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Candidate discusses priorities with Sumner students

Sixth graders at Sumner Elementary School caught election fever last Friday when state Assembly candidate Chris Holden stopped by for a morning chat. 

Mr. Holden, a Pasadena city councilman, is vying for a seat in the 41st Assembly District in the November election against Republican Donna Lowe, who spoke to Sumner students several weeks ago. These visits were arranged by 6th grade teacher Joe Tonan to complement the government component of the students’ curriculum.

Mr. Holden, a Democrat, confined his presentation largely to non-partisan issues. 

He began by sharing a little about his background. Much of his success comes from opportunities offered to him at a time when money for school enrichment was plentiful.

Mr. Holden, whose 6-foot-8 height impressed his young audience, played on the basketball teams at Pasadena High School and San Diego State University.

“I’m a product of afterschool programs. That’s how I learned to play basketball, and how kids of my generation learned to play an instrument,” he told the COURIER in an interview after his talk concluded. “There were arts and crafts programs. They don’t have that anymore, certainly not across the board.”

Devastating cuts in recent years have also precluded students from going on the large number of field trips he enjoyed as a student, Mr. Holden said.

“We were usually going to places where we were exposed to real-life situations, where what we might be studying in the classroom became practical and hands-on,” he emphasized. “I don’t think I would ever have gone to the Altadena Dairy to see cows milked if it weren’t for those kinds of opportunities.”

Mr. Holden stressed to the children how important it is for today’s teachers and students to enjoy the same level of support.

“These are the decisions that go on in Sacramento currently,” he said. “Things like making sure music and the arts are being taught in the public schools, and that kids have an opportunity to take field trips—even come to Sacramento to see how things are run.”

Mr. Holden is the son of Los Angeles politician Nate Holden, who served 4 years in the California Senate and 16 years on the Los Angeles City Council. His dad, Mr. Holden recalled, used to drag his 2 sons to various political events.

“We were bored to tears,” he half-joked. “The only fun we had was when there was food.”

Eventually, however, Mr. Holden began to understand how the political system worked, and a path opened up for him. “I made connections about how I can give back to my community, how I can become more of a servant in my community.”

Mr. Holden encouraged the students to find a similar role model in their lives, be it a parent or teacher, who can help them figure out what they want to do in the future. Mr. Holden—who was first elected to the Pasadena City Council at age 28 and in 1997 was elected mayor—next discussed the state budget, striving to convey a complex subject in a way that was meaningful for the children. 

He asked which kids got an allowance and, when a number of students raised their hands, Mr. Holden told them,  “That’s your revenue, like the state gets its revenue.”

Like any government entity, the promise of receiving funds behooves the students to be responsible and accountable, he said.

“When your parents tell you to clean your room and they come back 30 minutes later and it’s not clean, there are consequences for not doing what you have to do,” according to Mr. Holden. “It’s the same thing for adults. We have to be held accountable as well to perform certain services to make sure things are done to ensure everyone’s well-being.”

When Mr. Holden asked the youths what they spend their money on, one student informed him that he saves his allowance, spurring congratulations from the councilman:  “Good, we don’t do enough of that.”

Most students, however, said they spend their money on the things they want most. So, Mr. Holden asserted, “If you want to buy some comic books, you can’t spend all of your money on candy.”

“That’s prioritizing,” he said. 

At the end of a presentation in which the aspiring assemblyman stressed local priorities such as the eastward extension of the Gold Line light rail system, Mr. Holden asked the kids to give their parents a reminder with regards to November 6.

“They may or not vote for me—I hope they do—but ask them to get out to the polls and vote, from the President to my office,” he said. “We need them to participate until such time as you guys can participate.”

The students asked Mr. Holden a number of questions after his presentation, including what he would do as an assemblyman to help the homeless.

“I told them there’s a role that the government can play and that there’s also a greater community that can participate in some of the problem-solving,” he said. “We all can play a part in that role, all of you today. On Thanksgiving, who goes with their family to feed the homeless?”

“Not all of what can be fixed is going to initiate within the walls of the legislature or city council,” he continued. “It can begin within the 4 walls of your home, with your family agreeing to make a difference.”

Some 100 students from 3 classes attended Mr. Holden’s talk. Mr. Tonan feels the kids have definitely been impacted by the candidates’ discussions.

“We’re going to be having school elections this month, and I’ve already had a couple students express interest in running for student body president.”

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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