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RFK Jr. names California tech lawyer Nicole Shanahan as his vice presidential choice

Nicole Shanahan arrives at the Gold House Gala on Saturday, May 21, 2022, at Vibiana in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Nicole Shanahan, shown in 2022, is Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s choice for his vice presidential running mate. (Jordan Strauss / Invision/Associated Press)

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Tuesday announced that he had selected California tech lawyer, entrepreneur and political newcomer Nicole Shanahan as his vice presidential running mate.

With no experience holding or running for elected office, Shanahan epitomizes the kind of nontraditional choices Kennedy has said he would bring to the White House if his long shot bid for the presidency succeeds. In the unlikely event the Kennedy-Shanahan ticket prevails, the 38-year-old vice president would become the second youngest in history.

“I was most importantly looking for a partner who is a young person and Nicole is only 38 years old,” Kennedy said as he introduced Shanahan. “I want Nicole to be a champion to the growing number of millennials and Gen Z Americans who have lost faith in their future and lost their pride in our country.”

Kennedy called Shanahan "the daughter of immigrants, who overcame every daunting obstacle and went on to achieve the highest levels of the American dream." He added that she was a "fellow lawyer, a brilliant scientist, technologist and a fearsome mom."

After Kennedy's remarks, Shanahan was introduced to the crowd by a biographical video. In her speech to several hundred supporters, the candidate said she had grown up in a household with an unstable income and so understood the plight of Americans who stand "one misfortune away from disaster."

"I don't think we would have made it without food stamps and government help," Shanahan said. "My mom worked hard, but it wouldn't have been possible to keep it together without that help."

Shanahan said that she previously had been skeptical of Kennedy because she accepted "a mainstream media narrative that was effectively telling me horrible, disparaging things."

But at a friend's urging she said she went online and listened to Kennedy's speeches and saw "a person of intelligence, of compassion and of reason … who had committed himself to finding the truth and fighting for the environment and for people."

"What young people are faced with today is completely unprecedented," Shanahan said in the video. "And it's going to take a new generation of leadership that understands deeply those threats, because they are themselves technologists to address the issues at hand. It's going to take leadership that has spent their life in technology. It's going to take leadership that understands what questions to ask, how to ask them and what it looks like to implement a plan."

Kennedy made the announcement at the Henry J. Kaiser Center for the Arts in Oakland, where Shanahan grew up and where sitting Vice President Kamala Harris was born. Shanahan's birthplace is Roseville, outside Sacramento.

While designed to highlight Shanahan’s roots, the locale also seemed to signal that Kennedy intends to go to any state in search of votes, not just the six to eight “swing” states that have been deemed likely to decide whether President Biden will win another term or be replaced by former President Trump.

Kennedy’s choice of a running mate came into focus two weeks ago, when it was reported that he had talked to NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the former Minnesota governor and professional wrestler Jesse Ventura about the job.

Less than a week later, Mediaite reported that Kennedy instead had decided to pick Shanahan, who previously had helped plan and pay for a television advertisement for the candidate that aired during last month’s Super Bowl.

Read more: RFK Jr. is about to name a running mate. Will he pick this California tech lawyer?

With that $4-million investment, Shanahan emerged as a significant funder of Kennedy’s campaign. The ad drew considerable attention by relying on images and a jingle that were featured in a 1960 presidential campaign spot for Kennedy’s uncle, the late John F. Kennedy.

Some members of the Kennedy family expressed disdain for the ad, saying the oldest son of former Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy does not reflect the family’s values, particularly with his oft-expressed skepticism about the value of vaccines.

Kennedy suggested Tuesday that Shanahan would help him fight "the corporate kleptocracy" and government regulators who had become mere "sock puppets" for corporate America. He said her background in technology would make her particularly helpful in fighting against unchecked power of big tech.

Kennedy said Shanahan shared his "indignation about the participation of big tech as a partner in the censorship and their surveillance and the information warfare that our government is currently waging against the American people.”

