|By Christopher Cadelago, The Sacramento Bee|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
She recalls being tossed out of former Wisconsin Rep.
But Emken, a veteran autism advocate and parent of a severely disabled young adult, says she was most bothered by the level of indifference to her cause.
Her frustration culminated after a brief exchange with Rep.
"You get really tenacious if you are trying to save your kid. And you get really angry when people won't listen to you about what it's going to take," said Emken, 51, then a resident of
She mounted an uphill challenge against McNerney in 2010, running last in the primary among four Republicans. Two years later, she beat out nearly two dozen primary contenders in a
Emken insists she's not the characteristic perennial candidate. The losses helped establish her political brand, she said, and confirmed for her that the political process is stacked in favor of career politicians and the "extremely" wealthy candidates who can write themselves a
"I am not a crony capitalist. I am not on some sort of ideological bandwagon," she said. "My husband and I work for a living. We have a mortgage. We have kids in school. Everything in my background shows a compassion and concern for families and children. Isn't that what we want? A representative who will go back there and fight for our families and our kids?"
Emken intersperses her criticism of Bera by needling her Republican opponents, former Rep.
Amid some feuding between the two, she's kept a low profile, eschewing traditional advertising and the media and focusing her attention on those expected to vote in the primary. Even some supporters question her tactics.
"She's kind of a jewel who deserves a chance," he said. "But I don't think she's doing enough. She's not active and visible enough."
Emken isn't worried. She's busy wrangling volunteers to work the phones and knock on doors. "Execute the plan," she said, repeating the phrase like a mantra.
Obamacare called a 'fiasco'
Emken has been campaigning locally for more than a year and spent time here when she ran for the
Beyond politics, Emken's family also moved to the Valley to send her youngest daughter to
The Emkens said they have been through the dark valley and back again with Alex. The struggles helped shape what Emken believes is core to her political ideology: A smaller, limited government that recognizes there will always be an element of the population that relies on the government for help. Under the state's new top-two primary system, that could endear her to independents and Democrats in a general election.
"My intuition and experience suggest that Elizabeth might be the toughest challenger to
Emken takes traditionally conservative positions on abortion, same-sex marriage and reducing taxes and regulations. In an interview at her campaign headquarters in
"I would argue that the net increase of (insured) people on Obamacare doesn't exist, and if it does exist, it will be 1 million or fewer," she said.
At the same time, Emken defended her role in pushing for an amendment to the health care overhaul that barred insurance companies from excluding people with autism by including a provision for behavioral health treatment. She reasons that just because she worked on the bill doesn't mean she ultimately supported the law in its entirety.
That hasn't stopped GOP opponents over the years from charging that she was a cheerleader for the Democratic-backed legislation.
"I never, ever, ever supported Obamacare," she said. "I supported an end to the ability to discriminate against individuals with autism. That's what I supported."
'Not a politician'
A child of schoolteachers, Emken grew up on a dairy farm in
"She went from very much a grass-roots advocate to become one of the most skilled professional advocates that I've ever seen," said
The growth of those diagnosed with disorders on the autism spectrum has been unrelenting. A new report by the
The cause is unknown, and Emken and her colleagues have pushed for more research. Her political resume cites the federal Children's Health Act of 2000, the Combating Autism Act of 2006 and laws in about 30 states to end insurance marketplace discrimination against children with autism.
Snyder was the chief of staff for Specter before becoming a lobbyist. The late senator, whose appropriations committee funded the
"I don't think I got more than five words out of introduction and the senator just cut me off, looked at Tony and Elizabeth and said, 'Why do you believe you can come up here, and because you are a famous person, you can influence the way in which medical research dollars are spent?" Snyder said.
Edwards recoiled, but Emken wasn't shaken, Snyder recalled.
"Very quietly, very calmly and very confidently she got about 6 inches from the senator's face when he was red-hot angry, and said, 'I am a mother. I am not a celebrity. You chair the committee that decides these things for the whole country. And I have a right to be here ...' He immediately backed down ... and all of a sudden we got the meeting we wanted to have. That shouldn't have happened if she wasn't there or had handled it any other way."
Later, Emken was working on re-authorization of the bipartisan-approved Combating Autism Act when she visited the office of then-U.S. Sen.
"It went from 'Sen. Obama doesn't believe in anything related to single diseases' to a full-blown platform about autism on the campaign website," he said.
Despite her successful legislative efforts in
"I am a detail gal," she said. "I believe we can tackle the lack of government oversight and accountability by simply managing these processes better."
The attention to particulars is evident in the campaign. Emken says she could account for every nickel flowing in and out of her account. Though she recently repaid
"She's fresh. She's new," said
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