Whether we’re in the heat of an election season or not, Katie Naranjo is always in the thick of Democratic politics. As one of our newly elected members of the Democratic National Committee, she is a rising star and busier than ever.
If you watched coverage of the National Convention in Charlotte, you probably saw Naranjo, because the TV cameras often panned the Texas delegation and usually caught sight of her — smiling, clapping and cheering. Her rise has been meteoric, from president of College Democrats of America to CEO of GNI Strategies, a consulting firm that specializes in online campaigns for progressive candidates and causes.
A seemingly endless supply of energy, enthusiasm and intellect has become Katie Naranjo’s trademark, and we expect to see a lot more of her as we turn Texas into a Democratic majority state.
QUESTION: You were recently elected to the Democratic National Committee. Why did you decide to run for that position?
NARANJO: When I was elected president of the College Democrats, I sat on the DNC board. I wasn’t a delegate, but I had an executive position from 2008 until 2010, and we oversaw the budget process. So few people, especially young people, know how those things work, and I realized that if more people know how the DNC works internally, we can build relations to bring more things back to our state. One really good thing is there are a lot of really young Texans on the DNC. We’re one of the few states to consistently have young DNC members over the past five years.
QUESTION: What resources does the DNC give to Texas?
NARANJO: When I was on the DNC before, Texas was not part of the vote-building system. Howard Dean was chairman then, and he wanted to nationalize the voting data base system to provide tools for all states. The DNC system had surpassed our system here, so I went to the Texas Democratic Party and worked with the Texas Democratic Party to become part of the national vote-builder program. I helped educate folks about the resources available.
QUESTION: What would you like to see Texas receive from the DNC? Do you have priorities in mind?
NARANJO: I think the DNC could do a number of things in base-building here. Our party has changed recently — there’s a lot more messaging and outreach to hard-core Democrats. The DNC could help us with doing that, and I think they will. Those Bill Clinton ads for Obama that are running now have a DNC disclaimer on them, and we wouldn’t see that here if they didn’t think Texas was important. I don’t expect the DNC to have field organizers in Texas or give the Democratic Party here $1 million, but Texas voters shouldn’t be excluded from the mail and TV buys. It’s only a matter of time in terms of the demographics before we are a Democratic state. We need to have the DNC involved in media and fundraising and communicating with young people.
QUESTION: The TDP is changing under new Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa. He was highly visible at the National Convention and wants to restructure the SDEC (State Democratic Executive Committee). What do you think of some of those changes?
NARANJO: I think the fact that we have a Hispanic chairman who can deliver messaging to the Hispanic community that a non-Hispanic person cannot shows where our priorities are. We are working hard for voting rights for minorities, for health care in the Rio Grande Valley, education funding. Hiring Mary Gonzalez (El Paso candidate for State Representative) for Hispanic outreach is a big step for us. It’s convenient for us to have the SDEC meetings in Austin, but it’s important for every member to feel important to the party, not just people in the capital of the state.
Some people make fun of the SDEC, but if it weren’t for the SDEC, some of our candidates with signature requirements wouldn’t be on the battle. They do the organizing that has to be done to get candidates on the ballot and staff the primaries. They’re really our unsung, unpaid heroes.
QUESTION: You’ve been active in politics for a long time — before you could vote! What’s your inspiration?
NARANJO: I always cared about what was going on in the world, but I never dreamed I would be making a living in politics. My grandmother took me block walking for Bill Clinton when he was running for President in 1992. I was 6 then, and we lived in East Texas, in Lufkin. I was really inspired by my grandmother, who was the first white person in Lufkin to hire a black person (for her business) on the South side of Lufkin. I grew up knowing how minorities were treated and got to hang out with all these seasoned activists. When I was 12, I went to the state convention and wrote articles for a little newspaper, and I was putting up signs in people’s yards when I was 16. My parents aren’t particularly political, but it’s exciting to see them getting more so now.
QUESTION: I love one of your favorite quotes on your Facebook page: “Always look on the bright side of life.” Is that hard to do sometimes as a Democrat in Texas?
NARANJO: I’ve been a Democrat my whole life. I remember working for Bill Clinton and being a Democrat in East Texas when it was not the cool thing to do. Things are a lot brighter here in Austin. There were hard times in 2010, but I just think there are always brighter times ahead.