The Cambrian

Cambria resident advocates for political access, involvement

Christina Tobin, seen here on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve’s Bluff Trail, is the founder of the Free & Equal Elections Foundation, a national nonprofit organization.
Christina Tobin, seen here on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve’s Bluff Trail, is the founder of the Free & Equal Elections Foundation, a national nonprofit organization. sprovost@thetribunenews.com

It’s an election year, but Cambria’s Christina Tobin says she has no plans to run for public office.

That doesn’t mean she’s sitting out the election. To the contrary, the founder of the Free & Equal Elections Foundation is gearing up for a panel discussion on voting rights, fraud and gerrymandering July 15 at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.

It’s one of several events Tobin has coordinated or participated in since she founded Free & Equal, an organization with the motto “More Voices, More Choices.” The nonprofit’s aim, according to its website, is to “broaden our electoral choices through education.”

At age 34, Tobin’s no newcomer to the political process. She’s been running Free & Equal since 2008, and her father, Jim Tobin, is a taxpayer advocate who ran for lieutenant governor of Illinois as a Libertarian in 2002. (Christina Tobin says the obstacles placed before her father in getting enough signatures to qualify for the ballot — obstacles major-party candidates didn’t have to face — helped forge her resolve to level the playing field for all political hopefuls.)

Tobin has also been a Cambria resident for four years, and she’s starting to make her voice heard locally, as well.

I find local politics in Cambria not to be any different from the national climate.

Christina Tobin, Cambria resident and founder of the Free & Equal Elections Foundation

She has spoken during public comment at several recent meetings of the Cambria Community Services District board. Most often, she’s spoken in favor of a switch from the board’s current 12:30 p.m. meeting time and more frequent meetings, many of which she’d like to see during the evening, when working members of the community can attend.

“I really want to bring about communication and conversation, not just among the board, but among all people here in Cambria,” she said. “That starts with getting people to the meetings.”

If that seems like a minor issue compared with reforming the national electoral process, it’s consistent with Tobin’s emphasis on two words she uses frequently: transparency and accountability.

Add to that list accessibility. Tobin’s push for a change for meeting times is tied to her desire to get more community members active in the governmental process. It’s the same desire that has led her to fight for laws that would increase ballot access for third-party and independent candidates.

“I find local politics in Cambria not to be any different from the national climate,” she said. “I’ve heard from a lot of people that they want to be involved, but they’ve been discouraged. I’m here to help spark a shift here in Cambria, and if and when people get involved, we will see positive change here in Cambria.”

Tobin hopes to see Cambria residents across the spectrum — from business owners to employees to retired residents — become involved in local elections. She herself ran for California secretary of state at the age of 29 in 2010, but said she has no intention of seeking elected office again.

“I feel my role is to help get accountable candidates elected into office on national, state and local levels,” she said. “We must get involved in our local community to bring about true change within our elections.”

As part of that effort, she and talk show veteran Larry King moderated an Open Presidential Debate from Chicago in 2012 that featured four third-party candidates: Libertarian Gary Johnson, the Green Party’s Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party and Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party. The debate was televised on C-SPAN and other outlets.

Johnson is also scheduled to appear at this summer’s panel discussion on voting rights in Las Vegas, along with actor Ed Asner from TV’s “Lou Grant” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and John Fund, author of “Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy.”

More presidential debates are also planned for the 2016 election cycle: one at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles on Aug. 30 and another at the University of Colorado Coors Event Center in October.

Meanwhile, Tobin hopes to put together local candidate forums and is working locally to facilitate community involvement as organizer of the monthly Cambria Potluck events, some of which feature entertainers.

Cambria singer-songwriter Jill Knight appeared at one recent event, and this month’s potluck showcases Hani Naser, a percussionist from Jordan who also plays the oud, a stringed North African instrument.

Naser has performed with the likes of Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder, Lou Reed, Santana and Steve Miller, among others.

From Bali to Cambria

Tobin, a native of Texas, grew up in Illinois and attended Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota, where she studied graphic design. But she came to Cambria by way of Bali, Indonesia.

“I bought a one-way ticket there after college,” she said. “I spent a lot of time hanging around with a foreign exchange student (from Bali); I felt such a high vibrational energy just being around him.”

She arrived in Bali in 2005 and started work as manager of Ubud Village Hotel in Ubud the Monday after a series of car bombs killed 20 people and injured more than 100 others in October. She said she heard one of the bombs go off.

“Living in Bali for three years … enabled me to connect with a very spiritual culture — Bali is primarily Hindu — connect with a whole different way of life,” Tobin said. “I had never been to a place that resonated with me as much as Bali until I came to Cambria.”

While in Bali, Tobin founded and built BaliJewel, a jewelry company she later sold, using much of the money to start the Free & Equal Elections Foundation in 2008.

The same year, she helped collect more than 500,000 signatures for presidential candidate Ralph Nader, enabling him to get on the ballot in 45 states and the District of Columbia. (As a ballot access consultant, she has worked for candidates representing a variety of political parties.)

The experience helped reinforce her determination to improve ballot access for candidates outside the two-party system.

“Ralph Nader said to me on the phone, ‘Most people give up at first base, but you’ve got to be tenacious. You keep going and you don’t give up,’ ” Tobin said. “Coming from him, that’s the ultimate compliment.”

Instead of being daunted by potential obstacles, Tobin said, she takes a page out of Winston Churchill’s book and resolves to “never, never, never give up” — a quote she looks at every day on her refrigerator as inspiration.

“You thrive from overcoming those obstacles,” she said. “I see them as part of the journey.”

Stephen H. Provost: 805-927-8896, @sproauthor

Cambria Potluck

Percussionist and oud player Hani Naser will perform at this month’s Cambria Potluck, set for 6 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at 820 Suffolk St. in Cambria. The potluck, held at a different location every month, is being hosted this week by Janey Meyers. Carpooling is encouraged, as parking is limited, and attendees are asked to bring their own bowls. For more information on Hani Naser, visit www.HaniNaser.com.

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