Assembly members join Unruh Institute

Photo courtesy of Meghan Ginley

Last year, former assemblymembers Mike Gatto and David Hadley were working in their respective offices, crafting policy for the state of California. This year, Gatto and Hadley have swapped their offices at the California State Assembly for new ones at USC.

Gatto, a Democrat, and Hadley, a Republican, are the two former elected officials who now comprise the bipartisan USC Unruh Institute of Politics’ Legislators in Residence program. In its fifth year, the program aims to bridge the gap between former and future policymakers through open conversation with all students.

“The thought process was to have practitioners in policy come teach students what they know and to give a first-hand perspective to our students,” said Meghan Ginley, the community engagement director at the Unruh Institute of Politics. “You have all of these awesome professors here that teach theories and public policy, but wouldn’t it be cool to have people who have actually done that?”

In addition to holding open office hours for all students — regardless of major — and participating in Unruh panels, Gatto and Hadley will each teach a class in the political science department. Gatto is currently teaching a class titled POSC 323: Practical Politics — How Campaigns are Won or Lost.

“Hopefully I can relay a lot of valuable information to students,” Gatto said. “I had a reputation, I hope, as somebody who was willing to unite the two sides and accomplish something for the good of the state. I hope I can get students to think along those lines because both sides have a lot to offer and both sides probably believe that they are part of the solution.”

Hadley also looks forward to teaching a class on politics and public policy in California this spring.

“I’ve guest lectured before and done public speaking in my political work,” Hadley said. “But the chance to engage directly with the same students for a full semester and to have discussions in more than sound bytes is great.”

According to Gatto, more students are becoming interested in being politically educated and active.

“Political awareness has reached a level this year that I haven’t seen in a long time,” Gatto said. “More people naturally want to get involved.”

Gatto and Hadley are entering their positions at USC at a time that many have referred to as a period of “political unrest.” Ginley believes that political life at USC took a turn starting with election night in 2016.

“There was a huge level of uncertainty when the election happened,” Ginley said. “Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, a majority of the students expected an outcome that just didn’t happen. People didn’t really know what to say or do and students start looking at us and say, ‘Well, what now?’ We, at that point, made this decision to have open dialogue conversations and host events that cater to collaboration.”

According to Hadley, collaboration is the essence of the Legislators in Residence program, as he and Gatto represent cohesion between the two major political parties.

“Many people, not just students, are very cynical about politics and think about it as some kind of partisan war or partisan game,” Hadley said. “It’s great that USC pairs up two legislators from the two major parties because there are a lot of political issues that cut across party lines, and we have common issues and common opportunities we are trying to confront.”

Although the Legislators in Residence program consists of just two officials at the moment, Ginley said the Unruh Institute is looking forward to possibly expanding the program in the future.

“There is absolutely something in the works,” Ginley said. “That’s going to be something very, very exciting that our team is working on.”