The number of women in California elected office has remained stagnant or decreased over the last few election cycles. In an effort to inspire and engage the next generation of women leaders, the North Orange County Community College District hosted the Women in Politics Symposium at the Fullerton Community Center Friday, April 28.
The event, organized in partnership with California Women Lead, a nonpartisan association of women encouraging greater female participation in government leadership roles, and the Orange County Legislative Task Force, gathered about 100 Orange County students, education workers, and political leaders for discussions on topics like entering California politics as a woman, what it’s like being an appointed government official, and how to get women more engaged in politics and becoming leaders in elected and appointed office.
Three panels of women leaders spoke about different government roles and aspects of political life, answering questions from moderators and also taking questions from attendees.
Jeanette Vazquez, a member of the Fullerton School Board and former Cypress College Associated Students president, participated in the first panel of the day. She said she’s proud of the NOCCCD for its role in hosting and helping to organize the symposium.
“I remember, as a community college student myself, when I was thinking about what life in public service would be like and seeing it as a possibility, it was definitely all about me trying to figure it out on my own,” she said. “I think that this is really important for the District and other community colleges to have for students early on as they’re starting to think about public service because they already have that seed there. What this does is it gives them those tools and that push without shying them away from the field because of all the rhetoric that’s going on right now.”
Vazquez graduated from Cypress College in 2009 with an associate’s degree in liberal arts. She transferred to the University of California, Berkeley where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and minor in public policy. She earned her teaching credential and master’s degree in education from Loyola Marymount University. Vazquez is now a sixth grade teacher in North Orange County.
Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who represents District 65, which includes the NOCCCD, said she believes there’s more encouragement for and engagement with women to become involved in politics now, especially compared to about 15 years ago when she first ran for elected office.
The former public school teacher and huge supporter of education added, “I think it’s really a vital part of women choosing to run when they can be educated about not only what it takes to run and when, but what the job’s actually like and actually hear from local and state leaders that are doing the job.”
Speakers also provided words of wisdom and suggestions for becoming involved in public service and governance.
Mona Pasquil, appointment secretary in California Gov. Jerry Brown’s office, told the audience that one of the most valuable things is to find a mentor and advised everyone to “be prepared to step up at any time to think about how you want to lead your community, your state, your country, this world.”
Former California Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez added that you can choose to be a leader, no matter the role you have.
“Everybody has a comfort level, and at any point, a woman can be a leader,” she said. “We can all be leaders. Whether we’re in politics or not, we must be and take that responsibility of being leaders in our communities.”
Other featured speakers and panelists included:
Barbara Bagneris, Orange County Fair Board vice chairwoman
Lisa Bartlett, Orange County supervisor
Alicia Berhow, Accountancy Board chairwoman
Cyd Brandvein, State Board of Optometry member
Letitia Clark, City of Tustin councilmember
April Lopez, State Council on Developmental Disabilities member
Fiona Ma, State Board of Equalization member
Rachel Michelin, chief executive officer of California Women Lead
Loretta Sanchez, former member of Congress
Jaqueline Rodarte, NOCCCD trustee
Betty Yee, California state controller
Imparting some last few empowering and inspiring words, Dr. Cheryl Marshall, chancellor of the NOCCCD, closed the symposium saying, “Your voice matters. Everybody here remember that. You matter, your voice matters. Find your passion. Go forward, lead, live your values. That’s what matters as we walk day by day through this life.”