California leglislator visits Chico, provides life lessons


President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon visited Chico State on April 28. Photo credit: George Johnston

“It’s been an unexpected ride,” said President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, a powerful member of the California State Senate.

He is known for having taken a strong stance on sustainability, helping Senate bill 350 — a measure to cut California’s fossil fuel emissions in half by the year 2030 — to become a reality. He is also the first Latino to hold the position of pro tem in the last 130 years.

As the son of a single mother and Mexican immigrant, De Leon grew up in a barrio of San Diego and went on to be the first in his family to graduate high school, college and now to hold the lofty position of pro tem.

Last week, De Leon departed from his usual 80-hour work week to visit Chico where he toured Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., gave a lecture at Chico State and spoke with Butte County Democrats. The visit was part of a larger initiative to explore California’s diversity and sustainability.

His visit extended to Los Angeles, San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley, Sacramento and after Chico, he will fly back to Los Angeles to give a speech at the Getty Museum. During the press conference at the brewery one reporter commented that it sounded like De Leon has a “sweet job,” to which De Leon laughed and responded, “No. Trust me. You don’t want this job.”

After the press conference, De Leon lectured in Butte Hall at Chico State. He outlined his efforts to end the stigma that sustainability practices hurt profit.

He also promoted his efforts to fund more college education for low income students who might not have the opportunity otherwise. Most notable, however, were the life lessons he extolled to his audience.

“You have to have a very strong work ethic,” De Leon said. “I’ll take a CSU student, who has a very strong work ethic, over someone who’s maybe summa cum laude from Yale, or Brown, or Colgate, or MIT or University of Chicago.”

De Leon reflected on his journey through the world of politics. He asserted that his rise should be attributed to the people who supported him and gave him a chance, rather than in some unique quality that he possessed.

“I ended up in the Senate accidentally. I didn’t have a pension to run for public office. At all. Period,” De Leon said. “I did not expect to do 350. I’d be lying to you if I said this was my plan. I didn’t expect to go to Paris … But once you’re in these positions of power and you realize you can do a lot of good things, you have to push the envelope.”

When a Chico State student in the audience, who purportedly had ambitions to someday run for office, asked how one might follow in his footsteps, De Leon expressed his feelings about being an elected official.

“I never pined to become an elected politician. Never,” De Leon said.

However, in an Los Angeles Times article his failed 2009 campaign for State Assembly was correlated to the fact that “too many Assembly members found De León’s ambitious nature grating, eroding his support.”

Additionally, the article cited Democrat Peter Choi, president and chief executive officer of the Temple City Chamber of Commerce, calling De Leon a “professional politician.”

Still, according to De Leon, his track record is evidence to the contrary of his critic’s accusations.

“I wasn’t part of the young Democrats on college campus,” De Leon said.“I wasn’t even a party Democratic person locally. I was an organizer, first and foremost. I wasn’t ambitious for any position in my life until I became a State Assembly member.”

In De Leon’s summation of what it takes to be a politician, he said involvement is important.

“I tell people they have to get involved; it’s important to get involved,” De Leon said. “Just work hard, be passionate and good things will come.”

Eric Couderc McGuire can be reached at [email protected] or @ericcoudercmcg on Twitter.