By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
Karla Black is a numbers cruncher for a local construction company, but she’s counting on adding Congressmember to her résumé.
Black is in the Congressional District 6 race. The district was previously helmed by Doris Matsui, who served nine years before term limits forced her to run for the District 7 seat. Black is a single mother to a young son and attends online classes at American River College.
She is new to politics, but sees that as a positive.
“Prior to 2016, I guess I had a different perspective in terms of politics, but I always still paid attention,” she shared. “I watch (politicians) and watch what they do with their country, as opposed to turning them on to listen to what they’re talking about. I was always reading between the lines for whatever the underlying message was, with most politicians.”
Black started following things a bit closer, she said, after what she saw as the media’s mistreatment of presidential candidate Donald Trump.
“I thought ‘wow, they’re really going after this guy,’ she said.
Trump won, but many African Americans referred to him as “not my president.”
Black said she always has been a rebel, unafraid to go against the grain.
“Growing up, I challenged authority in terms of if it didn’t feel right or if it didn’t make sense. That’s how I felt with our local government in Sacramento; then, of course, the state … and then even the federal government,” she said.
“Luckily we live in the United States of America and we have that power and that authority to assert our individualism over the government; the government works for us. In no way should we ever be afraid of our government or feel oppressed by our government and that’s how I was feeling in 2020,” she said of her decision to run for Congress.
Running, Black said, is her deciding to put some walk behind the talk.
“I didn’t complain about what’s happening in our country all day,” she said. “At the end of the day, what are you doing to change it?”
Congress is a lofty goal for a political novice. Most enter the arena at a more local level.
“We have a lot of issues in Sacramento; even the school board, even the water district,” Black shared. “Honestly there’s a lot of places that I’m sure I could have stepped into, but I felt most comfortable and most confident with Congress because I follow that a little bit more closely than other governments.”
She lists safety, crime, education and homelessness among her top priorities.
While Democrats hold a supermajority in the California legislature, Black said there’s room for Republicans like her. “I think people in our state would benefit a little bit more if there were more of an even (number) of Republicans and Democrats in our state legislature,” Black said, adding her family includes both.
“We’re all loud and outspoken. I don’t hate Democrats and I hate even saying Democrats or Republicans, because we’re all Americans. That’s what my platform is about. We’re neighbors, we’re family members, we’re schoolmates. We shouldn’t be at each other’s throat the way that the media tries to have us doing and some people do act like that and eat it up.”
Black often finds it helpful to get her older sister’s opinion, as she “leans a bit more to the left.”
“I’ll bounce things off for her because I do want that other perspective, because I can only see mine at the time and to have someone that you love and care about have a different opinion, it helps me understand and rethink things,” she shared.
She doesn’t wear a MAGA hat, but knows that some people still will look at her as if she does. Being a “people person” helps get past any initial misgivings, she said.
“I love people and I like to talk to people – old, young, middle aged, I don’t care. If you’re gonna talk, especially if it’s about politics, I want to be your friend. I want to talk to you. Once people find out my political views or ideologies, I haven’t really had a negative response. To be quite honest, when I was knocking on doors, going door to door, I had the most negative response from older White Democrats.
“Most of the Black people that I’ve talked to you, they’re like, ‘Sounds good. I like what you’re doing’ and honestly, I think that’s all it takes. It also takes us to talk to someone, nobody knocks on doors anymore. Nobody goes out and talks to these people and I think that’s the problem.”
She wants to see more Black representation in the local GOP. “Typically, when I go to these meetings, I will say most of the time I’m the youngest person there. Then there might be one or two other Black people. I think there definitely needs to be more outreach in terms of our organization and how we need to move forward, especially in the Black communities,” Black said.
California already has three Black women in Congress: Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee and Karen Bass – all Democrats. Black takes issue with Waters in particular.
“I think she’s too old,” Black said. “I know a lot of people, or even Republicans mainly, who want term limits. I think we should have age limits. If you get up to a certain point where you should probably retire, those are your sunset years. You need to relax. Don’t be worried about trying to run the country and leave that to the younger generation.”
‘Bet On Black’
Black knows that every vote counts and it’s getting down to the wire. Election Day is June 7, but all California voters are being sent mail-in ballots in early May.
Black, who was born and raised in North Highlands, is not only trying to convince people to vote for her, but to vote at all. Many in her district aren’t registered. She lists the steps to sign up on her business cards and website. She translates information into Spanish on campaign materials distributed where there’s a large Latino population. Voter registration and turnout, she said, are crucial to her chances.
Black said most people mistake her for a Latina, but her mother is African American and her father is White. She credits who she is today, to her maternal grandfather, James Black.
“My dad was around, but he wasn’t the father that my grandfather was to us,” she said. “He’s the one who made sure we were off to school. He’s the one who made us breakfast, lunch and dinner, supported us, clothed us.”
Her grandfather and two uncles were in the military. James Black worked at McClellan Air Force Base and Karla fondly remembers going there with him to the old movie theater and how he’d sneak in M&M’s for her and her siblings. Before he died of dementia a decade ago, Black took care of him.
“He wasn’t someone who liked handouts. He didn’t like people feeling sorry for him, so he would never let us feel sorry for ourselves,” she said. “It was always, ‘You keep your chin up, be strong. Don’t take anybody’s crap. Work hard.’ Never a victim mentality.”
Having a grandfather and uncles who were conservative naturally rubbed off on Black. “When Black people were able to vote, they voted Republican and the first legislators, they were Republican,” she said.
Black evokes the memories of two slain civil rights icons to drive home her point.
“Dr. King was Republican and then you’ve got Malcolm X warning you about the White liberal being the most dangerous thing on the planet to Black voters. Looking at the history, I just feel like I aligned more with the Republican Party.”
The family has had some pretty heated discussions over the years. They clashed over COVID-19 vaccines and bringing up Trump usually got one uncle going.
“Sometimes my friends will come over and we’ll all be yelling, but that’s just how we talk,” Black said.
The Race Is On
The District 6 field is deep. Among others, Black has to defeat Ami Bera, the Democrat who previously represented District 7; federal investigator Chris Bish; Citrus Heights City Councilmember Bret Daniels; and Tamika Hamilton, who nearly beat veteran politician John Garamendi in 2020.
“I’m not worried about any of them,” Black said. “I’ve stepped on the same stage as they have and we had a Q&A and none of them know exactly what’s going on with our country in terms of what’s going on with inflation or with Iran, or what specifically happened in Afghanistan.
“None of them are talking about the issues that are going on in our country. That’s what the job description is; the job is to know about what’s going on in our country and if you can’t answer a simple Q&A about the Iran nuclear deal, then we’ve got a problem.”
District 6, she said, feels “fresh and new” due to redistricting.
“I think District 6 was something like 27% Republican and so it was heavily Democrat,” she said. “Right now it’s more up into the 30s and 40s Republican in terms of that spread and the district is smaller than it was previously. I feel like that’s a huge advantage.”
Black lives in Antelope and has lived in Rancho Cordova, Natomas and Elverta. That also sets her apart, she said.
“My roots have been here. My family’s here. This is where my son is being raised,” she said. “Sacramento is me. I love Sacramento and I want to see Sacramento do well. I know we can do way better.”
Black said she’s proud of her campaign, regardless of the upcoming election’s outcome, and that while she has disagreements with the Republican Party, she likes the idea of less government influence in people’s lives.
“(I want) to pull back the reins and give the power back to the individual,” Black said. “I’m joining in because the people who are currently in that position are ruining it. If that’s what it takes to fix the situation – for me to take that person’s job – then I’m going to try to take their job.”