Shanahan demonstrated in her remarks that she would not shy away from raising topics not typically discussed in mainstream politics, including Kennedy's skepticism about vaccines. She said her own journey — struggling to give birth to a child and then having that daughter diagnosed as on the autism spectrum — had led her on a hunt for explanations. Among the environmental threats she identified as problematic: toxic chemicals and compounds in the environment, over-reliance on pharmaceuticals and "electromagnetic pollution."

"Pharmaceutical medicine has its place," Shanahan said, "but no single safety study can assess the cumulative impact of one prescription on top of another prescription and one shot on top of another shot on top of another shot, throughout the course of childhood. We just don't do that study right now. And we ought to."

Kennedy's campaign signaled that it would do more campaigning in California this weekend, with the candidate set to appear in Los Angeles to celebrate of the birthday of labor and civil rights icon Cesar Chavez.

Joining Kennedy will be former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who lost that office in 2022 after four chaotic years in which he alienated himself from the county's other elected leaders and from civilians overseers appointed to assure fair policing. The polarizing politician, who recently lost a primary bid against Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, said he endorsed Kennedy several months ago.

Villanueva told The Times via email that he backed the independent because "the overwhelming majority of voters are tired of both Biden and Trump." He added: "RFK Jr represents a promising future that’s puts the interests of the people above party interests — hence the We The People emphasis."

It was not immediately clear whether Shanahan would accompany Kennedy on the trip to Los Angeles, where he lives, or whether she would campaign on her own.

Even before Kennedy made his pick official Tuesday, it became clear Shanahan would be called on to answer for some of his past extreme statements. A political action committee representing Asians and Pacific Islanders emailed the media slamming Kennedy's speculation last year that the COVID-19 virus appeared to be "ethnically targeted," sparing Chinese and Ashkenazi Jews.

The head of the AAPI Victory Fund said that Kennedy's choice of Shanahan — whose mother was born in China — shouldn't be used to "paper over" his "wildly racist conspiracy theory" about the impacts of the coronavirus.

In earlier interviews, Shanahan told of growing up with a mother who had recently emigrated from China and a father who struggled with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She said that neither of her parents had steady employment and that she went to work at age 12, busing tables.

But Shanahan said she forged a path for herself beginning at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma and then — after working as a paralegal in Seattle and in China — as a student at the University of Santa Clara Law School.

Shanahan had not yet turned 30 when she founded a company, ClearAccessIP, that uses software to help companies manage and distribute patents and patent rights. Another Silicon Valley firm, IPwe, acquired Shanahan’s company in 2020.

Read more: A comedy show where RFK Jr. was not the butt of the joke

Shanahan's public profile expanded considerably with her 2018 marriage to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, one of the world's wealthiest men. The couple had a daughter, Echo, and Shanahan founded the Bia-Echo Foundation, which announced in 2019 that it would spend $100 million over five years on programs to help women who wanted to become pregnant later in life, to overhaul the criminal-justice system and to address the effects of climate change.

The child-bearing issue became central for Shanahan when she had trouble having a child herself. She later became focused on autism, when Echo was diagnosed as on the spectrum.

The RFK Jr. campaign hawked advance tickets to Tuesday's event for as little as $2. Those donating $500 or more were invited to an “exclusive post-announcement reception.” The campaign said the media would not be welcome at the reception.

Near the end of her remarks, Shanahan said that her election would make her the youngest person ever to serve as vice president.

Actually, she would be the second-youngest . The youngest vice president was John C. Breckinridge, a Kentuckian who served in the U.S. House and Senate before being elected, at age 36, alongside President James Buchanan in 1856. (Breckinridge ran for president in 1860 under the banner of the Southern Democratic Party, finishing third behind the winner, Republican Abraham Lincoln, and Stephen A. Douglas, who represented Northern Democrats.)

Times staff writer Benjamin Oreskes contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.