In April 2017, when I announced my campaign for Lieutenant Governor of California, the largest state in the country with a population of nearly 40 million people, I did something candidates in California rarely do. I committed to visiting all 58 counties by the end of the year – to meet voters across our great state and listen to them about the issues that mattered most.
In July, my political director and fellow road warrior, Elmy Bermejo, and I hopped in my Chevy Volt and embarked on the first leg of our journey. We covered nearly 2,000 miles hitting 43 counties in 7 weeks. We met voters in the most rural corner of our state who talked about the inability of pregnant women to access proper prenatal care in their county. We saw the impact of the wildfires in northern California and the brave work of the firefighters on the front line. We met cattle ranchers and dairy farmers. We met environmental activists fighting to save the South Yuba River. We visited the Ceaser Chavez Memorial in the Central Valley.
It was an epic road trip for any campaign. And like any campaign (or any road trip for that matter), it was the perfect set-up for bad sleep, bad food, no exercise, and overall unhealthy habits. But when I started this journey to be the first woman elected Lt. Governor of California, I committed to myself that I would enjoy the process as much as the outcome, that I would eat right, get enough sleep, continue to exercise, and make sure my staff was doing so as well. In short, we would do this campaign differently to ensure that we would THRIVE, not just survive, on the campaign trail.
My husband, Markos, and I are committed to these same values for ourselves and our two teenage sons. So I knew I wanted to bring that to the campaign that I would be living 24 hours a day for the next 18 months.
So, Elmy and I committed to stopping by the local farm stands on the winding country roads in the North State and in the Central Valley. We looked for walking tours and hikes in the woodlands of the Trinity Alps and the Sierras. And although I wasn’t able to fulfill my dream of taking my mountain bike out on some of the best trails in our state parks around the state, we were able to make our 58 county road trip a thriving success in every way.
As our campaign has grown, we have put the same THRIVE principals to work for all of our staff and campaign offices. Our campaign is almost all young women; and along with all the campaign goals our staff sets out to accomplish each week, we all shoot for a minimum of three workouts. We share with each other our regimens – walking to work, yoga, swimming. For me, it’s the morning exercise bike…. but not so early that it cuts into a good night’s sleep! We are officially a ‘donut free’ campaign; although we admit to still having some pizza boxes lying around the HQ.
We are staying strong and healthy, because we have a big job to do. Over the next 4 months before the June primary, I will be talking to as many of the 40 million California voters that are out there about our campaign to create a better, stronger California. I will be sharing with them my story of being a first-generation American whose father came from Greece and started out as a farmworker. That the values my father and my mother, who was a school teacher, taught me of hard work, education, and determination allowed me to succeed as a businesswoman who helped deliver affordable homes for middle class families and to eventually be appointed by President Obama as the United States Ambassador to Hungary.
It is my commitment to keep this pathway to the American Dream open to all California families by fighting for affordable college, housing, and healthcare, protecting our coasts and fighting climate change, and standing up for DREAMers and our immigrant brothers and sisters, a woman’s right to choose, marriage equality, and equal rights for all.
When we do these things, we ensure that we have a society that is thriving. And that is the best outcome for any campaign.
Eleni Kounalakis is a California businesswoman, Democratic Party activist, a wife and the mother of two teenage sons, and the former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary under President Barack Obama. Eleni was raised the proud daughter of an immigrant father who started out as a farmworker, and she believes in the values of hard work, education and political activism. In 1992, Eleni started her career as a staff member of the California Democratic Party in Sacramento and worked in the historic election, which elected two women to the U.S. Senate and turned California blue. After the election, Eleni joined her family business, AKT Development, one of California’s most respected housing development firms. Over the next 18 years, Eleni worked her way up from project manager to president. Her work building master planned communities and delivering housing for middle-class families in the Sacramento region earned her recognition as one of Sacramento’s most prominent businesswomen. In 2010, Eleni was appointed by President Barack Obama as the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary and served side-by-side with President Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton promoting democracy. She is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Madam Ambassador, Three Years of Diplomacy, Dinner Parties and Democracy in Budapest, published in 2015 by The New Press. During her 18 years in the housing industry, Ambassador Kounalakis continued to work as a democratic activist, working on the campaigns of countless progressive candidates and initiatives. Passionate about early childhood development, she served on California’s First 5 Commission and the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Autism. She was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee to the San Francisco Port Commission, and currently chairs the California Advisory Council for International Trade and Investment. Eleni Kounalakis graduated from Dartmouth College in 1989, and earned her MBA from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business in 1992. She also holds an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the American College of Greece. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, veteran journalist Markos Kounalakis, and their two sons Neo and Eon.