Every Campaign Can Learn From Candidate Jessica Katzenmeyer | NDTC

When starting out, every elected official asks themselves , “Why do I want to run for office? Instead of asking why Jessica Katzenmeyer asked, “How can I serve? 

Jessica Katzenmeyer is running for Wisconsin State Assembly in District 15. She is the first transgender person to run in this district, and second transgender person ever to run for the State Assembly. 

Rooted in support for working families, her campaign focuses on healthcare, specifically pertaining to life-saving medicine and hospital visits.  

We sat down to talk with her about running for office, what inspires her, and her advice to other transgender candidates (or potential candidates).

Story of Self: Who Are You? 

Laura Petrolino: What inspired you to run for office?

Jessica Katzenmeyer: I have three basic reasons why I’m running right now. I’m going to go back four years ago when I was doing a podcast on LGBTQ politics. 

I had a representative on as a guest at the time. JoCasta Zamarripa, who was openly out in the Wisconsin State Legislature, said to me after we recorded the episode, “You know what? It would be awesome to see a transgender person run for office and win.” It got me thinking. 

So, I started building the blocks to get to this point. I went through Emerge Wisconsin, Class of 2017. That was my first really big step. I, then, went through LGBTQ Victory Institute. I’ve been building my contacts since, and I worked on a campaign in 2018. And, that got me to where I am today.

The real reason why I am running, what got me into this race, is, number one, I’ve always been passionate about wanting to help and serve people. I’m that person who will give you a ride to the gas station, or wait at the hospital with you for hours, or lend you twenty dollars for something. I’m the type of person who will do that. 

Everyone Deserves Access To Healthcare

Number two. Last year was kind of a rough year for me. Last year, on Father’s Day, I lost nearly everything I had in a house fire. The next day I was staying at a friend’s place, and I collapsed on the floor. I couldn’t breathe, so my friend called 911. 

That was the last thing I remember. I woke up three days later in the hospital after falling into a coma. After finding out that I nearly died from a staph infection in my lungs, I stayed in the hospital for a week, and if I did not have health insurance, I would have paid $80,000 to save my life. 

That is a big reason why I’m running because no one should ever have to worry about life-saving medical treatment. Let’s say you collapse on the ground right now, no one should ever have to second guess calling 911 because it might be a financial burden on this person. 

That’s not right. We should be taking care of our own. That’s why healthcare has become a big part of my platform. One of my mottos is “A Healthy State’s A Strong State.” 

Practicing What She Preaches

That moment was a wake-up call for me. I ended up losing 62 pounds. I’m actually off of high blood pressure medication now for the first time in years. I improved myself greatly in terms of health, and running a campaign on healthcare, I decided to give up drinking soda to help promote better healthcare here in Wisconsin. 

I thought, “You know what? We’re leaders and we need to set an example. It’s been three weeks and I feel great. I’ve got so much more energy.

The third reason why I’m running is that I am so sick and tired of the Republican leadership right now. I have heard, time and time again when talking with people on the phone, that they’re not being represented the way they should be. That’s a big quality, I believe,  that’s being lost in a lot of elected officials today. 

That’s one of the qualities I want to bring back to this district. It’s been so neglected in terms of leadership.

Those are my reasons for running for office and my inspiration.

Overcoming Obstacles as a Transgender Candidate

Laura Petrolino: That’s an amazing personal story. It’s interesting how things like that can really change your life and inspire you to help others. What do you feel are the biggest obstacles you had to face as a transgender candidate? 

Jessica Katzenmeyer: Self-confidence has always been an issue for me. Like many, I was bullied when I was younger. I wrote a really good op-ed that got published a couple of months ago. This was right after Trump rolled back healthcare protections for the LGBTQ community. 

The article is called What It’s Like to be Transgendered. It’s about our struggles. Just having that self-confidence to be out there to talk to people. Like you’re thinking constantly, 

“Hey, am I passable as a woman? Do people view me as a woman, or are they grossed out by my appearance?”  

And I kind of learned, when I went through Emerge, that I’m gonna do what I do. I’m going to be that powerful voice and push that other thinking to the side. 

I’m going to keep going forward as they spew hate at me, which has happened and will continue to happen. But, I don’t listen to it. It gives me motivation.

The Better Choice  

Honestly, I haven’t focused a lot on the fact that I’m transgender. 

I’m focusing a lot more on the fact that I’m the better choice here in this election. 

I’ve got these issues that I’m running on that have nothing to do with my being transgender. 

