer. When they married, Chick got four step-kids between five and 12 years old.

Eighteen years later, Chick is a lobbyist for HealthNet, his wife Jayme Chick is a consultant for Assembly Republican leader Martin Garrick, R-Carlsbad, son Eric Dietz is a legislative aide to Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, and Brett Dietz spent some time working for Assemblyman Brian Nestande.

“(In) a lot of families, life is centered on the school calendar,” Chick said. “Ours was centered on the legislative calendar.”

In fact, Meg Whitman aside, Matt Ross said that most people he knows in politics got seriously interested, if not directly involved, by the time they were in their late teens or early twenties. His own awakening came in his early teen years, when a friend got him into the Bart Christiansen for Congress campaign in Redondo Beach in 1982.
“Most of them got the bug early,” Ross said. “Few of them got it late.”

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