Tara Campbell has worked behind the scenes as communications director for Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do, responding to media requests and advising him on public safety, technology, policy and other topics.
She stepped into the spotlight two years ago when she was elected to the Yorba Linda City Council. Then Campbell made her way to center stage this month, when her colleagues named her mayor.
At 25, she’s the youngest female mayor in California. And when she was elected to the council two years ago, she became the youngest person to ever help govern the city’s 68,000 residents.
“We’re seeing a lot of firsts for women, especially this year,” Campbell said. “On the congressional level we’re hitting historic numbers, but even on the local level we need more women in government. I’m really proud to see more women are getting involved, but we have a ways to go.”
As of March, only 21.8% of mayors in cities with more than 30,000 people were women, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
Numbers are still being tallied as new mayors are sworn in and city councils reorganize following the November election.
Campbell, a native of Yorba Linda, credits her position to the elected women who came before. She said she remembered being captivated by her U.S. history teacher’s lecture at Rosary Academy in Fullerton about the sacrifices American women endured to earn the right to vote.
While attending USC, she intended to pursue a career in sports journalism. One summer, she interned in Washington, D.C., for the nonpartisan political group No Labels, which aims to end partisan discord.
After she returned to college, the federal government shut down in October 2013 over Republican efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act. During this same period, Yorba Linda was in political upheaval with a campaign to recall the mayor and a council member, partly because of their support of unpopular housing developments.
“I came back to my hometown, and its nonpartisan local government, and to see that there was gridlock on that level was really eye-opening,” Campbell said. “And that’s really what made me shift gears from journalism to focus on making sure our government is well-run.”
There have been eight recall votes or attempted recall petitions of Yorba Linda City Council members or Water District board members in the last 15 elections, Campbell said.
The dysfunction motivated her to throw her name in for council in 2016.
“If we’re not happy with the way things are going with the people representing us, we need to be part of that change,” she said.