Inspired by Cassandra’s introduction of her senator Joe Manchin to the wider world now that he’s got a higher profile, I thought I’d introduce all of you to MY new senator from the State of Bliss, aka California, Alex Padilla.
At best what you might have heard about him is that he’s Latino, that’s he from the LA area, and that he was our Secretary of State. Boring. Alex Padilla is in the most interesting man in the world contest. I will bet he drinks Dos Equis as well as a buttery oak tinged Chardonnay from California.
First some background. His parents are Mexican immigrants who came to California in the late 1960’s. Padilla was born in Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley so fer sure, he’s a Valley Boy. He graduated from San Fernando High School before going to MIT where he got a degree in mechanical engineering. Yes, he is the American dream, the son of immigrants who worked hard and got a college education that would get him a high paying white-collar job. But after working for a year or so at a Hughes Aircraft writing software code, he dropped out to get into politics. He worked his way up from Senate aide to Dianne Feinstein, to campaign manager of several successful runs for others, to at 26 being elected to the LA City Council and the next year being elected President of the Council. Election to the State Senate presaged a successful run for Secretary of State.
In 2018 then Lt. Governor and former Kimberly Guilfoyle husband Gavin Newsom had locked up all the Democratic Party nomination so Padilla ran again for Secretary of State. His stock had risen quite a bit the previous year when he was one of the loudest voices opposing Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity or as it came to be known the “Kris Kobach I Don’t Want To Let the Brown People Vote Kommision”. With anti-Trump sentiment at an all-time high in the state that move alone was enough to guarantee re-election.
2020 and COVID made running a presidential election a challenge in a state with 22 million registered voters. He advocated for all counties in the state to adopt the mail in ballot many regularly sent to their citizens. This allowed a voter to fill out the ballot at home then either mail it back, drop it off at designated spots starting twenty days before the election, or just bring it to the polling location on Election Day. The pandemic necessitated immediate implementation in all counties, and it ended up being a successful proving ground for the concept. 81% of registered voters went to the polls in some format with 86% of those voting doing so by “mail in” voting.
When the Biden-Harris ticket took the White House, California was now in need of a new senator. Initial speculation centered on five candidates, but Padilla was clearly the front runner from the beginning. With 40% of California’s population now claiming some form of Latino background it was the politic choice. For the first time in 27 years California will have a male senator and for the first time in our history we will have a Latino senator.
So, what kind of senator will Alex Padilla be?
- You can expect he will be at the forefront of the immigration reform issue. He is the first senator of what is known as Generation 187. Proposition 187, a referendum voted on in 1994 that would have eliminated all public services, including public education, for any undocumented person in the state had been passed. It was immediately overturned by a court, but it became a clarion call for many Latinos to get involved with politics, Padilla included. Don’t be surprised if this junior senator with the largest Latino constituency spearheads the Biden immigration plan.
- Tote bags aren’t just giveaways you get for contributing to your local PBS station. Here in California they are in everyone’s car trunk, the necessary outcome of Padilla’s work on the environment. His law bans plastic bags at grocery stores and makes paper bags cost you a quarter. Environmental issues will be paramount for him especially when it concerns, being the senator from wildfire central, climate change.
- At least initially he’ll be guided by his former boss Feinstein in learning the ways of the senate, but I fully expect he’ll draw the line at hugging Lindsey Graham. While he does prefer to form a consensus it was said of his time on the LA City Council, “it’s not that he didn’t make waves, but he didn’t make enemies”. He’ll be the very model of the modern Senate Democrat.
- Voting rights will also be on his radar. His motor voter bill here and his experience with the 2020 election puts him in a position to be a point person on this issue. Democrats will be wanting to power up a revised Voting Rights bill, one that the Supremely Unqualified Court can’t pick apart.
- And of course he will be one of the two senators from Silicon Valley so intellectual property rights, cybersecurity, and high-tech piracy are sure to be issues he will want to tackle. He will be one of the few senators who when some tech exec testifies in front of them will actually be able to go toe to toe on code. That MIT degree means he speaks their language so any work around they may try is likely to fall on deaf ears.
That should be enough for the two years between now and when he must face the voters. Californians like our senators to be out in front on national issues. Hell, we’re Hollywood, we make our actors into politicians and our politicians into reel heroes all the time. I expect Alex Padilla will be coming to a political debate near you very soon. And if he does well enough, a Republican nightmare, a Latino senator on every corner.