Senator Alex Padilla—A Strong Voter for Ketanji Brown Jackson April 07, 2022
I usually highlight some of the most outrageous views and actions of the Trump-captured GOP cult. And there is plenty to go after with this anti-democracy gang. One can talk about wacko sex-orgy obsessed Cong. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC). And then there is the beyond ridiculous decision to hire former Trump chief-of-staff Mick Mulvaney as an on air-contributor to CBS News. Mulvaney himself stated in a 10/17/2019 White House press conference that Trump’s White House had withheld military aid in part to President Zelensky’s Ukraine until Ukraine investigated an unsubstantiated (bizarro) theory that that country, not Russia, was responsible for hacking Democratic Party emails! The withholding of vital military aid to Ukraine led to Trump’s first impeachment. And, Mulvaney, how does this withholding of aid to Ukraine now look after Putin’s Russia brutal invasion of that country? I’m not holding my breath waiting for your answer. However, with the Easter and Passover holidays fast approaching along with the beautiful weather that season brings to my region of California, I decided, instead, to use this blogpost to positively discuss one of the U.S. Senate’s up-and-comers, Alex Padilla.
Despite the absurd and racist-tinged questions the Trump-GOP threw at her, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson easily batted them away. On 4/07/2022, she won confirmation to replace retiring SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) Justice Stephen Breyer. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on straight party lines, 11 Dems. for v. 11 GOPers against her nomination. This tie vote sent Judge Jackson’s nomination to the full Senate floor where all the Democrats and only “Team Red” Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Mitt Romney (R-UT), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voted in her favor for a final 53-47 vote (latimes.com, McCaskill & Savage, 4/07/22). One of the members who cast two “Aye” votes for Judge Jackson, both in the Senate Judiciary Committee and in the final Senate floor vote, was Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla (cnn.com, 4/04/22). Meet Senator Padilla.
California’s junior U.S. Senator, Alex Padilla (49), was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) to the U.S. Senate after Democratic Senator Kamala Harris was elected Vice President of the United States on the Biden-Harris ticket (Cohen & Cook 2022 Political Almanac). Padilla is no political amateur. When appointed to the Senate, Padilla was serving as CA’s Secretary of State. He first won that position in 2014 and was re-elected to that post in 2018. Padilla was born and grew up in Pacoima, CA, the northeastern part of the San Fernando Valley (Cohen & Cook 2022). The son of Mexican immigrants, Padilla graduated in 1994 with a B.S. from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He paid for his education with janitorial jobs and work-study-positions. After graduating MIT, he returned to CA to design satellite software for Hughes Aircraft. However, Padilla’s engineering career was short-lived. When Padilla returned to Los Angeles, then GOP Governor Pete Wilson and his fellow “Team Red” gang were pushing Proposition 187. This proposition, intended to help Gov. Wilson get re-elected, denied education, nonemergency health care, and other public services to undocumented immigrants, way before the Trump era. Prop. 187 and Gov. Wilson overwhelmingly won at the ballot box, but 187 was blocked by a court challenge. Horrified by 187’s anti-Latino tilt, Padilla left his rocket science career and joined thousands of Latinos in political activism in a backlash against Gov. Wilson and his xenophobic GOP. Gov. Wilson figured that Latinos would never vote no matter what he did against them. Wilson, then hoping to run for President, badly miscalculated. CA is now 40% Latino and its Hispanic “sleeping giant” woke up with a vengeance. In the past quarter century, since the passage of 187, CA was transformed from an Anglo “swing/GOP-leaning” state into a deep “Blue” one (Cohen & Cook 2022). Padilla joined a massive march against Prop 187 from East Los Angeles to LA City Hall, while carrying his nephew on his shoulders. Padilla told the NY Times, “Before that (Prop 187), I wouldn’t say I had ever dreamed of running for office, but I knew I’d have to do my part or our community would continue to be scapegoated (Cohen & Cook 2022).” CA and the nation lost an engineer interested in aerospace, but in Alex Padilla they gained a very talented politician.
Padilla’s parents, hoping their son’s MIT training and engineering career would make him a part of the American Dream, were far from thrilled about their son’s choice. However, Padilla’s political career, as the LA Times described it, became “nothing short of meteoric (Cohen & Cook, 2022).” Padilla started in politics working in a field office of the state’s senior Senator Democrat Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein later urged Gov. Newsom to appoint Padilla to Harris’ Senate seat. Padilla successfully ran a couple of state legislative campaigns, including one for State Assemblyman Gil Cedillo and for Assemblyman Tony Cardenas, now an influential Southern CA Congressmember (Cohen & Cook, 2022, allgov.com). In 1999, then 26-year- old Padilla was elected to an open seat on the LA City Council with the backing of LA Latino-dominated labor unions. During this campaign, Padilla emphasized better delivery of city services to a working-class-district that had long been denied them. His first act as a city council member was to push for safety improvements at a street crossing near the elementary school he once attended (Cohen & Cook,2022). Politics was always local and national for Padilla.
In 2001, two-years after his election to the LA City Council, Padilla became the first Latino and youngest person elected President of the LA City Council. One of his backers in his successful bid to head the City Council was Eric Garcetti. Garcetti later became LA City Council President and is now LA’s Mayor. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, LA Mayor James Hahn was grounded in D.C. and Padilla became acting mayor for four days. At that time, people were badly worried that the Al Qaeda terrorists would hit LA like they had NY and D.C. The LA Times noted that “It was a tough introduction to the spotlight but 28-year- old Padilla handled the moment with calm and grace.” The LA Times stated that Padilla’s rise to acting mayor raised his “political stock (latimes.com, 9/13/2001).” As City Council President, Padilla was elected president of the California League of Cities, the first Latino to serve in that position (allgov.com/usa).
