Policymaker Profile: Jose Solorio

Jose_Solorio2Rancho Santiago Community College District Trustee Jose Solorio was elected to the Board  in 2012. The son of migrant farm workers, Solorio went from laboring as a teenager in the fields, alongside his parents, to earning a bachelor’s degree from UC Irvine and a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Harvard University. After representing Anaheim, Garden Grove and Santa Ana in the State Assembly six years, he now serves central Orange County on the Board of Trustees for the predominantly Latino community college district. In his role as state assembly member, and now as community college trustee, he has focused his efforts on education, job creation, public safety and infrastructure improvements.

What was the one thing no one told you about being an elected official that you wish you’d known before you were elected?

The most striking thing is just how much additional time other than governing board meetings there is in the requirements to be an elected official. There are countless other hours spent meeting with community boards, community leaders or staff—it’s a real big time commitment. It’s duties that you have to your constituents and stakeholders; the public deserves reasonable access to your time because you represent them.

As an elected official you must balance your job, your duties as an elected official and family obligations, not to mention trying to find personal time for yourself. How do you balance all these duties and obligations? Is there a secret to doing this well you can share?

Jose_Solorio1Over time you realize how to be efficient with scheduling your government meetings, with conducting the meetings, following up with them, how to delegate certain responsibilities to others on staff, or find others to assist you. I definitely make quality time for family members—I am married and have two children. When I served in the state assembly, it was a big sacrifice for my family not to have their father available 24/7. When I was home I would make up for it by doing laundry, take kids to sporting events, anything to be a good father and husband.

Who was your political mentor—someone who guided and supported you and prepared you for public service? What kind of advice did they give you that was the most important/useful to you? 

State Senator Art Torres was an amazing role model. When I was a student leader at the University of California, Irvine, I was involved in statewide advocacy for college students. We would follow legislation and the work of legislators who prioritized college education, and we admired Torres. I was able to invite him to a leadership conference and listened to him address the audience. I kept in touch with him over the years. You try to emulate your role models and see what makes them an elected official. He has many traits that I admire. He’s an outstanding speaker and giving of his time outside his jurisdiction. He’s a master of the media and shaping policies that people would identify him with. He has the humility to talk to “important people,” but also to students and community leaders. He’s an outstanding statesman, and by listening to him I learned countless things.

Describe a project you spearheaded or supported that you’re proud of. Why was it successful and what did you learn from it that helped you be a better policymaker?

In 2011 I discovered through public health warnings that in central Santa Ana, in the heart of one of the country’s most developed and prosperous areas, there were two neighborhoods in which residents no longer had access to clean drinking water. This was right in the middle of California’s recession. Finding resources to connect them to the city’s water resources was a challenge, but I prioritized it, as it should be. I worked with county, city and state public health officials, state drinking water officials and legislators, to identify an area of funding that was left over from a prior project. We provided that money to the city and to a very quick order got those families access to clean drinking water.

I was raised in the Central Valley so water has always been the top issue for me, and clean drinking water is vital—it’s not just for living but bad water can be very harmful to children, pregnant mothers, and the elderly. People who can live comfortably can hire help, so that leaves the disadvantaged, economically or socially, who can benefit from leaders, so I try to help those.

I was raised from humble beginnings, a small town in the Central Valley and I know that children and adults can do great things if they have the right opportunities. I learned to keep focused on a project if a solution isn’t immediately apparent to look for others, to partner with everybody who has skin in the game and work with people on the ground because oftentimes people don’t want to be helped. An example was that these neighborhoods had low-cost water and didn’t necessarily wanted to pay a higher cost for city water, and getting them to make the transition was a big task in and of itself.

What was the most memorable day of your life?

Two days. First, setting foot on Harvard campus as a graduate student. Second, when my son was accepted at Harvard and Stanford. When you grow up in the Central Valley as I did and see all the need around you and one day you go to the most prestigious university on earth, that’s a big deal. And you realize you’re going to learn all these things and be able to benefit the life others. I went to the school of public policy so that I could return and help my community. Second, when your son has that accomplishment, it’s his but for the parent too because I helped nurture a child who’s going to be productive in society. He’s going to Stanford in the fall.

If you had to be on one television show, which show would you choose and why?

The West Wing. It would be fun to be a speechwriter or a political advisor to President Bartlet.

Who will be the next President of the U.S? Who should be the next President?

It’s my hope that Hillary Clinton will be our next president and the woman who is going to break through that glass ceiling. I think she’ll do an outstanding job. I think our country did very well under Bill Clinton, and I think people from all walks of life will do very well under Hillary Clinton.

Interviewed by Mary Ann Marshall.