A Rocklin teacher who was thrust onto the national media stage when she asked her students to question a gun control walkout is challenging six-term Rep. Tom McClintock for the Republican vote in California’s 4th Congressional District.
Julianne Benzel sat down with the Enterprise during her “fact-finding mission,” visiting chambers of commerce in different counties to better understand the diverse needs of the district.
Benzel considers herself a populist and an originalist to the U.S. Constitution. As an American history teacher of over 20 years, she said she prides herself on her political ambiguity in the classroom.
For that reason, Benzel was surprised to be placed on administrative leave in March of 2018 after she urged students to analyze their intentions and talk to their parents before walking out of class to promote gun control. Her subsequent interview explaining her actions catapulted her into the public eye, with conservative media hailing her as a “poster child” for various political causes.
Benzel said those media outlets “missed the point.”
“It had nothing to do with those issues,” she said. “Politics have no place in the classroom.”
Supported by her community and many others nationwide, Benzel went on to write a book and even file for candidacy in the 2020 presidential election, though she has since narrowed her sights to a more localized campaign.
Motivated by her experiences as a teacher, Benzel said she seeks to enter the current political fray in which an “ideological civil war” is playing out.
“I believe in America,” Benzel said. “This cannot happen to another teacher. This cannot happen to another individual. This is called America. There is a Constitution for a reason, and we are losing sight of some of our very basic principals.”
Benzel is a lifelong Republican but carries a deep disdain for establishment politicians and cronyism.
“I love George Washington. I do not feel like he is overrated. He loathed political parties, and there’s a reason why,” she said. “As an American historian, from my experience in dealing with real people and in my experience in the totality of American history, most Americans operate in the middle. Most Americans are kind and generous and committed to community. They’re not fringe right or left. There’s so much more commonality we have than differences.”
Benzel considers both McClintock and Democratic candidate Brynne Kennedy to be products of those establishments.
“(Kennedy’s campaign) could possibly be the worst possible scenario for politics in general, that somebody would move 3,000 miles away and think that they could represent our district. I tried to put myself in her shoes, the audacity of me to move from California to Massachusetts, and to think that I could just all of a sudden show up and represent them. I find it pompous to say the least,” Benzel said. “In District 4, our constituents are pretty intelligent, and they’re not going to go for a Kennedy flying in here and thinking they can represent us.”
Regarding McClintock, Benzel said she respects his 30 years of service but doesn’t believe that gives him an advantage in representing the district.
“I actually think I’m far more qualified to represent our constituents than anyone else because I am an actual constituent, and I’m an American history teacher. I know my Constitution, and that is the role of your representative, to represent you,” she said. “I think there is actually a disadvantage when you go from college into county supervisor and then state assembly and on to state senate. You are so out of touch with the softball field and the football field and real Americans, and that’s where my whole life has been. And so I have these glimpses of people that have real life stories that will be imbedded with me when I’m back there. Those are the people I care about and who I’ll be advocating for.”
A primary focus of Benzel’s platform is developing a more conservative plan for better access to health care.
“I’m not a fan of Medicare for all, but let’s be real. My side is not doing anything,” Benzel said.
Other areas of interest for Benzel are expanding internet access in rural areas, promoting tourism and addressing environmental issues with strategies that put the American worker first.
“If we want to talk rationally about going after China, who emits by far the most emissions, and they dump their garbage into the ocean, and they’re reliant completely on coal, let’s go after China first, and then let’s go to India and help them, and then we can revert back to what the U.S. isn’t doing. But I’m tired of hearing the U.S. berated (like) she’s the cause of all of this – not at all,” Benzel said.
Benzel takes a hard-line position on illegal immigration, arguing a nation’s right to secure borders and the culpibility of drawing immigrants into the U.S. with the promise of free services.
Regarding gun control, Benzel’s tenure as a teacher has lent her a complex view of gun ownership, particularly assault rifles. She is a strong believer in the Second Amendment but also a proponent of universal background checks.
Similarly, Benzel promotes the benefits of medical marijuana use, but has concerns about the effects of legal recreational marijuana on her children and students.
With issues like fire prevention in California, Benzel relishes the opportunity to come together across partisan lines and develop real solutions that serve the people of District 4.