By Mary O’KEEFE
California State Assemblymember Anthony Portantino took time out of his schedule to visit the classroom of Clark Magnet High School Advanced Placement Government history teacher Nick Doom last week.
Doom invited Portantino to speak with his students about the reality of the political system.
“We sent him a set of questions including asking why he is a Democrat,” Doom said.
The students took a quiz covering the history of the U.S. House and Senate before Portantino arrived. One of the questions covered the “safe district” in both branches. Doom explained that the districts had been divided in accordance to party, which was later found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the 1960s. A safe district is where a political candidate is normally safe for reelection because of their party affiliation.
“There are 435 members in the House and 385 seats are safe, 50 are marginal,” Doom said.
“Isn’t that bad?” asked a student.
“Yes,” Doom said.
The class continued with their quiz and questions proving that they knew not only about past politics but also present. When Portantino arrived he had an articulate and knowledgeable audience.
He explained how his district was laid out and about the people he represented.
“I have the most ethically diverse district. It is also a Democratic suburban district, which is unusual. Normally Democrat districts are mostly urban,” Portantino said.
He told the students that he had never
planned a life in politics but decided to throw his hat in the ring after a 1996 La Cañada City Council election that was cancelled because no one ran against the incumbents.
“I had lived in La Cañada for three years then,” he said.
The death of a councilmember forced an election 18 months later. He went door to door to get the required petition signed and got his name on the ballot.
“And I lost by two votes out of 5,000 votes. So when they say your one vote counts – it does,” Portantino added.
He beat his opponent in the following election with 71% of the vote.
He said that he has discovered that both Democrat and Republican voters respect hard work, honesty and integrity. He spoke to the students about their future and the treacherous higher education waters they will have to navigate.
“California once ranked fourth in the nation in education. We are now at 40,” he said. Portantino explained how the state’s budget was affecting the education system. He compared today’s higher education opportunity to the educational golden years of California 50 years ago.
“Community colleges used to be free, Cal State colleges were $500 and Berkeley’s tuition was $1,000,” he said.
He told the students he understood their concerns about the rising costs of colleges and universities in California and that they had a right to be worried. He added that part of why he is a Democrat is that he feels that government does have a responsibility to help.
“Government does have a role to play. I am not saying they should be involved in everything but we do need to invest in your education. It is important,” he said.