On Apr. 22, 5C students and Claremont locals convened to hear California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) speak in Pitzer College’s 2014 Hall. Padilla, the son of Mexican immigrants, was introduced by Claremont Mayor Corey Calaycay and Pitzer Student President Elect Josue Pasillas PZ ’17, who organized the event. Pasillas invited Padilla to Pitzer as part of a speaker series called “Mindful of the Future.”
“Alex Padilla has been doing great work for California as the Secretary of State,” Pasillas wrote in an email to TSL. “Since taking office, Secretary Padilla has been a strong advocate for making voting accessible to more individuals. He has been committed to modernizing the Office of the Secretary of State, increasing voter registration and participation, and strengthening voting rights.”
Pitzer’s voting advocacy organization Student Voices, Student Choices (SVSC) has helped students register to vote through on-campus events and door-to-door drives. Pasillas celebrated the work of this organization by inviting members of SVSC Lora McManus PZ ’18, Dana Nothnagel PZ ’19 and Naima Orozco PZ ’19 to attend the event and sit to the left of Padilla.
Padilla emphasized that he once had no interest in politics, a trait he described as a symptom of youth. Having enjoyed math and science classes in school, Padilla graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and the intent of becoming an engineer.
His mind changed when a friend asked Padilla to manage his campaign for local office. Hesitant at first, Padilla was encouraged by the fact that both he and his friend were new to the realm of politics. The victory of his friend’s grassroots campaign over his more established opponents ignited Padilla’s interest in politics and taught him a lesson he shared with the audience.
“If you want to change the world—hopefully for the better—nobody does it alone,” he said.
Prior to his election to Secretary of State, Padilla served as Los Angeles City Councilman, eventually being elected to the California State Senate. His 2014 campaign for Secretary of State experienced a narrow victory over Republican Pete Peterson.
After briefing the audience on his introduction to politics, Padilla gave a “101” lecture on what exactly the State Secretary does on a day-to-day basis. Aside from overseeing voting and fundraising transparency, Padilla is the custodian of the state archives, a job he called “pretty exciting,” likening the state archives to those found in the popular movie National Treasure.
Discussing the Secretary’s obligation to promote democratic engagement, Padilla mentioned California’s Motor Voter bill. Adapted from a policy instituted in Oregon, the Motor Voter bill uses information provided at the DMV to register eligible but unregistered voters after giving them the choice to opt out. The bill attempts to increase voter turnout and to ease the registration process while preserving the freedom for individuals to abstain from casting a vote.
Also in attendance was a group representing the organization America First Latinos, who carried signs along the periphery of the room. According to its website, America First Latinos support “the U.S. Constitution and a secure border.” None of the protesters appeared to be students.
Scattered signs called for Padilla’s recall, for Padilla to “stop promoting illegal immigration” or to “penalize ineligable voting.” Several older visitors interrogated Padilla regarding immigrant voter fraud. Padilla was accused of using the Motor Voter bill to create “motor voter inundation by the illegals,” whose votes would allow Padilla to remain in office. Most interjections went unanswered, and the protesters were told that student questions took precedence.
Pasillas wrote that he was surprised at the disruption of the Padilla’s event.
“To be honest,” he wrote, “I thought it would be the least controversial of all the speakers featured in the Student Senate's ‘Mindful of the Future’ Speaker Series.”
Padilla did not give many direct responses to the protesters, although he did answer a question about voter fraud by explaining that voter fraud was next to nonexistent. His answer was met with an accusation that he was “in fact promoting voter fraud.”
Campus Safety was called to stand by when the protesters became particularly disruptive and prevented Padilla from speaking. Anna Chang, Pitzer’s senior director of media relations, said of the disruption, “Pitzer’s priority is the safety of our students and our community members.”
To emphasize the importance of Motor Voter, Padilla cited the dismal turnouts California has been producing. Motor Voter's purpose is to reach out to the missing voter demographics: working class people, people of color, and youth.
To youth voters, the Secretary explained that both “good and bad times” are reason to vote, meaning that voting when things are good will perpetuate the good and that voting in bad times will encourage positive change.
Padilla continued to answer student questions despite interruptions. In response to a question about people who don’t vote because they feel uninformed, Padilla said that feeling uninformed is a sign of excellent political savvy in itself, and encouraged those that felt that way to follow the news and teach themselves.
“I think that his story was really inspiring,” Nothnagel said of Padilla. “I feel like a lot of people assume that if you go into government, unless you're interested in a really early age… then it's not the path for you. But as Secretary Padilla showed us, it's more about being passionate about local issues that leads you to be involved in government.”