Senator Art Torres, Class of 1971
Senator Art Torres ’71 served in the California State Assembly from 1974 to 1982, and the State Senate from 1982 to 1994. He authored bipartisan initiatives in health care, education, the environment, and human rights, including legislation that established the California Clean Water Act and created the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. He was California Democratic Party Chair from 1996 to 2009. He is Vice Chair of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, the governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and serves on the board as a patient advocate. He is the former president of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, has served on the board of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, and currently serves on the five-member board of Covered California. He began his career as national legislative director for the United Farm Workers, when he was 25 years old. On July 1, 2020, Senator Torres became Alumni Regent Designate for the University of California. He will become UC Alumni Regent and president of the UC Alumni Association on July 1, 2021, representing more than two million UC alumni worldwide.
You graduated in 1971, ran for Assembly in 1972, became national legislative director for the United Farm Workers right after that, won your first Assembly seat in 1974, and then spent the next 20 years in the Assembly and State Senate. How did you prepare for that?
It was natural for me to get involved with politics. I have been president of every academic institution I have ever attended. In high school, my opponent was Edward James Olmos. He went into acting while I stayed with politics.
I wanted to go to the UC Davis School of Law because the capital was only 11 miles away. And also because it was so new. I had already experienced that newness as an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz, where I was in the second graduating class — and I was the first student body president. At UC Davis, I was able to teach a class my third year. Elihu Harris was a student in the class. I asked Willie Brown to be our graduation speaker in 1971, and he was.
My first boss was Cruz Reynoso at California Rural Legal Assistance. At the time, I was both a law student and a registered lobbyist for poor people.
I first ran for Assembly when I was 25, and I lost. Two years later, the district was redrawn, and I won. Politics has been my passion my whole life.
What legislation are you proudest of passing?
In 1986, I helped put Prop 65 on the ballot, along with Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden. [Proposition 65 is the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986.] We couldn’t pass it in the Legislature, because the chemical companies were opposed to it. We passed it as an initiative, creating the world’s most respected list of carcinogens.
You’ve been selected as the next UC Alumni Regent. What are your goals as Regent?
We’re already doing it. The goal is diversity, and it is already being achieved. Part of that is welcoming first-generation students. More and more community college students are transferring to UC. My own nieces and nephews, who have been accepted to universities like Stanford, are taking remote classes right now at community colleges. We need to be prepared for an influx of community college students at UC.
We also have a $300 million deficit, which includes the UC hospitals. We’re trying to get federal stimulus funds for our hospitals. I’m also on the board for Covered California, where we were told there are no ICU beds open in the San Joaquin Valley right now. When we can get some money, we can open some ICU beds.
As California Democratic Party Chair, what kind of impact were you able to have?
I was able to elect Democrats so we could get Cruz Bustamante elected Speaker of the Assembly in 1996. People forget that before that the California Legislature was Republican. He was our first Latino Speaker. We also continued to build our Congressional delegation.
We kept electing more Latino legislators in California. In 1974, there were only three of us. Now there are about 25 — both Democrats and Republicans.
I laid the foundation during my 13 years as chair. Now we’re seeing the fruition of that.
How did you become involved with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine?
I had a very dear friend on the board, David Serrano Sewell. He was the patient advocate for MS, because he has MS. The board needs ten members who are patient advocates. They had a vacancy for vice chair, and he recommended me. By then, I was exhausted from raising money across the state for campaigns every two years.
It gave me the opportunity to go back to my roots. In 1978, I chaired the Assembly Health Committee. I had always been an advocate for health care. John Garamendi nominated me, and I was elected in April 2009.
What is your favorite King Hall memory?
The library really was a refuge. Being able to spend time there rather than in an apartment with my roommates was a real escape.
I had tremendous relationships with my professors, like Homer Angelo, who taught international law, and Dan Dykstra. And there were students in my classes like George Miller, who went on to be a stalwart ally with Nancy Pelosi in Congress.
Which class at King Hall have you used the most?
Constitutional Law has had so many applications across the board, and particularly with the political right to expression. My daughter is in her third year at Hastings, and that’s her favorite class, too.
Do you have any advice for current law students?
Don’t hinge your priority on what kind of law you want to practice. Experience as much as possible.
Don’t overlook public service. It can be a first step if you want to go on to private practice or do something like becoming a judge later.
I was awarded a Rotary fellowship to help Spain join the common market. I was studying French. I was planning to extend the fellowship and move to Europe to keep working on it, when I decided to stay in Sacramento instead. You never know. It took years for Spain to join the common market. I could have been working on it that whole time.
The best option is to keep your options open.