With the start of the new school year, the USC Dornsife Unruh Institute of Politics has also launched a new program called “Legislators in Residence,” which features former State Senator Tony Strickland and former State Assemblyman Anthony Portantino as on-campus student mentors.
“I’ve seen how much USC students benefit with not just academic experts, but policy officials who have worked in those areas. But we’ve always been limited by the fact that the guests are only at campus for a particular lecture or panel discussion,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute of Politics. “So I’m particularly excited about the opportunity to get students to build a relationship with real-world policymakers.”
Strickland represented the 19th District from 2008 to 2012 as State Senator; prior to that, he served in the State Assembly from 1998 to 2004. During his time in the Senate, Strickland worked to bolster California’s faltering economy, including passing legislation aimed at making the state more energy efficient.
“I think I can bring a wealth of knowledge in terms of my experience to young kids who want to be involved in public policy and public service,” Strickland said.
Portantino represented the 44th District in the Assembly from 2006 to 2012. Before that, he served as mayor of the city of La Cañada Flintridge. Reputed to be a maverick legislator, Portantino spent much of his time in office pushing for government reform.
“For me, it was very exciting to be given an opportunity to create longer contacts and actual relationships with students who are working on these policy endeavors over a longer period of time,” Portantino said.
As part of the “Legislators in Residence” program, Strickland and Portantino will be teaching a class alongside Schnur entitled “The Future of California.” Students in the class will have a chance to discuss current policy issues facing California with not only Schnur and the two legislators, but also weekly speakers.
“I’m really going to enjoy interaction with the students and really get a good discourse in terms of public debate and public policy, so hopefully it’ll be a part of some ideas that will take their voices back with me when I go back, so I can develop them and help solve some of these problems,” Strickland said.
Interaction with Strickland and Portantino, however, is not reserved solely for Unruh students. Both legislators are also open to speaking to any student organization. On Wednesday, they served as panelists at the first “Students Talk Back: A Weekly Politics and Public Policy Forum,” which was co-hosted by the Schwarzenegger Institute. In addition, Portantino is scheduled to make an appearance at the College Democrats meeting on Oct. 2; Strickland will do the same at the College Republicans meeting on Oct. 22.
President of the College Democrats Catherine Shieh expressed excitement about the new political life “Legislators in Residence” will bring to the USC campus.
“A big theme that I witness in politics is that a lot of people have a negative view of politics. But part of that negative view of politics is that politics is not seen as accessible,” Shieh said. “With that being said, when you have not one, but two people that are permanently on campus, that puts in this accessibility factor that wasn’t there before. It’s the first step of really getting your foot in the door.”
The two legislators will hold office hours at PSD 101, during which any interested student can set up a meeting with them.
Though Strickland and Portantino have each committed to just a year to USC, but they have big plans and hopes for the young Trojans with whom they will be working.
“My goal is to rejuvenate myself from being around positive energy in the classroom, but then also to help channel that positive energy into serious outcomes for the state,” Portantino said. “Because today’s 22-year-old — today’s 18-year-old — ten years from now, is going to be tomorrow’s leader.”