Week 3: Sacramento, the Town Teeming with Important People

Hesu Song, 2018 CAUSE Leadership Academy

For the third week of the Leadership Academy program, I had the opportunity to visit Sacramento for the first time with my cohort. I had a great time taking obligatory tourist photos in front of the Capitol building and bonding with my cohort through our plane ride and strolls in Capitol park. But most importantly, I felt so inspired after seeing so many Asian Americans in elected positions and legislative staff, giving hope that maybe one day I can also work in politics.

Marlissa Hernandez

The most memorable meeting for me on Monday was with Marlissa Hernandez, the Deputy Appointments Secretary of the Office of California State Governor Jerry Brown. Her conversation provided insight into the relationship between diversity in office and the need for Asian American elected officials. Marlissa said that one of Governor Brown’s goal was to promote diversity in these agency positions. One of my fellow cohort members asked if seeking to appoint a diverse body could possibly lead to a tradeoff in candidate quality. She replied that at this level, diversity does not trade off with quality because all of the candidates, regardless of their background, are already extremely qualified.

As someone who has campaigned for APA candidates in high school, I had wondered if trying so hard to get an Asian American into an elected position might be potentially trading off quality. Could me wanting representation of my own identity result in a less qualified candidate? Through this conversation, I realized that in most cases, minority candidates are as qualified as any other candidates, and that in our “merit” system, it is difficult for minority candidates to appear qualified since they are usually not recognized. In order to recognize our own qualified leaders, we need to get them in elected positions so that they can build up their qualifications.

On Tuesday, we were designated an hour to meet with our Assembly representatives. Before the trip, I had emailed the office of my representative, Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, for a meet and greet. However, I didn’t expect a response because I felt that as a constituent, my meeting wouldn’t be as important compared to other meetings the office might have. But Adam, the CAUSE Programs Director, gave me hope when he said that there was actually no one more important to them than a voting constituent. Although my representative was unavailable, the office arranged a meeting for me with their Legislative Director, Brandon Seto. I had such a down-to-earth conversation Mr. Seto about the pressing issues in my district, future bills sponsored by Assemblymember Carrillo, and how he started working in the office. He had done his PhD in International Relations, so when he found out I was majoring in International Studies, he started a fun, academic conversation about the future of international institutions.

Hesu Song, 2018 CAUSE Leadership Academy intern

However, my favorite part of the Sacramento trip was the Mock Committee Hearing we had with Assemblymember Evan Low. Each person in 12-member cohort roleplayed an official, a supporter, or opposition while we tried to simulate a discussion about AB 1968 — a bill that would indefinitely restrict guns from people who have went to a center for a mental health issue that was harmful to them or others. I served as the opposition with my fellow cohort member, Leann Pham. This was my first time hearing about this bill, but in that short half-hour, I felt so passionate and empowered to express my thoughts to everyone in the room. At the end of the hearing, Assemblymember Low said that we should all stay where we were seated in the hearing room because “we need more of you guys to be here.” It was an inspirational to hear from him that more representation from our community is necessary to influence the important decisions made in these hearing rooms.

2018 CAUSE Leadership Academy interns

The rest of the trip was filled with good food from a local Thai restaurant, touristy photos, and the cohort spontaneously dancing to the cha-cha slide at the park. I really enjoyed this trip not only because it was another opportunity to bond with my cohort, but also because I was able to meet successful people that not everyone gets the chance to speak with. I realized that the work these people do is serving the APA community both now and in the future. This trip has made me thankful for the elected officials and staffers paving the way for future APA’s to work in politics.