Elizabeth Emken is no stranger to the political arena.
After her son was diagnosed with autism in 1996, Emken – who at the time was working in corporate operations at IBM – decided to quit her job and focus her efforts full time on caring for her child and learning everything possible about autism and what can be done to treat it.
At the time there was no extensive information available and no internet to turn to for help. Emken jumped headfirst into the task of advocating for autism research when she learned that only $5 million was available each year for scientific research into autism and other developmental disabilities.
With stints at Cure Autism Now where she served as board member and legislative consultant and at Autism Speaks where she was the vice president of government relations, Emken – who lives in Danville – was on the front lines of the fight to push through legislation that would eventually become the Children’s Health Act of 2000 and the Combating Autism Act of 2006.
Both pieces of legislation were passed.
It was through those experiences that Emken came to believe that the interests of the people right in her own backyard were not being addressed by elected officials charged with the task of taking care of their constituents.
And when she had a disheartening conversation with Congressman Jerry McNerney – the Democratic incumbent seeking reelection to the 11th Congressional District for the third time -Emken began to look into the possibility of making a run herself.
“I was talking with Congressman McNerney outside of an Energy and Commerce Committee meeting about an amendment in the current healthcare bill that deals with autism and I realized that he had absolutely no idea what amendment I was talking about,” Emken said. “I couldn’t understand how somebody could vote on something without even knowing what it was that they were voting on. I began to believe right then and there that he was just blindly voting the party line, and I thought to myself ‘This my representative.’ I believed that I could do it better than they could, and I talked to friends about the possibility of running and realized that it was a winnable race. I resigned from Autism Speaks shortly after that, and have been working on this campaign full-time.”
Since realizing that she could make a difference Emken has been spending roughly 80 hours a week on the campaign learning as much as she can about the 11th District and the problems its residents are facing.
While her work advocating for autism research and funding holds a special place in her heart, Emken – a lifelong Republican – says she couldn’t stand idly by knowing that somebody is making decisions that affect her life without knowing all of the facts first.
“That was a major turning point for me,” Emken said. “It would have been one thing if he just told me he didn’t agree with what it was I was advocating, and we could have just agreed to disagree on the topic. But I felt like I was dealing with a person that wasn’t making independent decisions, and that was a scary prospect for me.”
Emken will be one of six candidates participating in a community forum tonight at Crossroads Grace Community Church. The forum begins at 6:30 p.m. and is expected to run until 8:30 p.m.
Additional information about Emken and her campaign can be found at www.emken2010.com. The website contains additional information about her stance on individual issues, and includes links to donate to her campaign.