Standing in front of a Casa Grande High School classroom last week, State Senator Bill Dodd posed a question to the senior students.
“How many in here are happy with the way things are going in our country?” he asked.
Zero hands went up.
“That is really telling to me as a public official,” said Dodd, D-Napa. “Frankly, whether you’re local or state or you’re federal, to me that is a depressing statement from future leaders right here in Petaluma.”
On Oct. 31, Dodd, representative for the 3rd District, spent a morning at Jake Lee’s U.S. Government class as part of his semester-long initiative to familiarize his students with elected officials.
Dodd’s overarching message was that “elections matter,” delivered to a classroom of soon-to-be voters that, nationwide, don’t always participate.
Voters in the 18-29 range have historically had the lowest turnout of any age demographic, boasting a 46 percent rate in 2016 election, according to U.S. census data. Over the last 10 presidential elections, young voters have turned out more than 50 percent just two times.
The state senator spent the first half of the visit discussing broader topics like the makeup of the state government, bipartisanship and even turned to the wisdom of George Washington to tie in how today’s political climate isn’t necessarily the first time the U.S. has been this polarized.
“You should be able to disagree with your friend on something that’s very important to you, whether it’s religion, women’s rights, foreign policy — any number of things,” Dodd said. “Let’s just be civil and respect the person that we’re talking to.”
The Napa native also criticized Donald Trump for deepening the national divide across economic and racial lines, and said his biggest issue was with the president’s pomposity toward racial minorities. Recently, Trump has been ramping up his attacks against immigrants, calling a migrant caravan in Central America an “invasion” funded by Democrats in order to increase Republican support.
Dodd’s district, which stretches from southeastern Sonoma County to West Sacramento, covers Napa Valley and rural swaths of the North Bay and Yolo County inhabited by farm laborers that prop up much of the agricultural economy.
“There’s no place in America for that (type of rhetoric). All of us are immigrants,” Dodd said. “I was very, very fortunate for my family to come over here in 1842 from Ireland where the Irish were being persecuted. … So my family said, ‘We’re going to go to this country where we can have an opportunity.’ That’s what we need to be doing.
He finished the point by calling for new immigration policies that could address a looming labor shortage in the next decade that could stall California’s economy.
The conversation eventually turned into a question and answer session. The Casa Grande students probed Dodd’s stances on minimum wage, how he balances personal beliefs with policy decisions, and whether he believes the rise of technology has imperiled politics.
Dodd was complimentary of the inquisitive questions he received, later describing the Casa Grande class as the best he’s ever visited in four years as a California congressman.
However, the state senator always circled back to the importance of civic engagement, and how higher participation could compel politicians to fight for the issues that are important to young voters like college tuition, women’s rights and economic and racial equality.