California Secretary of State Alex Padilla urges  students to get involved in the democratc process

By Marty Cheek

Christopher High School students had a special visit from Alex Padilla, the California Secretary of State, as part of his tour of the Golden State to encourage more citizens to take part in the democratic process by voting in elections.

Padilla wore a GilroyStrong# shirt at  the school assembly inside the gym where he spoke about the importance of young people of sharing their voice through the ballot.

“When I was your age, when I was in high school, getting involved in politics was the last thing I want to do,” he admitted.

After graduating from San Fernando High School, he studied from four years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He told the Christopher students that when returned to California in 1994 with an engineering degree from MIT, Proposition 187 came on the ballot as an initiative to prohibit immigrants and children of immigrants from being eligible for public services. His parents, Santos and Lupe Padilla, both of emigrated from Mexico and he understood the importance of immigrants to the state’s economy. When he realized that many children would  be able to go to public school or receive public health care, he decided to get politically involved.

Padilla ran for election for the Los Angeles City Council. He won the election and on July 1, 1999, at the age of 26, sworn into the city office. Two years later Padilla was the first Latino and the youngest person elected president of the Los Angeles City Council. In 2006, he was elected to the State Senate and served until Nov. 30, 2014. In 2015, he assumed office as the California Secretary of State.

“I think about how in one generation our family went from being immigrants and cooks and house-cleaners to me being a constitutional officer for the most populous state in the nation,” he told the students. “In part because of their (his parents’) guidance, and in part because of their support and encouragement, and in part because of my education.”

Padilla especially enjoys talking at schools to encourage young people to be active voters. Christopher High School was the 70th school he visited during the past several month.

Young people between the ages 18 to 29 are the biggest potential voting bloc in America, the biggest voice in the politics, but they are not using that voice as much as they could be, he said at the assembly.

“It’s that same group that tends to be registered at the lowest rates and tends to vote at the lowest rates and isn’t as heard in our politics and policy priorities,” he said. “My job as secretary of the state is to go out and get more people to register to vote, more people to cast their ballots every election. I’m going to be smart about my work, so I’m going to go straight to where the biggest potential is, and that’s among 18 years old.”

Padilla’s Christopher High School came about through Principal Jeremy Dirks’s friendship with Assemblymember Robert Rivas. The two got to know each other when they taught at San Benito High School in Hollister,

“I was kind of giving him a hard time by asking how he always goes to San Benito (High School) and he said, I’ll come over and I’ll bring the secretary of state with me,” Dirks said. “The secretary of the state is here but Robert had a different engagement to go to.. . . This is not a political event in anyway, it’s just getting out voter registration. It show that our students matter. Our young folks sometimes don’t feel their voices are being heard. Having the secretary of state come out and talk to them is a pretty big deal for them.”

Gilroy Unified School District Superintendent Debbie Flores described how many students study about the voting process in their U.S. Government class, so Padilla’s visit helped them to realize how important it is to participate in the democratic process.

“I think the timing is great because our kids are becoming more and more interested in the upcoming election,” she said. “This visit will spark a bunch of kids, many who will be 18 for the election next year, to go and register.”

After Padilla’s talk, at a corner of the gym students ages 16 and 17 were given the opportunity to pre-register and students age 18 could register to vote for the first time. They were assisted by volunteers from the Secretary of State office  and the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters.

Onyeaa Ezeokeke , Christopher’s ASB president for the senior class, introduced Padilla to the school by sharing highlight of the secretary of state’s life. The young man turns 18 in December and will register to vote then. He was impressed how the state official shared with Christopher personal details about his growing up years and tied them into encouraging students to be active during elections.

As part of Generation Z, Ezeokeke and other young people are just beginning their adventure in political activity for the benefit of society. Many of them are becoming involved through digital media, he said.

“I feel like we’re not necessarily starting things but we’re a part of things,” he said. “My generation, I think we’re very well spoken and if we see things that we don’t like, we will say something. We’re not afraid to keep our opinions suppressed.”

As for the March primary, he looks forward to the first time he votes in an election.

“ It will be a fun experience and a new thing for me because I will be making an impact on our governmental offices, which is kind of cool to me because I will have a direct say of what will be going on,” he said. “Voting is important for your future.”

Marty Cheek