CapRadio: Interview: California Sen. Alex Padilla recaps his first year in the Senate

By Megan Manata and Vicki Gonzalez

Last month marked the end of California Sen. Alex Padilla’s first year in the U.S. Senate.

The former California Secretary of State was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill in the seat left behind by Vice President Kamala Harris in 2021.

As the son of Mexican American immigrants, Padilla is the first Latino senator in state history.

With his freshman year wrapping up, Padilla described his experience to CapRadio’s Insight host Vicki Gonzalez as “tumultuous” due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Jan. 6 insurrection and partisanship.

“You know, part of the tumultuous mess … didn’t touch on the 50-50 Senate split, which makes things really challenging to advance,” he said.

Padilla sat down with Gonzalez to discuss infrastructure, immigration, his plans for a midterm reelection and more.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Interview Highlights

On how Padilla would describe his first year in office

Tumultuous to put it mildly. And you know what stands out? I guess how unprecedented so many of our circumstances are right now, to think that this transition [into the Senate] happened a year ago. Time flies.

To think that I entered the United States Senate, not just in the midst of a once in a century global health pandemic, but also in the wake of a deadly insurrection.

We also just recently hit the one year mark after the Jan. 6 insurrection in the nation’s capital — so there’s been a lot happening.

… I remind folks that my top priority coming into the senate was a better COVID response, and to think that within the first few weeks of May, coming into the Senate [I] had a chance to participate in the crafting and passage of the American Rescue Plan.

We can go on and on about what was included … but the biggest piece [was] vaccines, vaccines, vaccines.

Flash forward to the end of 2021, with the president signing the Infrastructure and Jobs Act … So tumultuous, busy, a lot to show for it, but it’s always a lot more work to be done.

On how he sees the confirmation process going for President Joe Biden’s eventual pick to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer

We’re going to have a substantive confirmation process and hearing when the time comes. Eager to hear from the president who it is that he will nominate. He’s got a lot of good people to choose from, no doubt.

But I think the biggest thing that makes me excited about this is that we know the stakes. If recent years have shown there’s nothing else, it’s not just that elections have consequences. But … who the president of the United States is and who’s in the majority in the Senate will determine who gets confirmed to the Supreme Court, making some of the most significant decisions in the land.

You know, on the front burner right now, a woman’s right to choose. On the front burner right now, the fundamental right to vote. On the front burner right now, our ability to act on some of the most urgent items in the country. So the consequences, the ramifications are huge. And it’s with that sobering recognition that we’re going to start these hearings.

On Democrats’ inability to pass immigration reform, which has frustrated supporters

On immigration, I do feel like it’s shifting a little bit. I’ll be honest, the conversations I’ve had with my colleagues, there’s a couple of things that I’ve shared frequently that seem to be sinking in a little bit more.

Number one, the difference is they pointed out earlier between somebody who approaches the southern border in the last month or two seeking asylum. That’s a legitimate process, that’s current law, but the system itself is underfunded, it hasn’t worked well. We need to address that.

But that’s very different than the issue of, say, somebody who an adult who’s been living in the United States for 18 years, undocumented working, paying taxes, raising a family. That’s two different populations. And when Republicans use one issue as a pretext to not take action on others, that’s just wrong. In highlighting that distinction, no state understands it better than the state of California, given the diversity of our population. I do think we’re making a little bit of progress there.

On infrastructure projects in California and the Stockton flood mitigation project

The goal here is soon, rather than later. The money has been approved.

I’ve been talking directly, not just with representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers, to make sure that they see projects in California as a top priority, but [also with] other federal agencies like the Office of Management and Budget, which played a critical role in moving the money.

… I think the advantage California has — and this is the perfect example — we have these projects that have been waiting. We need to justify the need, [the] plans are done, the designs are done. The only reason it has to move more quickly is because of resources.

But now, the resources are there in the most important flood control projects, not just in California but the nation soon after.

For those of us who recall Hurricane Katrina and its impact on New Orleans … we have comparable risk not just to flooding, but what it means for the economy, what it means for businesses or homes and entire communities in the Stockton area, the Greater Sacramento Region and beyond.

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