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Secretary of State Alex Padilla Becomes California’s First Latino U.S. Senator

Secretary of State Alex Padilla speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco. | Courtesy photo by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Governor Gavin Newsom has announced the selection of California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to be California’s next United States Senator, filling the term being vacated by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Padilla, who previously served as a Los Angeles City councilman and state senator, will become the first Latino to represent California in the U.S. Senate and the first Southern Californian in nearly three decades.

“The son of Mexican immigrants — a cook and house cleaner — Alex Padilla worked his way from humble beginnings to the halls of MIT, the Los Angeles City Council and the State Senate, and has become a national defender of voting rights as California’s Secretary of State. Now, he will serve in the halls of our nation’s Capitol as California’s next United States Senator, the first Latino to hold this office,” said Governor Gavin Newsom in a statement Tuesday. “Through his tenacity, integrity, smarts and grit, California is gaining a tested fighter in their corner who will be a fierce ally in D.C., lifting up our state’s values and making sure we secure the critical resources to emerge stronger from this pandemic. He will be a senator for all Californians.”

Padilla was sworn in as California’s first Latino Secretary of State on Jan. 5, 2015 and pledged to bring more Californians into the democratic process as the state’s top elections official. He was re-elected in 2018 and received the most votes of any Latino elected official in the United States.

“I am honored and humbled by the trust placed in me by Governor Newsom, and I intend to work each and every day to honor that trust and deliver for all Californians,” Padilla said in a statement. “From those struggling to make ends meet to the small businesses fighting to keep their doors open to the health care workers looking for relief, please know that I am going to the Senate to fight for you. We will get through this pandemic together and rebuild our economy in a way that doesn’t leave working families behind.”

Since taking office, Padilla has:

  • Registered over 22 million voters. Under Padilla’s leadership, voter registration is at an all-time high — over 22 million Californians are registered to vote (an increase of more than four million from the day he took office) and the highest rate in nearly seven decades.
  • Expanded access to the ballot. He implemented same-day registration, online pre-registration for 16- and 17-year olds and automatic voter registration, also known as “California Motor Voter.”
  • Overseen the upgrades and replacement of voting systems in all 58 counties in the state to systems that meet California’s newer, higher security standards.

Padilla also served as Chairman of the California Complete Count Committee, working to reach hard to count communities and working with community-based organizations to secure a fair Census count.

With just an elementary school education, Padilla’s father, Santos, worked as a short order cook for 40 years before retirement. He liked to boast that his kitchen “never failed an inspection.” For the same 40 years, Padilla’s mother, Lupe, worked as a housekeeper for a group of families in the affluent communities of Studio City and Sherman Oaks.

Santos and Lupe raised their three children, Julie, Alex and Ackley, in a modest home in Pacoima. In the 1980s, the neighborhood became one of the more violent areas of Los Angeles and gang activity, prostitution and open-air drug dealing were rampant. Going to sleep to the sound of police helicopters was not uncommon.

Padilla attended local public schools. He worked his way into the starting rotation at San Fernando High as a senior. The same year, he won admission to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. He worked his way through college doing a variety of janitorial and administrative jobs while mentoring younger students back home.

It was the conditions in his neighborhood growing up and the feeling that the Northeast San Fernando Valley wasn’t adequately served by government that awakened his interest in political activism. As a teenager, Padilla’s family helped organize neighbors to take back the streets from crime. He and his mother would periodically join community leaders to protest environmental injustice and demand the closure of the Lopez Canyon Landfill. In 1994, after California voters passed Proposition 187, the sweeping anti-immigrant measure, his parents finally applied for citizenship and Padilla, now a recent MIT graduate, resolved to put an engineering career aside and dedicate his life to public service.

Demanding a fair share of opportunity and resources for the people of the Northeast San Fernando Valley, Padilla was elected to the Los Angeles City Council as a political outsider at the age of 26.

In 2001, Padilla’s colleagues elected him the youngest council president in Los Angeles history. He was Acting Mayor during the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. He assisted in the interview and selection of William Bratton as Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and helped negotiate the approval of LA Live and the modernization of Los Angeles International Airport. In 2005, his colleagues throughout the state elected him president of the California League of Cities.

In 2006, Padilla was elected to the State Senate to represent the more than 1 million people in the San Fernando Valley. As a State Senator, he would go on to author more than 70 bills signed into law.

Padilla lives with his wife Angela, a mental health advocate, and their three sons in the San Fernando Valley.

December 22, 2020

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