Everything I know about work and opportunity, I learned from my parents. They risked everything to ensure my family and I could have a shot at the American Dream. It’s a dream that I know well because I’ve lived it, and I’m committed to making it possible for all Americans as California’s next U.S. Senator.
I was born March 22, 1973 at Kaiser Hospital in Panorama City in the San Fernando Valley. My parents, Santos and Lupe Padilla, immigrated separately from Mexico and met in Los Angeles in the late 1960s. It was love at first sight and the young couple decided to get married, apply for green cards, and start a family.
Growing up, my mom and dad relentlessly emphasized hard work and a good education as key to a better future. With just an elementary school education, my father worked as a short order cook for forty years before retirement. He liked to boast that his kitchen “never failed an inspection.” For the same forty years, my mother worked tirelessly as a housekeeper for a group of families in the affluent communities of Studio City and Sherman Oaks.
Santos and Lupe raised my sister Julie, my brother Ackley, and me 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.
I attended local public schools, keeping my focus on books and baseball. I worked my way into the starting rotation at San Fernando High as a senior. The same year, my countless hours of study paid off and I won admission to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I earned a Bachelors of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering. I worked my way through college doing a variety of janitorial and administrative jobs while mentoring younger students back home to follow the same path.
It was the conditions in my neighborhood growing up and the feeling that the Northeast San Fernando Valley wasn’t adequately served by government that awakened my interest in political activism. When I was a teenager, my family helped organize neighbors to take back the streets from crime. My mother and I 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, my parents finally applied for citizenship and I, now a recent MIT graduate, resolved to put an engineering career aside and dedicate my life to public service.
Demanding a fair share of opportunity and resources for the people of the Northeast San Fernando Valley, I was elected to the Los Angeles City Council as a political outsider at the age of 26. As a member of the City Council, I worked to expand after school programs to serve 16 schools in my district, worked to reduce class sizes, built state-of-art libraries and a children’s museum. I worked to retain and create more local job opportunities through industrial, commercial, and residential development and community reinvestment. And I championed citywide measures to improve air and water quality while directing the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to dramatically increase procurement of renewable energy sources.
In 2001, my colleagues elected me the youngest Council President in Los Angeles history. As President, I provided citywide leadership at critical times. I was Acting Mayor during the tragedy of September 11, 2001. I 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, my colleagues throughout the state elected me President of the California League of Cities.
In 2006, I was elected to the State Senate to represent the more than 1 million people in the San Fernando Valley. As a State Senator, I authored more than 70 bills signed into law by both Republican and Democratic governors. Around the Capitol named me one of Sacramento’s “Most Effective Legislators” for my ability to “cross ideological lines, take on big bills and keep warring parties within the caucus.” Over two terms, I passed major legislation:
- Fighting climate change: I passed landmark legislation increasing renewable energy standards, expanding green manufacturing and solar power, developing clean fuels and modernizing the electrical grid.
- Expanding educational opportunity: I passed bills bridging the digital divide and expanding college access, helping English language learners and protecting student athletes.
- Fostering healthier communities: I fought for universal health care, stopping tobacco sales to minors, fighting diabetes and obesity, expanding patient protections and improving food safety.
- Increasing gun safety: I passed common-sense gun safety measures like tracking stolen guns and stopping felons from possessing body armor.
- Harnessing innovation: As an engineer, I fought for the ethical advancement of science and technology. I authored legislation protecting Californians from discrimination based on genetic information and wrote the bill creating a statewide Earthquake Early Warning System.
I was sworn in as California’s first Latino Secretary of State on January 5, 2015 and pledged to bring more Californians into the democratic process as the state’s top elections official. With President Trump attacking immigrants and democracy, I fought for voting rights and the American Dream. I was re-elected in 2018 and received the most votes of any Latino elected official in the United States.
Since taking office, I have worked to make our elections more accessible and inclusive, while fighting to protect the integrity of our voting systems:
- Registered over 22 million voters: 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 I took office) and the highest rate in nearly seven decades.
- Expanded access to the ballot: I implemented innovations like same-day registration, online pre-registration for 16- and 17-year olds and automatic voter registration, also known as ”California Motor Voter.”
- Protected our elections: I oversaw the upgrades/replacement of voting systems in all 58 counties in the state to systems that meet California’s newer higher security standards.
Today, I live with my wife Angela, a mental health advocate, and our three sons in the San Fernando Valley.
As the proud son of immigrants, as a public servant, and as a husband and father, I understand the urgency needed in the Senate. We must fight for families as the Covid-19 pandemic rages on, protect access to health care, and get our economy working again so that everyone can share in the American dream.