Longtime L.A. resident and activist Heather Hutt was recently one of three women of color added to Senator Kamala Harris’ staff as her state director. The Sentinel caught up with Hutt last week to talk about her new role, what it entails, her relationship with the senator and what’s on the horizon in her political career. Hutt said she is definitely aware of the significance of this new assignment, as she is currently the only African American female in California holding the position.
“It’s a big responsibility,” Hutt said.
“In this role, I recognize that the senator trusts me, my colleagues trust me and that’s really important. That really resonates to me and other women, being in a role where you’re there because the work you’ve done is so important.”
A California, particularly a Los Angeles native, Hutt has spent her life and career fighting for the residents here. She grew up in the Leimert Park neighborhood, attending Westchester High School and subsequently graduating from the University of Southern California.
“I grew up [here]. Leimert Park was the park that I was in as a little girl. This is my neighborhood. Being in this community, I understand what’s important, what leadership looks like and what the changes and challenges are. When you love where you are and you love your community you want to share that love in your work as well as your [personal life].”
Even in her personal life, Hutt said she still keeps activism and her concerns about community issues in the forefront.
“I have three sons who are men now and I have done the best that I could to teach them about activism,” said Hutt.
“I’ve been an activist my entire life and when issues are important we talk about them. We have dinner [together] every Sunday, not just my [immediate] family but my sister and my brother and their kids and we cook together and we all sit around the table and talk about issues that are important to us.
“And I think that keeps everybody aware and that keeps us active.”
In her new role, Hutt will be managing Harris’ staff in all five her California offices: Sacramento, San Francisco, Fresno, San Diego and Los Angeles. She is making sure, she said, that staff in each office is amplifying Harris’ priorities as well as her record. She has a close relationship with the Washington DC office in different capacities, “to let them know what is actually happening in our state so they can sometimes match it to legislation or at least understand what the current events are so that the boss is abreast of what’s important to her constituents in California,” Hutt explained, going into some of the new legislation on the horizon for Senator Harris.
“One of the things that I should share is the maternal care act,” said Hutt.
“She introduced it last year and I’m sure she’s reintroducing it this year. And this is about, really the percentage of African American women who either die pre, during birth or postpartum. And so, her bill is about implicit bias training for the healthcare professional. Because, you remember what happened to Serena [Williams] she was feeling like something was wrong with her body, and the healthcare professionals told her to ‘take two aspirin and call us in the morning.’
“And they typically do that with African American women because they have biases. And so the senator is saying, ‘no more. We need you to have some training’ [for specific needs pertaining to African American women].
“And so, the training will happen in several sections in health care education in facilities like hospitals and medical centers and then also with non-profits. And so, what we’re doing is going throughout the state and having roundtables with healthcare professionals who have had experience so that they can have input into the bill that will probably be introduced in June of this year.
“The next thing is something that is just incredible. I think it will be a surprise to most people but it’s the rent relief act. Now, most people get some kind of credit or tax relief in their mortgages but there’s really no relief for a renter. And so, she has introduced the rent relief act, which will bring about 600 dollars a month back into your household as a renter for folks who are making under a 100,000 dollars a year.
“So, that’s a broad spectrum of renters. And what’s important about that is that most of us are just one crisis away from being homeless. And, so this will be a boost. And it’s important for people to know that she knows that we are just one crisis away.
“So, she has honed in on issues that are deeply rooted in the Black community. And that’s why I like working for her because she’s looking into things that can really make a difference. And all my life I’ve really wanted to make a difference.”
Hutt said Harris is also working on things like a bail money bill, an aim at changing the criminal justice system in a way that helps the poor and the preservation of land bill for HBCUs.
Hutt describes working with Harris as “kind of amazing.”
“I can give you some history. In 2010, my sister was the president of the New Frontier Democratic Club and the senator was running for attorney general. And so, we endorsed and we put manpower… We all went in hard for her to become attorney general.
“That was our first meeting with someone who had an opportunity to take on this role as the first African American female to be attorney general. I thought she was an amazing and very smart woman. And, what she always says is bringing women into government is not just the right thing to do but it’s the smart thing to do.
“I worked in the California State Legislature as the district director for Senator Isadore Hall and when he was an assembly member. But when he went for Congress and didn’t win I didn’t know what was next.
“I was asked to turn in my resume to see if I could qualify to work for her. I think it was my history that gave me this opportunity. I have really deep roots in Los Angeles. I was born here, my mother was born here. I remember so many things about changes in Los Angeles and I just love California and I think that made her feel comfortable about hiring me.”
Hutt described her strategy for taking on the momentus task like this: “I think I’m calm and analytical and proactive. I think when you’re managing people you should remember their human and handle it as kindly as possible.
“I depend on God to get me through most things. And I have a wonderful village (network). It’s about say what you do and do what you say. Don’t over promise and under perform. People will notice good work. Your work will speak for itself…”
For more information on Senator Harris and her team visit www.harris.senate.gov