My view is that I’m the representative for the people. That’s why people should vote for me. Recently, I was named one of the top eight candidates to watch in the LGBTQ magazine, which was pretty awesome. It’s hard to not put that kind of stuff in your mailers, but that’s not what the election is about. They look at you and think, 

  • Is this person electable?
  • Are you be the candidate that we want?
  • Can you represent the people the way they want to be represented?

That’s how I overcome the challenge of being transgender.

Advice For The Transgender Community 

Laura Petrolino: What advice would you give to other transgender candidates who want to run for office?

Jessica Katzenmeyer: Sometimes, you just have to swallow your own pride, have confidence, and believe in yourself. I told myself since day one, which was back on January 15th when I announced my campaign, and I tell this to every member on my team,

“We have to believe in ourselves every single day up until November 3rd. We are going to win this election.”

That helps set your mindset to think that we’re going to have success. We’re not going to worry about the haters. Because now they’re actually worried because they see that you’re doing something right.

That’s the best advice I can give to any transgender person or any person in an LGBTQ community who’s running for office. Have that confidence. Show that confidence, energy, and passion. Demonstrate that you believe in yourself and people will believe in you as well.


Advice for Every Candidate

Laura Petrolino: That’s great. That’s the best advice for any human, in general, especially to every woman who struggles.

Jessica Katzenmeyer: I know. One of the big issues, of course for any candidate running for office when you first start your campaign, is your image. 

Especially for us as women, we’re constantly scrutinized: “Oh look, her hair is off,” or “Look at that shirt she’s wearing or that dress she has on.”

You just do the best you can and try not to let it bother you. 

For example, my glasses. Do I need glasses? Technically no, but they’re reading glasses and I always have them on at events because I think it makes me look great. That’s one of the things my campaign manager and I worked on. That’s just part of the reality of being out there as a candidate. 

Building Relationships

Laura Petrolino: Absolutely right. What do you hope to accomplish if elected?

Jessica Katzenmeyer: I hope to make a positive change in the legislature. In Wisconsin. Republicans control both the Assembly and the Senate in the two state houses here. They are all about power and not listening to the people. They do what is in their own best interest. This is one of the things I hope to change. 

I’m a relationship builder. When you walk into a situation where you’re in the minority you have to build those relationships in order to progress. 

Even though you may have differences with your colleagues, you should reach your hand out, find some common ground, and work on that progress. 

Even if it’s just a little bit of progress, it’s still progress in my eyes. 

A Message of Unity

Jessica Katzenmeyer: Those are some of the things that I hope to change. I often tell my constituents, “Here’s my phone number, call me day or night. I will listen to you. Even though I’m a Democrat, it’s my job to listen to Republicans and everybody in between.”

I think that’s the message that helps me gain some of the Independent votes. We might not always agree, but when you call, I’ll personally respond, instead of giving some automated response. 

Those are some of the things I hope to change. And, just being a voice for the LGBTQ community, win or lose, 

I hope to inspire others to step up to the plate. I want to show, transgender women and transgender men if I can do this, you can do this too. You can step up to the plate and run for office because diversity matters in elected offices and officials. It really helps to bring a new voice to the table. 

NDTC + Jessica Katzenmeyer

Laura Petrolino: That’s great. Lastly, how did NDTC help your campaign?

Jessica Katzenmeyer: It definitely helped a lot. 

Having years of experience working with the Democratic party in Wisconsin and with other candidates here in the state that I’ve worked for and helped out, you get used to one way of campaigning. 

Back in March when COVID-19 hit, you’re told to run an all-digital campaign. It’s like hitting a wall. You’ve got your whole campaign plan that you might as well throw out the window because you have to change everything. 

This is the moment in a campaign where you have to adapt. For example, when we heard what happened in Kenosha, we, as leaders, feel we have a responsibility to respond to those situations. I wrote a statement right away after I learned more about what was going on. 

What NDTC did, definitely with those online classes, really helped us get a good feel for how we could be creative doing online events, zoom meetings online, virtual fundraisers, and everything.

For me, as a candidate, it’s very helpful to sit down and watch those videos for a half-hour, or an hour, or for however long they are. That’s what I found to be helpful about it.

We want you to run for office and step up to the plate like Jessica Katzenmeyer. That’s why we’re here. The first step to realizing your call to service is understanding both your Story of Self and How to Craft Your Message, so your constituents have full faith in your leadership. 

Realize Your Call To Run For Office

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