Arthur 'AJ' Valenzuela Jr., 26

Once the student trustee on the board, Arthur Valenzuela returns 5 years later, running for his own spot on the Ventura County Community College District Board of Trustees. Arthur has been the President of the Greater Oxnard Organization of Democrats, Representative for Assemblymember Das Williams, and now is hoping to represent the community college students of Moorpark, Oxnard, and Ventura College.

Tell me one interesting fact about yourself outside of your government and political work?

I left a white collar job to go work at Port Hueneme and do Longshoreman work as a casual. I don’t think many people can say they left a job that requires looking at public policy to do manual labor.

How do you stay informed about what’s going on in your area?

I usually read the local newspaper every day, other local blogs, and receive Google alerts about what's going on locally. I usually get backlogs of emails just with local information.

What's your favorite place to hang out in Oxnard?

Usually, I love going to our diamond in the rough called the Topper’s Pizza, it's our local chain.

If you could have worked on any political campaign in US history, who would you have canvassed for?

Probably FDR, or maybe even Johnson. Here was really good with the Great Society and he was very effective with what he did.

You’re running to be Ventura County Community College District trustee. However, many people don’t vote in these local elections because they’re not aware of how these positions affect them. In your words, what does being a community college district trustee entail?

I’m running to be one of five votes on the community college board, so we set the policy for the district, hire and fire chancellors, deal with union contracts for faculty and staff, develop the strategic plan for the district and the capital planning. We’re in charge of putting forth a bond measure to the community, entering contracts with other entities, and building programs. It’s a crucial public agency that deals with the daily lives of people in our community. Over 30,000 students go to these schools at any one time, many looking to transfer and get their four-year degree, get their AA, or go through vocational training.

What are the potholes in the community college district? What are smaller issues in your community that are really easily neglected but you think need to be addressed?

Santa Clara Valley, which covers Santa Paula, Fillmore, and Piru, does not believe they are getting the educational services they deserve. It is geographically inconvenient and out of the way for students to make it out to Ventura or Moorpark College for classes. It’s really far for people to get to campus, so it makes it more difficult. And they’ve really downsized the budgets since the recession took place. It’s making sure vulnerable communities receive their equitable share of resources.

Many young people choose to start their careers in DC or the state capitol. You chose to take part in local politics. Why?

I wanted to make the greatest impact in my community. I know people go out to DC or Sacramento. But for Democrats, being in DC right now is just doing a desk job or being a pencil pusher, not having the ability make much effect. It seems like being part of a system.

But locally I’ve been able to organize and build a new progressive coalition of young activists and help progressive elected officials get involved. It’s been building a local trend here.

I know I have the option to go to those places, but I stayed in a suburban place. I have turned down jobs in urban areas to stay here.

What ties you to the area? What do you love about Ventura County?

I really enjoy the Oxnard community and I really want to shape it for the future. It’s Santa Monica weather without Santa Monica prices. Ventura County is a hidden gem along the coast between Santa Barbara and Santa Monica that has potential for growth economically and culturally.

When did you hear the call that you needed to run for office? Where were you that moment you realized you wanted to run?

Probably when the incumbent asked me to.  At first, he asked me to run for his position and I didn’t know if I wanted to get involved in and run for office. I was happy doing work Democratic Party organizing.

But my friends convinced me that I was uniquely qualified for this position because I had been a former student member on the board. I knew the policy and I've been involved in the community for so long that friends said, “You’re the most qualified person for this position.”

What past experience do you think most prepared you for the campaign trail?

Probably working for the California Democratic Party to help get my Congresswoman reelected in 2014. I actually took six months off of school at UCSB in order to come back to Ventura County and work on the campaign. I was working 12-hour days, actually basically 14-hour days, every day for four months. I’ve also been working here as a longshoreman, working shifts back to back sometimes, so I know I could keep up with the work.

So what advice do you give to other young people who are thinking about running for office?

Get involved with the Dem Party early on. When you want to run for office, you need to develop campaign skills and relationships. You need to understand messaging, how to do field work, and fundraise money. It is difficult to learn this overnight. I think the best candidates help others get elected.

It’s never about one candidate. Yes, one could be an expert in one area for 20 years, but they can’t expect others to support them if they are not doing the work to build community and help others run for office. Building the Democratic Party is the best way to build your skills and relationships.

As a Ventura County Community College Board trustee, if you could wave a magic wand and get universal support for something, what's one thing you would change?

Free college tuition, if we could find a way to provide access for two-year college tuition for students that would be ideal.

What would you say to people who think you're too young to run?

Seriously? Or jokingly?

Seriously. What would you say to people who think young candidates are too naïve, are social media obsessed, and aren’t prepared?

Someone kind of told me that already, that “You are doing this for attention.” I would say that I have the most experience when it comes to higher education, from being a former board member, not just locally, but also being president in the statewide student trustee association advocating for higher education. I don’t know what they can argue by saying I’m just too young. I would say I’m the most experienced.

Who has been your greatest mentor throughout your career?

Darcel Elliot. I used to work for her in 2014 for a supervisor race campaign and worked for her in the California State Assembly. She taught me that 95% of organizing is, “Follow up, follow up follow up.”

The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.

Lacy Wright