September 1, 2015

California Assembly Member Autumn Burke represents the 62nd District, a largely coastal swath of Los Angeles County

(Editor’s Note: The answers and questions have been paraphrased for brevity and clarity.)


Autumn Burke was elected to the California Assembly as a freshman in 2014, which made her part of the first mother-daughter team to ever serve as California legislators.  Her mother, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, had a distinguished career as a Los Angeles County supervisor, California Assembly member and U.S. Congresswoman.  In 1973, when Autumn was born to Rep. Burke, she became the first child ever born to a sitting female member of Congress.


You grew up in a well-known political family with a different childhood than most.  Did it seem extraordinary?

When I was born, my mother was in Congress, so I started out my life traveling back and forth from Washington, D.C.  Sure, that was different, but for me it was normal.  It’s what I knew.

After she left Congress, we did settle in Los Angeles and that is where I grew up and went to school.


I noticed that you graduated from college with a degree in Theater Arts.  Was it your plan early on to become an actress?

I started out in college as an anthropology major, but when I discovered I had to go to New Guinea to pursue that career, I switched to theater arts.  I was always interested in the theater and my godmother is a very accomplished actress (Cicely Tyson).  I was interested in the idea of acting and I was good at it.  But I was pretty cerebral and I had lots of other interests.

I began my career in the events business working eight years with the Los Angeles marathon and also worked with the group that put together a NASCAR race in Los Angeles.  From there I worked in real estate as a wholesale lender bundling mortgages.  After that I opened up a consulting business which was involved in small business development.


What made you look at the political arena as a potential career?

In my consulting business, I started doing work for a client involving AB 217, which authorizes funding for the use of solar in low-income neighborhoods.  As I looked into it and got more involved in that issue, it became clear to me that the kind of work that could be done as an assembly member interested me.  That was about three years ago and I decided to run for the seat, and I was elected.


Did you come into office with any pet issues that you wanted to pursue?

I did.  One of my biggest concerns revolves around education and job training.  Seventy percent of the population of young people will never see the inside of a four-year university.  I have been working with Sen. (Mike) McGuire on SB 148 (The Career and Job Skills Education Act) which allocates $900 million for technical job training that gives these people who are not going to a four-year college a clear path to a career.  The money will be allocated based on the community you are in, so if you are in a district with a Tesla plant, there could be access to education for jobs that prepare you for work in that environment…maybe they need welders.  If you are in an agricultural community, money will be allocated that trains you for a technical job in the agricultural field, which is becoming much more technical.  The goal is to champion job growth for those people not getting a four-year degree.

Another important issue for me is giving low-income people greater access to alternative fuel vehicles.  The western part of my district is very wealthy while the eastern part is very challenged.  I would like to see people in lower income areas have access to some of the greener technology that is available to higher income people.

I am a sponsor of AB 1393, which will help small businesses and individuals afford cleaner vehicles and various green energy investments by providing financial assistance through the Treasurer’s California Pollution Control Financing Authority.  We are looking at ideas such as mitigating the liability when a lender loans to a low income individual who may not have a great credit rating.


You have been serving in the Assembly for about seven months now—any surprises?  Is it as contentious as we read about?

I came in to the Assembly with my eyes fairly wide open, so I would not say there have been a lot of surprises.  I was elected at a very good time with a very good freshmen class.  It is less contentious than you think.  The freshmen are especially working very well together and across the aisle.

Maybe the only surprise would be how much “large politics” still plays a role.  I sponsored a very good midwife bill but two giants fought each other over it and it was derailed.  I guess I was a bit surprised how that happened.


You have no agriculture in your district, but that is, of course, a very important industry in the state.  Have you had the opportunity to work with the ag industry?

I am very appreciative of the opportunity I have had to learn about agriculture and how incredibly important it is to the economy of our state.  I have sat down with members in the Assembly who represent agricultural districts and have learned about how highly technical agriculture is becoming.  I believe the agricultural industry can benefit from our Job Skills bill that can help train agricultural workers for some of the technical jobs in that industry.

I am in an urban area, but I do know how important agriculture is to California.


Agriculture has a couple of issues that are very important to it, most notably the water situation.  Do you believe the Legislature is poised to act to help the state work through its water supply issues?

The Legislature is very aware of the water situation.  It is a definite problem and we are discussing it.  Right now, the water bond is still in the process of being implemented and that is currently how we are dealing with the situation.  As a body we do understand the importance of water to California and it is top of mind.


Our members produce some of the finest fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts in the world.  Are you a consumer of our products and what are your favorites?

I absolutely love almonds.  I haven’t always been a big fruit eater, but I definitely understand the need to eat healthier and I have been trying to do that.  I know we need to cut out the French fries and eat more fruits and vegetables.  I’m not really a good cook as I don’t like to take the time that it needs.  But I do like to eat.