In 2006, Padilla won election to the CA State Senate. At 33, he was that chamber’s youngest member. In the CA Senate, Padilla authored a smoke-free housing law and won approval of a bill requiring CA to post calorie information on their menus. He also authored a controversial bill that outlawed single-use plastic bags at grocery stores. Conservatives attacked this bill as showing that CA was part of a “nanny state.” Fellow LA Democrats were worried the measure would harm a major plastic bag manufacturer in the city (Cohen & Cook, 2022). In 2010, Padilla handily won re-election with nearly 70% of the vote (webarchive.org).
Throughout his political career, Padilla has made many strong and well-connected friends. None of them was more important than Gavin Newsom, CA’s current Governor. The Newsom-Padilla relationship dates back to 2003, when Newsom first ran for San Francisco mayor. At that time, Padilla helped Newsom make contacts in Los Angeles that bolstered Newsom in a competitive race against a SF Latino candidate. Toward the end of Padilla’s first state Senate term, Newsom recruited Padilla to chair his initial 2010 campaign for Governor. Padilla helped Newsom make inroads into Southern California’s large Latino community. Padilla’s statewide profile became elevated. When Newsom realized that he would have to take on former Gov. Jerry Brown in the 2010 Democratic primary, he backed out and successfully ran for lieutenant governor. With Brown term-limited in 2018, Padilla gave Newsom an early endorsement for governor in a crowded primary field. That field included prominent Latino politician, former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Newsom handily won the 2018 primary and general election (Cohen & Cook, 2022).
Term-limited from seeking re-election to the State Senate in 2014, Padilla ran for CA Secretary of State (SOS). He won his first term by an 8-point margin, 54%-46%, and became the first Latino to hold that post. In 2018, Padilla was re-elected by an even stronger 30-point margin, 65%-35%. As CA’s SOS, Padilla became one of that state’s first officials to tangle with Demagogue Donald. Padilla attacked Donald for his unfounded allegations that millions of CA ballots had been illegally cast in 2016. Correctly citing privacy issues, Padilla rejected requests from a Trump-created commission for access to detailed voter information. Padilla’s most notable achievement was his successful push to enact the Voter’s Choice Act. That legislation allowed CA counties to swap out neighborhood polling places for community voting centers on condition that they mail a ballot to every registered voter. A dozen CA counties took advantage of that law prior to the outbreak of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. During that pandemic, the practice of mailing ballots to all voters was used statewide (Cohen & Cook, 2022). Padilla promised to register a million new CA voters while SOS. He ended up registering more than 4 million. This surge in CA voter registration was largely the result of legislation Padilla backed that automatically registered CA residents when they obtain a driver’s license. Padilla became head of the National Association of State Election Directors. In this position, he gained visibility in D.C. for advocating throughout the nation the kind of voting reforms he adopted in CA. Padilla additionally served as head of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (Cohen & Cook, 2022).
In 12/2020, Gov. Newsom appointed Padilla to fill the final two years of Kamala Harris’ term. Many people always felt that Newsom had his eyes on Padilla to fill Harris’ Senate seat. However, when Newsom called Padilla to offer him this post, Padilla seemed caught off guard. Gov. Newsom asked Padilla, “Can you imagine what your mom (then deceased) would be thinking now as I ask you if you want to be the next senator?” Losing his composure, Padilla replied, “You serious?” Padilla later told National Public Radio (NPR), “I just couldn’t help but immediately think of my parents and their journey. And like so many others…worked so hard, struggled, sacrificed, trying to achieve the American dream—less so for themselves, frankly, but for the next generation. And to think that a short-order cook and a housekeeper raised three children to all be public servants and one of them would be entering the United States Senate, it feels surreal sometimes (Cohen & Cook, 2022).” With this appointment, Padilla again made history. He became the first Latino to represent CA in the Senate in its 170 years as a state (Cohen & Cook, 2022).
As early as 2012, Padilla was given a 0% rating by the American Conservative Union (acuratings.conservative.org). In 1/2021, Padilla released a statement in support of the Green New Deal and Medicare for All legislation, progressive policies. Padilla supports ending the filibuster, the obstructionist weapon that has deadlocked the U.S. Senate (See foxla.com, 12/23/20, sfgate.com, Ting, 1/19/21). Padilla is pro-choice and has said that abortion rights are “not negotiable (twitter.com/Alex Padilla4CA).” Padilla supports immigrants’ rights. He supports legislation to speed up the citizenship process for undocumented immigrants in essential jobs (newsweek.com, 1/19/21, fox40.com, 1/16/21). And of course, as we have seen, Padilla is for expanding voting rights. Gov. Newsom correctly called him “a national defender of voting rights (sfchronicle.com, Koseff, 12/22/20).” Besides serving on Judiciary, Padilla has seats on the key Senate Budget, Environment & Public Works, Homeland Security, and Rules & Administration Committees (CQ 117th Cong. At Your Fingertips). Sen. Padilla has come a long way and surely embodies the American Dream. And so has the State of California.