Alex Padilla, the state senator from Pacoima, became the highest ranking Latino in a state elected office after winning a close race for Secretary of State in the Nov. 4 election.
Padilla received 2.65 million votes, or 52.5 percent, on Tuesday to edge Republican Pete Peterson, who received 2.4 million votes, or 47.5 percent.
“I spoke to Pete Peterson this morning when he graciously called with his congratulations,” Padilla said in a statement on Wednesday, Nov. 5. “I’m proud of our positive campaign that was focused on creating jobs, protecting voting rights, engaging more voters and increasing transparency.
“In this campaign, I visited all of California’s 58 counties to meet with local election officials and listen to community concerns. In that spirit, I intend to be a much more visible, active Secretary of State. I am honored that millions of California voters put their trust in me in this election. As Secretary of State, I will work every day to strengthen California’s economy and democracy.”
Padilla’s election sent a surge of pride through community residents like Alex Reza, a San Fernando High School teacher now retired, who had Padilla as a student in his U.S. Government class.
“I think this is a sign we have a lot of young, well-educated Latino politicians that have a strong commitment, and not just to the Latino community,” Reza said. It’s a hopeful sign for our country that we have young leaders like Alex who came from very humble origins. We need more people with that background, so working class people will get their fair share of the prosperity this country created.
“I see Alex as a person who has demonstrated that he can work with all of the different groups in the political process. He worked with Republicans to pass several bills…We are very proud of him.”
Reza added he thought Padilla “had all the ingredients” for a big future, “but you never know.”
Padilla received more than 100 endorsements from elected, community and party leaders, but his opponent was endorsed by most of the state’s major newspapers.
During his campaign, Padilla said among his priorities would be to expand voter participation, and ensure that every vote counts and is accounted for. He promised to increase transparency through technology where appropriate, and reach out to local election officials to better serve every county in the state.
He will also focus on the business responsibilities of the Secretary of State’s office,and help new businesses open sooner to create jobs.
The Secretary of State is responsible for organizing statewide elections, regulating political fundraising, and overseeing business registration. Current officeholder, Democratic incumbent Debra Bowen, is termed out.
The son of Mexican immigrant parents, Padilla is frequently mentioned as one of America’s Latino rising political stars and is now president of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), representing more than 6,000 Latino elected and appointed officials nationwide.
Padilla, 41, first came to the public spotlight at age 26 when he ran and won a seat to the Los Angeles City Council. He later served as council president, becoming the first Latino and the youngest member ever to serve in such capacity.
After the City Council, Padilla moved to the State Senate, where he served two terms and was termed out of office. While there, he authored more than 70 bills that became law, most notably allowing driverless cars on California roads and banning single-use plastic shopping bags.
Padilla grew up in Pacoima and went to local schools, including San Fernando High. His father worked as a short order cook and his mother cleaned houses.
He has been celebrated for rising from humble beginnings to graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in mechanical engineering. His career path, however, turned to a quick rise in politics.
Padilla lives in the San Fernando Valley with his wife Angela and their two sons.