Just seven days before the historic presidential election, California State University, Northridge students and faculty had a rare opportunity to meet, question and pose for selfies with California’s two candidates for U.S. Senate — Orange County U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez and state Attorney General Kamala Harris. The two Democrats are vying for the state’s first open Senate seat in 24 years, to replace retiring four-term Sen. Barbara Boxer.
The race is historic in its own right — the victor will be the first woman of color to serve in the Senate in the nation’s 240-year history — but has received little attention, under the heavy shadow of the unprecedented presidential election and, perhaps, because Harris has held a commanding lead in the polls all year, according to CSUN political science professor Tyler J. Hughes.
Sanchez made a stop at CSUN on the morning of Nov. 1 to participate in the university’s Candidate to Campus series, sponsored by the CSUN Office of Government and Community Relations.
The Candidate to Campus program is designed to give candidates seeking office impacting the greater San Fernando Valley region the opportunity to become acquainted with the university. The Nov. 1 morning forum at the University Student Union attracted CSUN students from journalism, political science and other courses, and their professors.
“This is an opportunity for elected officials to know not only what makes CSUN tick, but how we can form partnerships to bring California to the next level,” said Francesca Vega, director of government and community relations, as she introduced Sanchez.
Sevag Alexanian, president of Associated Students, also helped welcome the Orange County congresswoman to campus.
“This election cycle is very important to all of us — especially students,” Alexanian said. “For a lot of us, this is our first opportunity to vote on the candidates and the local issues.”
Sanchez focused most of her remarks on her education agenda and talking about her upbringing in Anaheim in a family of seven children (she is the second oldest) and being the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her father was a union machinist and her mother worked as a secretary. All of her siblings earned college degrees, Sanchez said.
“I received a Pell grant, I received a Cal Grant A, I took out student loans, and that’s how I got through school (at Chapman University),” Sanchez said. “And my MBA (at American University) — it was paid for by the Rotary Club of Anaheim. So you’re looking at what happens when we decide to invest in each other. When we work hard, when our parents sacrifice, and when community — business, union and everybody else — says yes, we need to invest in people.”
She also gave a shout-out to her mother:
“After she educated all seven of her children, my mother went back to school and got her B.A. at Cal State Fullerton,” Sanchez said.
If elected to the Senate, Sanchez said, she would work to secure more funding for Pell grants and push to allow college graduates to consolidate their student loans to a 3 percent interest rate, “in the same way parents get to refinance their homes and bring their rates down to 3 percent.
“My husband and I have eight children, and they’re between the ages of 22 and 34 — once, we had five of them in university at the same time — so we know what it’s like, even today, to try to go and get an education,” she said.
She also zeroed in on research, and the funding for university research that comes from the federal government.
“Who invented the internet? The genome project? Most of these came out of the Department of Defense, done here in California through basic research,” said Sanchez, who has served 20 years in the House of Representatives and holds senior positions in the House Armed Services Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee. “It’s about understanding where the money is, and how you move the money.”
She also spoke about funding free tuition for community college students.
“We don’t have a money problem in Washington, D.C.,” Sanchez said. “We have a priority problem in Washington, D.C.! We should be investing in our people, young and old. Everybody should be going back to school. This is a time when things are changing so fast, we all need refresher courses on what the heck is happening in the world. And we can do it, because the money is there.”
Just four hours later, Harris and her campaign caravan arrived on campus for a get-out-the-vote rally — sponsored by the student group CSUN Young Democrats — which included state senate candidate Henry Stern, state Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian and Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff ’87 (Communication Studies), an attorney and CSUN alumnus.
“I’m so excited to be here! Because the love of my life, my best friend, is a Matador,” Harris told the crowd of students, members of the community and members of the press packed shoulder-to-shoulder in a classroom at Jacaranda Hall.
“It’s my husband, Doug,” she said, gesturing to Emhoff, who stood near her at the front of the classroom. “If it hadn’t been for CSUN and the great education he got here, he wouldn’t have been able to go on to law school.”
Harris appealed to the students in the room to get out and vote in the historic presidential election — and encourage other Californians to do so.
“People say, ‘young people — wish they’d get out and vote, but they really don’t … are they paying attention?’ I know the truth, which is yes, yes, yes,” the attorney general said. “So here’s the deal: Seven days before the election, that’s where we are. We’re here to talk about the issues, but really to ask for your help to turn folks out — and remind them that their voice is their vote and their vote is their vote.
“I think we are at an inflection point in the history of our country,” she continued. “My parents met back when they were students at UC Berkeley when they were active in the civil rights movement. I think we are at a moment in time that is similar. … I believe we are a great country, imperfect though we may be. Part of what makes us great is we were founded on certain principles, on certain ideals. Ideals that were, for example, written and spoken in 1776, that says we are all and should be treated as equals.
“The ideals of our country are what is at stake in this election, and each one of us is being challenged to stand up and fight for our ideals,” she said.
Harris then spoke briefly about the criminal justice system, immigration policy reform, gun safety laws and student loan debt. She closed with another charge to the students in the room and those tuning in on social media:
“I’m going to remind our students of a saying I like to paraphrase from Coretta Scott King who famously said, ‘The fight for civil rights — which means the fight for justice, the fight for equality — must be fought and won with each generation.’ Whatever gains we make, they will not be permanent. So we must be vigilant. … Now is the time to get to work.”