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  At the La Raza Roundtable monthly meeting last Friday, March 28, 2014, Pete Carillo introduced The Honorable Senator Art Torres, J.D. (retired) who has a lengthy record of public service and civil rights advocacy. Torres began his comments by saying, “It is nice to come home to San Jose because it is very special to me.” Torres had attended Stanford University. Upon graduating from law school (age 25) he campaigned for a CA State Assembly seat (1972). Torres was defeated in his first election for a seat in the California State Assembly by 615 votes. Soon after the election, he became the national legislative director for the United Farm Workers, AFL-CIO, at 25 years of age.

Two years later, Torres won a seat in the California State Assembly, where he served for the next eight years. Torres was elected to the State Senate where he served for another twelve years (1982 to 1994). He served as chairman of the Insurance Committee, Assembly Health Committee, Senate Joint Committee on Science and Technology, the Joint Committee on Refugees, the Senate Committee on the Entertainment Industry, and as  the founding chairman of the Senate Toxics Committee. Torres co-authored legislation that created the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, and the California Clean Water Act.

Family relationships were important in his personal development because they helped Torres deal with student loans and debts when he had no income. In 1972,Dolores Huerta recruited him to join the United Farm Workers where at first he did telephone operations, was Cesar’s driver and later dealt with UFW legal matters . Torres described groups of farm workers (Yemenese, Filipino, and Mexican) which were organized under one ‘Farmworkers of America’ constitution and mission statement. It is this group which became the United Farmworkers of America (UFW).

His salary was $5.00 per week because Cesar wanted all UFW officials to know what it was like to live in poverty. As an extended family they dealt with the needs of the UFW group. “It is a very sad thing today to know that three CA State Senators have allegedly betrayed the public trust. But know that these are the exceptions. There is a great need for youthful leaders to represent this Hispanic community. Those who practice public service believe in helping people. So I hope that many of you end up as leaders performing public service.”

“Cesar was honest to a fault, I do not think that any current labor leader could stand up to his level of honesty and integrity.” Stated Torres. “You young people must see the movie “Cesar” to learn about the history of the farm labor and civil rights effort which is still ongoing. Many issues exist today such as immigration, available jobs, income disparity and the like which need to be addressed by today’s public policy. And you must be engaged and involved to be part of it. Do think about it and do it.”

Today, Art Torres is a Board member of California’s State Stem Cell Agency: The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), which was created by California’s Proposition 71 (2004),  funded by bonds (up to $3 billion), over ten years for embryonic stem cell and other biomedical research. Today it addresses 39 disease entities such as diabetes, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis, etc. Training and research programs reach out to 1,500 high schools, college and post-graduate students. Ten disease projects are now in clinical trials. And their work has generated some $286M in new tax revenues. One CIRM Center is located at Stanford University Medical Center. Go to ‘info.cirm.ca.gov or www.cirm.ca.gov for more information.

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