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Organizing Nationally Televised CA Gubernatorial Debate

An interview with Christian Arana (MPP '17)

Christian Arana (MPP '17) is the Policy Director for the Latino Community Foundation. In partnership with Univision, he organized a nationally televised debate with the top six candidates in the California governor's race. 

How did you end up being tasked with organizing the first gubernatorial debate of this election season?

The idea behind the Gubernatorial Debate actually came out of my job interview process. When asked how we could elevate the status of the foundation in the civic engagement space, it made sense that the foundation would engage the next governor of California to think about the largest ethnic group in the State. California is the 6th largest economy in the world, but the poorest state in the country. Many Latinos live in poverty and experience disparities in education, health, and employment across the state. In order for California to prosper, the next Governor of California must take into account a growing Latino population and craft solutions that both close these disparities for Latinos and lift the community towards greater prosperity. Since day one of starting this role, fulfilling this vision fell onto my desk and it was quite the journey ever since! 

The Governor's Forum was broadcast on Univision and hosted by Jorge Ramos and Ilia Calderon. How did this high-powered partnership come about?

We had tremendous help! One of our board members works at Univision in the Bay Area who was connected to Univision National. What began as simple conversations morphed into more phone calls and meetings, and next thing you know, Univision was quickly on board. For both our organizations, it made sense to work together to host an event like this. Latinos eligible to vote in California represent the largest Latino voting bloc in the country, with nearly 7 million eligible voters. Latinos have an opportunity to shape the political discourse for the 2018 election, which can have a significant impact on the next US presidential election. 

The first gubernatorial debate was focused issues facing CA's Latino population. What did you hope would be accomplished in this debate? Do you feel like your objectives were met?

I hoped to accomplish three things with this debate: 1) set a Latino policy agenda through a robust discussion of the issues facing the Latino community in California; 2) educate California’s Latino voters on the policy platforms that each candidate will run on; and 3) mobilize Latino families and increase the voter turnout of this population. 

Following the event, we gained tremendous coverage in the Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, and other major news outlets. Our hashtag, #LatinosVote2018 was trending on Twitter. This event showed that the Latino community in California is hungry for engagement from our political candidates and are eager to engage the political process in advance of the 2018 Midterm elections. 

What was the most challenging aspect of putting the debate together? The most surprising?

Wrangling six different campaigns was no easy task! As you might expect, each campaign came with different needs, number of staff, and views on the event. Thankfully, I had a team of committed individuals who were ready to answer any questions that the campaigns had and to fulfill their needs at a moment's notice.

The most surprising aspect was the crowd engagement during the debate. What it showed is that Latinos are listening attentively to these candidates and will hold them accountable for their words and actions the rest of this campaign season. 

What does your role as Policy Director at the Latino Community Foundation entail?

I lead the foundation’s efforts to advance policy solutions that will improve the lives and political power of California’s Latinos. Currently, I am working to increase and elevate the participation of the Latino community on the major public policy issues facing our state: immigration, climate change, civic engagement, and the 2020 Census. 

In this challenging time in CA and the country -- especially for immigrants -- what energizes you to do the work you do?

My parents. They came to the United States from Guatemala in the mid-1980s in search of better opportunity. Opportunities have been few and far between in the three decades since, but that this what pushes me to fight for my families like my own. Our community is only getting bigger and stronger. For all of us to succeed, we must bring others with us.