Alex Padilla is not your ordinary U.S. Senator. He has a degree in mechanical engineering from MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and easily could have parlayed that degree to pursue personal accolades and a life of leisure and personal wealth.
But, the first time U.S. Senator did not choose the simple path. Instead, he decided that a life of service to those who grew up like he did, unprivileged in a working class family, and that commitment to service has ascended him to one of the highest seats in California and throughout the nation.
As voters begin mailing in their ballots, they will find Padilla’s name on their ballot twice. Once to complete the term of now Vice President Kamala Harris, who stepped down to become America’s first female vice president and first vice president of color, and once to serve the six-year full term as California’s United States Senator.
Padilla is driven by memories of a segregated California, memories that still have a deep influence over the man who now represents the country’s most populous state. Padilla took office on January 20, 2021 (Inauguration Day). He is California’s first U.S. Senator of Mexican decent and in a time when America is wrestling with being a country where people of color are the majority, he is a voice for and of the people.
Post-Donald Trump, Padilla finds himself in the uncommon position of being one of the few voices of the masses in what is still a majority White, majority male-dominated Senate. And while the Democrats hold the slimmest of majorities in the Senate with Vice President Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote, this current election season threatens to push the Democrats back into the minority where the unrelenting Republican Party could seize control of the Senate, and possibly even Congress.
Padilla was recently quoted in an article in the Atlantic that he wants “to ensure that the American dream my family has experienced in the San Fernando Valley is still within reach.” The past four years have tested that dream for millions, especially Black and Brown Americans. But Padilla is hopeful that the Democratic Party will keep it alive?
Padilla himself comes from a working-class family. His mother, Lupe, who passed away in 2018, worked as a housekeeper and his father, Santos, worked as a short order cook and still lives in the same Pacoima home that Padilla was raised in.
He often speaks about his parents, reflecting on the guidance and promises that inspire him to this day. He also frequently shares how graduating from college and finding a better life for himself and his family were always dreams that his parents desired for him.
In 1999, Padilla began his political career and ran for Los Angeles City Council 7th District seat where he used his youth and working-class background to appeal to voters. As a result, he garnered support from some of the city’s most powerful local labor unions.
From his council seat, he ascended to become the youngest president of the Los Angeles City Council before transitioning to Sacramento to serve as a California state senator and later, secretary of state.
During his time as secretary of state, Padilla transformed into the loudest voice in California encouraging voting rights and access to the polls. Also in this position, he advocated and pushed through California’s same-day voting registration law and allowed 16-and-17-year-olds to preregister to vote online.
In addition, he made it possible for Californians to register to vote at the same time they received their driver’s license, which has become an extremely popular occurrence for residents. He also received both national accolades and national criticism when he refused to cooperate with the Trump administration in 2017 by refusing to investigate voter fraud in the 2017 presidential election.
Padilla has not shied away from discourse or fights with his Latino/x Senate counterparts, especially, Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. This was never more on display than when he first arrived in the U.S. Senate to impeach Donald Trump for provoking the January 6 Capitol insurrection, in stark contrast to his Latino counterparts, Cruz and Rubio.
And he has not simply been a backer of the Latino agenda, but he has also been outspoken on issues that address the lack of representation within the Black community and other disenfranchised groups as well. He views the issues facing America regarding voter suppression as an attack upon us all.
Alex Padilla recently questioned a panel of voting rights experts in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing examining the rise in attacks on voting rights throughout the nation. The panel included Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Stacey Abrams, founder of Fair Fight Action; and Dr. Carol Anderson, Charles Howard Candler professor of African American Studies and chair of African American Studies at Emory University.
Padilla has been outspoken about restoring and improving access to the ballot for the American people and about voter suppression tactics being rooted in White supremacy.
“Some of our Republican colleagues raised the frame of working to make it easier to vote, but harder to cheat…study after study report after report, investigation after investigation continues to document that voter fraud in America is exceedingly rare,” stated Padilla during voter suppression hearings.
He further insisted, “During the Jim Crow era, we know that racially targeted and racially motivated voter suppression was often blatant. Legislators adapted overtly racist policies like literacy tests, and poll taxes in an effort to shape the electorate.
“Today’s voter suppression playbook is still rooted in White supremacy, and motivated by the same factors as their Jim Crow predecessors, but looks different. Overtly racist policies have been replaced by facially neutral ones like mandated in-person voting requirements.
“The decommissioning of polling sites and manipulated discriminatory photo ID laws is as mentioned, but just because these new voter suppression tactics are facially neutral, it can be harder for people to recognize and understand their pernicious effects.”
Padilla has proven himself throughout his political career to be a man of the people. A tireless fighter for the rights of the underserved, oppressed and a relentless advocate for communities of color, and has certainly earned the right to be re-elected as California’s U.S. Senator.
Rarely, do we get an opportunity to actually vote for one candidate twice in one election, but in this election, Alex Padilla has the right to be voted for TWICE.