Edgy Interview: Chris Cate
When we began working with Chris Cate and his consultants Jason Roe and Duane Dichiara on his 2014 race for City Council, I asked for biographical information, how he grew up and things like that. Buried was a snippet about Chris starting an auto glass repair business while in college; no one knew much about it and he didn’t make a big deal about it. I made sure we got that into the focus groups. Sure enough, our participants thought Chris paying his way through USD by running his own business was a huge positive for him. It told them that Chris was a guy who was willing to work hard, to persevere and who believed in himself. Those who know him still see that today, along with a Councilmember who’s willing to wade through budget briefing books and keep a sharp eye out for the taxpayer.
Tell us about the point in your life when you realized that your calling was politics?
I didn’t grow up in a political family. We didn’t talk politics or campaigns and such. I didn’t even declare my major until a year into my time in college. But after 9/11, I started getting more interested and asking questions, and just jumped into it. In my last semester at University of San Diego I interned for a DC lobbying firm. I was just starting to get more interested in politics and this was during the time of the Duke Cunningham and Bernie Madoff scandals. I went to DC pretty green, but really eager to learn. Not only did I fall in love with the history of that town, I fell in love with the work that I was doing. I was really focused on the policy and looking at various problems and trying to find solutions through the legislative process. I knew immediately I wanted to be in the world of politics, but I just wanted to figure out a way to do it in San Diego. Part of my time I also figured out that national politics wasn’t for me, but I wanted to focus on local government and the services that have the most impact on residents.
You’re the San Diego City Council’s only Republican. Do you have advice for the GOP moving forward?
This is honestly somewhat of a loaded question, and I have a lot to say on the topic. I think the two pieces of advice I’d give are to determine a path to better understand the communities within the districts you want to be competitive in and to be more open to finding the appropriate messenger and messages to communicate what you stand for.
For the first suggestion, the residents of each neighborhood give those communities very specific identities. It could be the cultural identity of that community, it could be the parks and other community characteristics, or the businesses in their neighborhood they patronize. No matter that “thing,” they are proud of it. I think if Republicans want to be competitive, they must be very understanding of that fact, ingratiate themselves to those things and show they are invested in these communities.
My second point is an extension of the first: messages and the messenger matter to these communities. The same old talking points that are general in nature aren’t going to cut it to communicate the values and policy ideas of our candidates and elected officials. At a local level especially, the communication needs to be tailored and delivered by trusted sources that have a relationship with said community.
All of this is not to say this isn’t being done, but I think it needs to be part of our DNA and constantly remind folks about it if we want to win. We must be on the ground — involved at the community level — if we want to be competitive. Unfortunately, in the City of San Diego, that currently isn’t the case, but that’s not to say the days of being competitive once again aren’t going to be right around the corner.
If you could go back in time, which former President would you like to chat with and what’s the topic?
Great question… I think I would want to go back to chat with John Adams. Mainly because I want to know what his thought process was with going so far as to support the Sedition Act. Having a conversation with a revolutionary intimately involved in the founding of this country and the creation of the most brilliant legislative documents produced. Not to mention his serving as both President and Vice President, his relationship with Thomas Jefferson… a beer with this guy would be amazing [ed. Also amazing, sharing a beer with John’s second cousin Sam.]
Briefly review the last good political book you read or movie you saw.
I recently re-read Larry Tye’s book “Bobby Kennedy.” It’s a fascinating look at Robert Kennedy, including the start of his political career all the way through to his presidential run, and there is a particular focus on his time with his family. The family stories are the ones I took away most from the book because that has really defined my last few years on the council since I got married and we had our children. I did not know that Robert Kennedy worked for Joseph McCarthy. I appreciate these looks at important figures that don’t just focus on their career, but their personal lives as well.
First concert you attended and how did it make you feel?
It wasn’t the first concert I ever went to, but it was the best, and that was the Up in Smoke Tour in 2000. I was able to go with my best friend as our high school graduation gift, so we went down to Coors Amphitheater as it was called then and had a fantastic time. It was amazing to see Dr. Dre, Snoop, Eminem, Warren G, Nate Dogg, and Ice Cube all on the same stage. That is a concert I will never forget!
What was your favorite musical genre as a teenager and what are you listening to now?
