By Jordan Payne, '20
On February 20, 2019, students in Public Policy 154, Politics & Policy in California, were given the opportunity to travel to Sacramento to visit state politicians, lobbyists, and members of the media. This trip added immense context to the topics learned about in our class each week, and also offered a glimpse into what life is like working at the State Capitol.
The trip was led by course professors Joe Nation and David Crane, who both have far-reaching connections in Sacramento; Professor Nation is a former State Assembly member and Professor Crane served as a special advisor to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and is now the president of Govern for California.
The trip began with an incredible opportunity to meet with California’s freshly inaugurated Governor, Gavin Newsom. Governor Newsom spoke with our class about his first few weeks in the Capitol, about California’s relationship with the federal government, and about his personal political philosophy. The class then received a tour of the Senate floor with Senator Bob Hertzberg and a tour of the Assembly floor with Assembly Member Rob Rivas.
In addition to these lawmakers, we spoke with Senator Scott Weiner of San Francisco, who spoke about the housing crisis and about his proposed legislation that would alter zoning restrictions. We also spoke with Senator Ben Allen, who represents District 26 in Southern California, about education, criminal justice reform, and housing. Students were also given the amazing opportunity to meet Toni Atkins, President Pro Tempore of the State Senate. Senator Atkins discussed the traits that make for a strong Prop Tempore, chief among them being strong listening skills.
In addition to learning from these policymakers, students also spoke with Michael Martinez, Senior Deputy Commissioner of the California Department of Insurance, Vivek Viswanathan of the Department of Finance, and Connie Sanders Emmerson, who works on campaign fundraising.
In a lobbyist session, students heard from a diverse range of lobbyists including Kim Stone, Paul Smith, Eloy Garcia, and Gene Erbin. In a media session, students learned about the changing media landscape in Sacramento from Judy Lin of CalMatters and H.D. Palmer of the Office of Governor Newsom. The class also learned about what different careers in Sacramento entail from Sarah Kleinberg, Administrative Officer for the Legislative Analyst’s Office, Jackie Koening, Chief of Staff for Senator Tom Umberg, and Jeanice Warden-Washington, Chief Consultant for the Assembly Higher Education Committee.
Students wrapped up the day by speaking with Lenny Mendonca, the new Chair of the High Speed Rail Authority, who spoke about the nuances between public and private sector careers and about the future of High Speed Rail plans.
Throughout the day, students were afforded the ability to ask pressing questions about salient issues facing California. We also learned about the ways in which policymakers, lobbyists, and the media interact to shape action in Sacramento. The trip was an extraordinary opportunity to learn about and from the leaders who are shaping California’s future.