LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Democratic candidate running to become California’s top election official has worked in government since soon after graduating college and touts his familiarity with the political process.
His Republican opponent left a career in the printing industry to become an evangelist for fixing what he sees as a broken bond between the people and their government.
Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla and Republican Pete Peterson want to become the next secretary of state, an office that oversees elections, political fundraising and business registration. Incumbent Debra Bowen, a Democrat, is termed out.
The two candidates have run issue-oriented campaigns that share certain themes such as increasing voter turnout and making it easier to start a business.
Padilla has been a state senator since 2006 and after two terms cannot run again. He grew up the working-class son of immigrants from Mexico and went on to graduate with an engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Soon after, he got into politics, managing several campaigns before being elected as a 26-year-old to the Los Angeles City Council, representing the San Fernando Valley area, where he grew up.
As a legislator, his technical background led him to write laws championing driverless cars, expanded Internet access and solar energy. Most recently, he authored the bill that will ban single-use plastic shopping bags statewide.
If elected secretary of state, his plans include registering more voters through novel technologies, making it easier to register a business and overhauling the state website that lets people analyze political fundraising patterns.
“It’s not reliable, it’s not fast and it’s certainly not user-friendly,” Padilla said.
Peterson wants to make Padilla’s career in politics a liability.
He argues that Padilla wants to be secretary of state as a stepping stone to higher office, perhaps the seat now held by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. In an interview, Padilla said he is running for secretary of state to be secretary of state but declined to promise that he would not seek another office before the four-year term expires.
“Alex is kind of an old model for this office,” Peterson said. “I think I bring a new model to this.”
A decade ago, Peterson left New York City to get a master’s degree in public policy from Pepperdine University. He began running a civic engagement organization and four years ago became executive director of Pepperdine’s Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership.
Although a self-described limited government Republican, Peterson thinks the state needs to spend more on increasing civic engagement.
Some of his plans have an academic ring. He would create a “Eureka Prize” for counties that increase voter turnout the most and enlist elite graphic designers to redesign vote-by-mail ballots.
Other promises show his faith in technology: He would make political fundraising data far easier to access online and use the Internet to enlist citizens to participate in government. He also would cut from $800 to $100 the annual fee businesses pay to register with the state and hasten the speed of approving new licenses.