Andrew Yang inspired me to run for Congress. I lost, and here's what I learned.

I am no stranger to political defeat.

In fact, the first election that I lost was in the 4th grade.

A classmate named Ryan Rio defeated me, and I became his campaign manager.

It was a three-way race, and I had come up with a slogan for the campaign. At the assembly before the election, I introduced Ryan so he could make his campaign speech. I exclaimed,

"I’d like to introduce… THE BEST OF THE TRIO, RYAN RIO!”

The entire assembly hall burst out in laughter, and Ryan got on the stage and crushed his speech. He won, and people teased me for the rest of the school year. Worth it.  

I learned it was better to be memorable than perfect.

The second election that I lost was in sixth grade. I spent the whole race campaigning hard against one of my opponents, and was shocked when we were both defeated by the easy-going kid who didn't campaign at all. I learned that it’s pointless to fight for the bottom and dirty politics are... well, dirty.

In high school, I ran for President of the student body and I lost. I thought my political ads were hilarious, but no one else did. My favorite was my South Park series with a Cartman poster that said, “Respect my authority! Vote for Heidi Briones!” I was in dismay when someone wrote on the bottom, “NO, I WON’T!”

The fourth time that I lost an election was in 2020.

Totally awesome limited edition merch for Heidi 2020. 

It all started with a man named Andrew Yang and his futurist campaign for president. He won me over with his human-centered approach to capitalism and his flagship policy "the freedom dividend", a version of universal basic income (UBI) that would give every American $1000/month.

I'd been into UBI long before I heard of Andrew Yang. It seemed more like an inevitability than a political policy to me, though.

While working at Tesla, I saw first-hand how automation was going to improve profitability and efficiency while displacing tens of thousands of factory workers. I also worked in a call-center for Wells Fargo and experienced the harsh reality of taking high-volume customer service calls. Both of these fields require automation, yet many of these workers may be out of luck when that time comes.

When a charismatically geeky entrepreneur named Andrew Yang jumped on the scene warning of job loss from automation, I was in. I joined the Yang Gang.

My wife and I were obsessed with his campaign, we listened to all of his interviews, and ordered his merchandise. We canvassed Downtown Portland with Yang cards and talked to everyone about him. We rode around in Yang t-shirts on our electric scooters and had people yell, “YANG GANG!” at us.

We even met Andrew when he came to Portland.

stoked Jena, cool Andrew Yang, stoked Heidi 

Unfortunately, Yang was a candidate ahead of his time.

While we wished that he made it further, he suspended his campaign on February 11th, 2020.

The next day, I filed my paperwork to run for Congress in Oregon’s first congressional district.

I felt compelled to carry on Yang’s forward-thinking message of universal basic income, universal healthcare, and democracy reform.

I had a Twitter account with some followers (Lesbians For Yang), and Yang Gang stepped up to support me. In some ways, I was the original Yang Gang congressional candidate because I decided to run because Andrew suspended.

I started my campaign Twitter account, opened a bank account, made a website and started raising money. It was a thrill to see contributions coming in through my ActBlue.

I worked full time while running my campaign full time . Every single second that I had a break at work (and sometimes when I didn't), I was working hard to grow the campaign and increase my name recognition in my district.

And then it happened. Luckily, right after we had gathered signatures to be on the ballot but it still stung.


Imagine being a first-time grassroots candidate in the middle of a pandemic. The normal door-knocking, town hall, feet to the pavement type of campaigning couldn't happen. There was a ton of fear, and a lack of protocol.

The Yang Gang stepped up in a big way, and we used technology to run a fun, exciting, and successful grassroots campaign. We used text-banking, phone banking, and Twitter to raise money, and we had the best website and social media presence out of all the candidates.

I have to thank some of my favorite creators in the Yang Gang for their support. Creators like Paget Kagy, Matt Skidmore, Nerds for Yang, Problem Solver Politics, and more had me on their show. Much love to you all.

With our hard work, we earned an endorsement from Andrew Yang and his organization Humanity Forward. We also earned an endorsement from Marianne Williamson, who has long been one of my spiritual mentors. It was a surreal experience.

In the end, we lost, but we came in second in a four-way race. If there weren’t an incumbent in the race, then we surely would have won. Rep. Bonamici had a behemoth lead and the entire Democratic establishment backing her.

It was humbling to lose by such a margin, but I was also proud. If it weren’t for COVID-19 and the limitations it presented, we would have done better.  

