California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa was in Malibu last week to speak to Pepperdine students at their Wednesday morning convocation. He brought with him a message of encouragement and hope.
The speaker, arguably the second most powerful political figure in the state of California, was there to encourage the students to get involved, to participate in government and to try and make a difference.
Using himself as an example, Villaraigosa, whose meteoric rise in California politics saw him become the speaker in only his second term as an assemblyman, actually began as a high school dropout in East Los Angeles. He was the son of an immigrant and an alcoholic, brutal father who deserted the family. He was raised by a single mom, dropped out and then turned himself around with the help of his mom and an inspiring school teacher. He got into UCLA on a special program. He also graduated from UCLA School of Law. Thereafter, he became a union organizer and leader, and president of the ACLU and a California assemblyman.
Villaraigosa spoke on a theme that is central to him personally and what he sees as central to California’s future. Quoting from a Bob Dylan song, “The times they are a changing,” he drew a picture of a state in the 21st century that has become “a real rainbow of people.” He saw this as making California stronger — and better — as a result.
The enemy he saw as the cynical, those who don’t bother to get involved or take the time to vote, and what he called “the antiquated forces which try to divide us, make us fear one another, and they do it for the most cynical of reasons, to win elections.”
His message to the students was it didn’t have to be that way and exhorted them all to get involved, no matter what their own political philosophy.
At a press conference before the convocation, he stated that next session he had two things on his legislative priority list: reform of HMOs and continuation of educational reform, specifically charter schools, school accountability and standards, and a reform of what he called “social promotions.”