I grew up listening to a lot of hip-hop and R&B. I was obsessed with Tupac. He’s by far the best that ever lived, and my friends and I had his CDs on constant loop. But whenever I was in the car with my mom that meant listening to a lot of Garth Brooks, Neil Diamond, Chicago [ed. This is a must-see for Terry Kath’s solo], and Jimmy Buffett. So, my taste in music is wide. But right now I’m listening to the early albums of Linkin Park. I got sucked into a YouTube hole of watching some of their old concerts and now I’m listening to their stuff.
Who would you want to have play you in your biopic?
I would want Bruno Mars to play me. He’s amazingly talented, a good-looking guy, and Filipino! I mean, can’t you see the resemblance?
If you were a competitive eater, which food would be your specialty?
When I think of competitive eating I think “easy to hold in your hand and eat,” so with that, I’m going to go with Lumpia.
Favorite cuisine and where do you get it?
Piggybacking off my choice for a competitive eating contest, I’ll stick with Lumpia and plug what I believe is the best place to get it. Fredcel is in City Heights on the corner of University Ave and 38th Street. It’s a small shop, but you can smell the lumpia from the street. I don’t know what it is about their oil or whatever they do when they’re frying the lumpia, but it’s incredibly delicious. If you go down there or make an order over the phone, bring cash because they’re cash only.
Which reality TV show would you most like to compete on and why?
This is the one question I was so looking forward to answering! I would want to compete on “The Circle.” If you’re not familiar, the purpose of the show is to be the most popular amongst the group and earn the most votes from them. But it’s all remote and you don’t get to see the other participants. ADDITIONALLY, you don’t even have to play yourself! You can be a catfish and pretend to be someone else, so whatever you need to do to win and create alliances goes. At the end of the show, you get to finally see everyone in person and see if they’re actually who they said they were. This became our guilty pleasure show at the start of the pandemic and we really got into it. You can find “The Circle” on Netflix!
What advice do you have for young people starting out?
I’m going to assume you mean starting out and running for office. With that, my first piece of advice is to get off social media. Twitter is not real life. The social media advocacy you often see or hear about is quite different than the things that matter to everyday San Diegans. If you’re a candidate running for local office, be prepared to constantly be on the phone raising money and knocking on doors. A lot of first-time candidates think running for office is about giving these grandiose speeches that conclude with attendees chanting your name. In reality, running for office is a mental grind. It’s not for everyone, but it’s incredibly rewarding if you’re fortunate to be elected. The only other thing I would say is: make sure your spouse and family are supportive. You will be spending A LOT of time away from home, and in my opinion, they should have veto power over your decision. If I was in this same family position eight years ago, I most certainly wouldn’t have run for office.
We see a lot of SM posts of you and your kids. Any proudest moments you want to share?
With three kids three and under, it seems like we have proud moments all the time! Whether it’s one of them learning to crawl, or walk, or eat solids, or learn to write their name, it’s all an adventure! When they learn to say “I love you momma” or “I love you daddy,” your heart just melts. Suffice it to say that I love being a dad and at this point, just trying to soak in all these moments. It all goes by so fast. The next thing you know they’re going to be asking for the keys to the car!
Take us through Chris Cate’s “perfect day” in San Diego.
Hmm… well it’s not all that extravagant, to be quite honest. I think it would start out with my kids all waking up in great moods (no crying or fussing!) and my wife Maria and me dropping them off at daycare. I’d then go grab some coffee with Maria on our way back home. I’d then head over to Torrey Pines and play a round on Torrey North with some friends and shoot a decent round. I’d then head back home and go with Maria to pick up our kids, who will still be in great moods. I then cook some steak and lobster tails for dinner with a nice bottle of wine and enjoy the evening with the kids (still in good moods) and watching MadiRose cook s’mores with Maria. For me, that would be a perfect day!
What would you change about yourself?
In the illustrious words of Skee-Lo, “I wish I was a little bit taller.”
You’re termed out. What’s next for Chris Cate?
My first step is to find a job! I have 3 kids to feed! I’m honestly looking forward to whatever the next chapter has in store for me. I still plan to be involved at a policy level on matters that impact San Diegans, but from the outside and not as an elected official. I’m not going anywhere, and you’ll still see me weighing in on issues. I like to remind people that just because I’m not running for something right now doesn’t mean that it won’t happen at some point in the future. I think that I still have a lot to give but after 2022, I’m going to enjoy spending more time with Maria and our kids.