Why a former Google executive is running for Congress

Nov. 12, 2023, 11:12 p.m.

When Lexi Reese’s father lost his job, she said her family spiraled into chaos. 

He was a Sears employee whose job was rendered obsolete by rising automation in the ’80s. Following his unemployment, he strayed from the family; so Reese’s mother found work, becoming their sole source of income.

Reese said that her family’s experience with financial insecurity is why she is running for California Senate.

“My dad losing his paycheck was about way more than just the paycheck,” Reese said. “It was about his dignity.” 

Reese joins a slate of veteran Democratic politicians like Adam Schiff ’82, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee. The candidates are competing to fill the late Senator Dianne Feinstein’s ’55 seat in a race the SF Chronicle wrote may be “the most important state election for voters in 2024.” 

Schiff is currently polling at 20%, Porter at 17% and Lee at 7%.

Stanford Women in Politics (SWIP) President Caroline Zdanowski ’25 said this election is of profound significance. Representing “the most populous state in the country, California’s Senate leadership has a huge platform,” Zdanowski said. 

Though Reese is polling at 1%, she said she is unwavering in her commitment to re-envisioning California’s politics on a platform grounded in promises of economic security and mobility. 

Four in 10 Californians are considering moving out of state, due to exorbitant cost of living. Homelessness and a dire absence of affordable housing are among voters’ top issues of concern.

“This has been happening for decades,” Reese said in an interview with The Daily. “All while the three people I’m running against have been in Congress.” 

Curious Cardinals and Reese co-hosted a Q&A event on Oct. 29, inviting students interested in learning more about Reese’s platform to hear from her. 

Following their father’s job loss, Reese’s siblings struggled with drug addiction. Though Reese’s sister found recovery, her brother lost his life in 2017. 

“My family situation is similar to so many people’s situations,” she said. “But I lived at a time when my mom could work really hard and send me to good schools, and that opened up career opportunities that enabled me to live a more financially secure life.” 

Recognizing a shift in the American economy, Reese grounds her platform in the ideology that opportunity is increasingly narrow, a product of structural forces.

Reese said her commitment to equity defines her nontraditional path to politics as a documentary-filmmaker turned tech, then nonprofit, executive. 

After focusing her undergraduate studies on Latin American history, she served as a production assistant on a documentary project based in Nicaragua. The film followed the presidential election of Daniel Ortega in 1996, simultaneously documenting the story of adolescent sex workers in the country. 

The project was Reese’s entry point to understanding how theoretical questions of power — “Who has it? Who doesn’t? Why is that? How do you change that?” — interacted with tangible systems of governance and injustice. 

Reese, however, said she recognized her strengths in advocacy over filmmaking. From there, she transitioned to microfinance work, advocating to shift funding into the hands of those living in poverty to kickstart business ventures.

Reese would move on to lead positions at American Express, Google, Facebook and Gusto.

“If I had to describe my career journey, it was heart, and then head,” she said.

Reese’s background in corporate tech is what shapes much of her campaign’s ethos: a defining skill set she said sets her apart from her competitors. 

“Every technology you create has a first order mission, but then has second and third order consequences,” Reese said. “So every leader needs to ask themselves, ‘I know what I want this to do. But what is the impact of this technology on people, on planet, on democracy?’”

“With AI and all of that technology coming — and a genuine worry of where the workforce is going — there is going to be a massive transformation of how we’ll be impacted by technology,” said Lucy Chen, the head of learning design for Curious Cardinals. “Everything is going to become so much more complex. We really need someone who understands technology.” 

Reese’s campaign emphasizes her experience interacting with the intersections and complexities of financial services and technology. Reese said she promises to leverage this background to level the playing field for Americans nationwide. 

“Look at the composition of [the] Senate: average age 64, mostly older white males,” Reese said. “I’d be the 26th woman. I’d be the only technologist. We have no senator, not one, with a tech background.” 

Despite the experience she offers, Reese acknowledged her bid for Congress is an uphill climb. 

“Our elections reward people who have been in the system for a long time and therefore have a lot of special interests supporting them and a lot of machinery behind them,” Reese said. “Notice all of this is completely disconnected from your ability to deliver services to the people who need them.”

Isha Kalia ’24, the vice president of SWIP, said all candidates, even those whose previous careers are not directly involved in politics, should still have a fair chance at getting in office. 

“I would just love to have the faith that anyone who’s interested in the position and is the best candidate at the end of the day does have the chance to do that,” Kalia said. Would “I put money behind that? No. But I think it would be great if that did happen at the end of the day.”

The candidates have just a handful of months leading up to the March 5, 2024 primary election. Despite the competitive lineup, Reese said she remains committed to her platform. 

“I believe that we need leaders to redesign a different future so the same little girl I once was — and so many like me — can have the same opportunity I had,” Reese said. 

Nika Farokhzad '27 is a beat reporter for Campus Life covering the faces of Stanford, a weekly installment profiling a campus student, faculty or staff member. Contact Nika at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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