Rose Kapolczynski is a veteran campaign and communications strategist, best known for running all four of Sen. Barbara Boxer’s Senate campaigns. She was named president of the American Association of Political Consultants in July 2019. Before taking part in a Zócalo/UCLA Downtown panel titled “Will California Pick the Next President?,” which took place at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown Los Angeles, Kapolczynski sat down in the green room and discussed her love of gardening, the hardest thing about being a campaign strategist, and Casa Bianca Pizza.
Who is your favorite president and why?
Boy, hmm. I think it has to be Franklin Roosevelt. Taking the country out of the Depression and creating this foundation of employment and economic recovery that really rebuilt America. It’s a remarkable story.
What issue do you think is most important to California voters?
The economy remains central to California voters. It affects every single person. It’s what people talk about around the kitchen table: How are we going to afford college? How are we going to build a better life for our kids? And all of that comes back to, do we have a robust economy? So that issue predominates.
And it’s true over time that the economy is a central issue for people, unless we’re at war or there’s some other overwhelming crisis. It’s probably still true that the economy is central, and still will be central in 2020.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?
I read a lot. I recently read Educated by Tara Westover, which was an extraordinary story of endurance and determination and the importance of education to transform lives. It’s a very compelling story. But I also read trashy mysteries. I’m reading Tyler Kepner’s new book on baseball right now.
What was it like working for the Sierra Club?
It was like a dream come true. My favorite place to be is out-of-doors, and working to protect the environment was something I felt so lucky to do and have still tried to do in my political life. I was a grassroots organizer working on a shoestring budget. I didn’t even have a car. I would take the bus to go organize people in remote communities who cared about protecting wilderness. It was a wonderful introduction to how to connect with people on the ground, in their communities, and create change. It was a great foundation for everything I’ve done since.
What do you like most about Eagle Rock?
Boy, that’s a tough one. There’s so much to like. I think my vote has to go to Casa Bianca Pizza Pie. It’s a classic, old-time pizza parlor, and the people are friendly, and the pie is great.
If you didn’t live in Los Angeles, where would you be?
Probably in a rural area in the Pacific Northwest, where I lived for a long time. I still spend a lot of time up there. Family, friends. It’s like the flip side of busy, exciting, urban Los Angeles.
What’s the hardest thing about being a campaign strategist?
You have an absolute deadline of Election Day. No one’s going to wait if you miss that deadline, if you don’t accomplish what needs to get done. If you make a critically wrong decision, there are no do-overs. And you do it all in the public eye. In a lot of jobs, the deadline slips.
What do you miss about Seattle?
I love the connection to the natural world in Seattle. Even though it’s experiencing a massive tech boom right now, there’s a historic commitment to city parks, greenbelts, Puget Sound. And it’s surrounded by national forests that are very accessible. And then, of course, [I have] friends and family there, too.
Where do you go to be alone?
My garden. I love to garden, and you can’t be on your phone when you’re pulling weeds. Even in the middle of the megalopolis, it’s a place where you hear the birds and see bugs fly by and whatever you planted last week has gotten a little bit bigger. Hopefully.
What’s your favorite plant?
It’s a tough call between a homegrown tomato and lavender. I try to have a lot of both every year. Lavender is fragrant and drought-tolerant and the perfect Los Angeles plant.
How often do you swim in the Pacific Ocean?
Rarely. I live in Eagle Rock—might as well be in Kansas. I think there really is a different life on the east side than the west side.
What was the most important year of your life?
Since birth? Let’s see. I don’t know, it’s very hard to answer that question. 1979, when I met the man who would become my husband. We’ve been together ever since. Or 1984, when I got my first real job on a campaign, and I realized that I loved this work, and that I was good at it.
Where would we find you at 10 a.m. on a typical Saturday?
Cleaning the house, listening to country music, or in my garden.