With the decennial census and a presidential election on his to-do list, Alex Padilla expected to have a busy year. “We were getting ready for a big 2020,” he said. But 2020 has been even more challenging than he anticipated. In March, both of these major efforts were complicated by the COVID-19 crisis, and the recent surge of protests and demonstrations across the country has had a personal and professional impact.
Padilla discussed these and other issues with PPIC president Mark Baldassare last Friday. When Baldassare asked how state and local leaders can respond to civil unrest over the police-involved deaths of George Floyd and others, Padilla offered an expansive view.
“We can have a very narrow, specific conversation about use-of-force reforms and culture change necessary in police departments around the country. Or we can have broad conversations about systemic discrimination,” he said. “As uncomfortable as it might be, I think one of the silver linings of the killing of George Floyd—because that’s what it was, in my opinion—is that it has brought all this to the surface in a way that I haven’t seen before.”
Padilla sees these conversations as an important step toward change. “I’m truly hoping that all levels of government—not just the federal, but state and local government across the country—will take this opportunity to make some bold steps and changes that are long overdue.”
For Padilla, another key step is to expand California’s voting population. “It’s not about demonstrating or protesting today versus political activity, including voter registration and voting in November. We have to do both.” Increasing voter turnout, he added, is not just about the numbers but about diversifying the electorate: “Lower-income communities, communities of color, young people, especially—those are the voices that we need to try to uplift.”
Now that the governor has expanded vote-by-mail to all California voters for the November election, Padilla’s office is working with counties to help them facilitate both vote by mail and safe in-person voting. “It’s not partisan. It’s about voting rights. It’s about public health,” he said.
In addition to administering “the most consequential election of our lifetime,” Padilla remains focused on an accurate census count. Given the impact of COVID-19 on outreach and follow-up, there has been talk of extending the census timeline. Padilla would prefer to complete the census on schedule. “A significant enough delay in the Census will cause delays in redistricting, and could impact our opportunity to vote in fair districts in 2022,” he said. California’s response rate so far is above the national average, but Padilla noted that “it’s still a far cry from where we were at this stage ten years ago. So we have a lot of work to do.”
Even during this challenging time, Padilla is optimistic about California’s future. “We can and we will make progress. And one of the ways is to make sure our voices are heard in November.”