Every once in a while, I still stumble upon one of my campaign signs we forgot to take down. Oops. It makes me smile, and I  hope that people notice my name from time to time, look me up, and get some hope about the future of politics.

Progress requires fresh voices and perspectives. That’s why my campaign slogan was “a new generation of ideas” because the old ideas are no longer working. The Democratic Party (and Republicans, too) have gotten used to coasting by with their money, name recognition, and power.

People are tired of not having their needs considered in the name of the party. That’s why Donald Trump won in 2016 and nearly won again in 2020. People were voting against the establishment more than they were voting for Trump.

More and more people are waking up to the reality that we need regular people to run for office and win.

Was Trump the answer? Clearly not.

However, his presidency showed that the American people are hungry for something different. They want to “drain the swamp” and bring in new ideas.

What Did I Learn?

I learned about myself, my country, my peer group, the left, the right, my district, and more.

Did I do everything right? Not at all. Did I do my best? Yep.

I’m stronger than I ever knew. I can speak to dozens of people passionately about my views every day.

Our country is on the precipice of something big. We’re ready to step into a new time of shorter workdays, shorter workweeks, working remotely, technological advancements and more.

We’re longing for a simpler time of affordable home ownership, pensions, and traditions that have been lost over the years. We’re more divided than we’ve ever been, yet we have more potential for growth than ever.

I’m concerned about the direction we’re heading, yet I’m hopeful that with a lot of work, we can make it out the other side better than where we started. Isn’t that what we’ve always done?

Generation Y and Z are some of the most innovative groups of people around, and previous generations have shafted us with poor decision making.

The left has become obsessed with cancel culture, the importance of beliefs over actions, Maoism, and authoritarianism. The libertarian left of the 2000s is gone. Many of the anti-authoritarian left have moved to the right, become independents, or completely disengaged.

The right is more open-minded than they once were. The evangelicals lost power, and the new right is more libertarian and populist than ever. I’m not right-wing but I often associate with those on the right, and I find that I can speak freely without worrying about being cancelled, shutdown, or called a racist or a fascist for expressing a nuanced viewpoint.

I learned my district is heavily Democratic, and some voters saw a candidate like myself as a threat to their security. Perhaps they are not ready for new ideas and a representative that would make waves in Washington. They prefer the safety of Rep. Bonamici for now.

What does it say about a politician when she refuses to reach out to her opponents after a defeat? I never heard a word from Rep. Bonamici during my entire run, and nothing after either. If I were the representative for OR-1, I would reach out to my opponents after winning and congratulate them on a race well fought. I would offer to mentor them and work with them on one of their goals.

I have a lot of respect for Amanda Siebe and Ricky Barajas for running. I learned that we disagree on the path forward but that we can still work together towards progress.

I also learned that my empathic ways have pros and cons. I take on the energy of my followers and supporters to a degree that is unhealthy. The same skills that made a good listener and a powerful leader also cause mental health issues and deterioration of relationships.

After my campaign ended, I attempted to continue a Twitter presence.

I let Twitter take over my mental space and it hurt. Not everyone is cut out for the spiritual energy that is drained out of you by being attacked constantly online. I deleted my account and took a long break from putting anything political out there so I could recoup.

I tried a few things to stay in the political world after my campaign ended, but they all ended when I realized that I don't want to build someone else's vision. I want to serve, do the work, and be authentic.

I’m not a politician. I hate worrying about optics. I enjoy doing the work, serving the public, spreading ideas, and solving problems. I can’t stand focusing on influence, power, or popularity. That’s why I’ve lost elections yet always remained true to myself.

Will I try to run again? Maybe. I haven’t ruled it out.

I love that I live in a country where I can run for office openly as a lesbian, but my wife is glad to have her wife out of politics and to "have [me] back", as she says.

I’m delighted that we were able to reach and connect with so many voters. More people in my district know about universal basic income than they did before, and the knowledge and support will only continue to grow.

As we move forward as a country, I hope we can understand that what truly makes us special is our freedom. Freedom of expression, liberties, speech, ideas, and more.

If we don’t allow our differences to overshadow our similarities, then we will create a better world together.

Regardless of politics, we should enjoy ourselves. It’s a gift to be here. It’s a privilege to have interests, ideas, hobbies, viewpoints, ambitions, and more. We are living in the greatest time that humanity has ever seen. Let us all embrace life.

I have been working on my health, my relationships, and riding my OneWheel like the kid that I am.

We'll see where the journey takes me, but for now I'm happy to be writing.

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