Patrick Ahrens, 29

Patrick Ahrens.jpeg

Patrick Ahrens for Foothill-De Anza Community College

Patrick Ahrens is a proud product of the Foothill-De Anza Community College system, one of the best in the state. But he wants to see it be even better. Patrick, 29, is running for Foothill-De Anza Community College Trustee to make sure education is accessible to all.

What was the best advice you received before you ran for office?

Be an authentic person. The world is full of scrutiny no matter what you do. But it's especially true if you want to be in public service and you want to be entrusted with the public's trust in you. I think the best advice is just to be as authentic as possible no matter what you're doing and that usually shines through.

Tell me one interesting fact about yourself? I heard through the grapevine that you had an interesting AIM screen name as a kid.

Oh, that's a loaded question. Pretty much every millennial had a screen name at one point. We grew up in a generation that was the forerunner to social media and online communications. I remember being in middle school and on the news, there was this little elementary school kid who was raising money with his lemonade stand to go towards the John Kerry presidential campaign.

I remember thinking how cool that someone who was so far and away from being eligible to vote but still contributing to the electoral political process and engaging in our political debate. I really liked John Kerry at the time and decided to put my screen name as Kids for Kerry. But kids spelled KDS, the really cool way.

Then, I started volunteering for his presidential campaign as a middle schooler. It was a really interesting time but I always knew from an early age how cool it was that there were all these young people from across the country back in 2003 and 2004 that wanted to be involved, wanted to get engaged, knew that they couldn't vote but they still wanted to make sure their voice was heard somehow.

In your our words, what position are you running for and what does the role entail?

I'm running for the Foothill-De Anza Community College Board of Trustees. They’re the governing board that oversees all the college operations, elected by the public with a fiduciary responsibility for the colleges. That’s really important because as a public institution and as a public community college it's being governed by the public, by elected leaders. They are entrusted with spending the public dollar and investing in the community.

One of the things that are really amazing about community colleges all across the country but especially true for California is that we directly elect to our community college trustees. Not every state does that. One of the things I love about the community colleges is that nearly everyone's family has a story about how the community colleges have helped their family in one way or another.  So whether or not your family, your kid or you yourself, went to community college or are a community college graduate, it still affects you. The dental hygienists that you go to were trained at your local community college, the person working on your car went to community college to get their degree. They're huge career services and career success programs.

So it's not just for people who have kids or people who want to transfer to a four year. Community colleges touch nearly everyone's lives and a lot of people don't even know that. The Foothill-De Anza community colleges have one of the most renowned nursing programs in Silicon Valley, and many people don’t know that. So when you go to the hospital, go to your doctors, you see a nurse, you get a flu shot, more likely than not, they were trained at a community college.

It's this amazing gem in the community that touches nearly everyone's lives in California. And almost no one knows about that. It’s so great for people who know what they want to do.

I think it's so important to make sure that we keep the community colleges affordable and accessible for everyone so that everyone has that opportunity to get their slice of the American dream for themselves.

What are your potholes? What issues do you feel need to be addressed in your district?

I’m running on a platform of maintaining our excellence. We are really well-run district. Foothill De-Anza are two of the top-ranked colleges in the state. It’s top in the nation for its transfer rate to a four-year college. Every year, we have college students who transfer on to anywhere from San Jose State, UCLA, UC Berkeley to Stanford.

But I'm noticing is that higher education budgets are less and less every year. I want to be a college trustee that advocates for more accessibility, more affordability to make sure that as UC, CSU and private school tuition and fees continue to rise every year, that at least at the community college level, they stay affordable and stays accessible. So understanding that if you have to raise tuition, don't raise it at the community college level, because we want to make sure that it’s an avenue stays there.

The second platform I really want to push for is more online, open educational resources, especially free textbooks. We've already done this, we have one statistics textbook that’s free online and open for everyone to use thanks to an amazing college professor who wrote it. And it's this amazing resource that all students can now use for free. We need to add more textbooks to the ranks and I am excited to be an advocate for that. Student success is going to be so much better when students don't have to choose between paying rent or paying for their textbooks semester.

The third thing that I really want is more fiscal responsibility and campus safety. I think that we need to make sure that we're being good stewards of the public's trust and the public's time. I want to make sure that we're not only focusing on next year's budget but what are the colleges going to look like in 10, 20, 30 years from now.

Lastly, making sure campus safety is a huge priority. I think if we're not ensuring that everyone has a safe learning environment on campus then we're not doing our jobs. Whether that be fighting the Trump administration and stopping ICE from requesting access to our student data, whether it is making sure that we improve campus climate with our police on campus, there's a lot of room for growth in that area.

Who have been your greatest mentors throughout your political career?

One of my greatest mentors is my boss, Evan Low, an assembly member here in Silicon Valley. He has pretty much taught me everything I know about not only being a good staffer but understanding how to be a thoughtful person and a good public servant.

I started out in his office as a field representative and move my way up to be his district director. He’s always supported me whether I wanted to run for office myself, whether I wanted to go to grad school, he's always been 100% supportive. And I've always been really thankful for that. I wanted to move back home from DC and he offered me my first job. He’s been teaching me about how to be a servant in public service ever since.

Speaking of your move from DC back to Silicon Valley. Why did you choose to leave DC and come back to the Bay?

I had a great experience in DC. But I always knew that all roads would lead back to California eventually. I'm from the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. When I was a student at De Anza community college, I always knew that I had a responsibility if I was ever to “make it” and become successful in my own right, that I have a responsibility to help students the same way. So many people helped me get to where I am today. I had a whole village of people pushing me, as the first of my family to go to college, both inside and outside the classroom. This place always felt like home to me and that I always had a responsibility to come back here and help people who are struggling to still make it.

I think that this place is a really difficult place to live. I was born and raised in this community, and it's very difficult to afford a place to live and this is a very expensive area, but I think I owe it to all the people that helped me get where I am to help other people.

You were the student trustee on the board when you were a student. How did you first get interested in being a trustee the first time?

I actually ran because I got a parking ticket on campus and I remember being so frustrated that all these permit parking machines on campus were broken and yet the students and visitors were still getting parking tickets. So I marched into the police office and asked why they were ticketing students since all these permit machines are broken. And I remember the police officer said, “If don't like it, you should run for something.”

So I marched down the hall, applied to run, won the student trustee position and we got the permit machines fixed. It just rolled on from there.

You know, I never wanted to run for public office.  But I started noticing all these things that were wrong in the community and all these things that should be getting fixed that weren't getting fixed. And I could either sit around and complain about them or do something about it.

What advice would you give to another young Dem who is considering running for office?

I think you're going get a lot of people who tell you that you’re too young to run and that you need to wait your turn. But your turn is now. You should run because your opinions and your life experience matter and your voice is needed now more than ever before.

The only way we change things in politics is by changing those who represent us. So absolutely 100% run for office.

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.

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Lacy Wright