Assembly candidate makes campaign stop

Fifth graders at Sumner Elementary School got a taste of the political process on September 27 when Casey C. Higgins, a Republican candidate for the California Assembly, took some time to talk to them.

Mr. Higgins is hoping to unseat incumbent Chris Holden. Mr. Holden represents the 41st Assembly District, which is responsible for portions of more than two-dozen cities, including Claremont, Diamond Bar, La Verne, Pomona and San Dimas.

Fifth-grade teacher Joe Tonan likes to invite candidates to speak to students from time to time, giving kids a chance to see, and share their concerns with the people poised to make impactful decisions. He invited Mr. Holden to speak to the students as well but the assemblyman, citing a jam-packed schedule, said he wouldn’t be able to appear until after the election.

Mr. Higgins quizzed the students, beginning by asking about the nature of the three branches of government. The kids, apparently quick studies, had a ready answer: executive, judicial and legislative.

Having worked as a deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County since 2006, Mr. Higgins has wide experience in the judicial branch of government.

“Now I’m running for the legislative part,” he said.

Mr. Higgins is one of eight kids—he has  six brothers and one sister. His grandfather was an immigrant from Ireland. His dad, who grew up helping out on the family farm, encouraged his kids to advance through education and dedication.

Mr. Higgins grew up in La Verne and attended elementary school at Holy Name of Mary School in San Dimas. He knew from the time he was in kindergarten that he wanted to be a lawyer.

“Some kids want to be a rock star or a football star. I wanted to be deputy district attorney,” he laughed.

After graduating from Damien High School, he went to Cal State Fullerton. His family didn’t have a lot of money, so he took out loans. After graduating, with honors, with two master’s degrees, he went on to Loyola Law School. “Anyone and everyone can go to college if they work hard,” he emphasized.

Mr. Higgins said his job as a prosecutor has given him a close view of the limitations of laws in the state. “Many of the laws are not written well. They’re vague,” he said.

During a Q&A session, a student asked Mr. Higgins who inspires him. He cited his father as well as his wife, Estrella, who is from Guadalajara, Mexico. She didn’t speak English when she came to this country and yet she went on to work in the movie industry. He and Ms. Higgins are currently occupied with raising their children, Casey Jr., age 2. and Adeline, 9 months. The kids are being taught both English and Spanish.

One kid asked the candidate why he opted to be a Republican as opposed to a Democrat.

“The Republican party for me has more I agree on,” Mr. Higgins said. “I don’t want to raise taxes. The Republican party is more religiously conservative and more financially conservative.”

One student asked about Mr. Higgins favorite president. He cited Ronald Reagan, followed by Abraham Lincoln. In fact, he wrote a letter to President Reagan as a child and got a response—pretty heady stuff for a kid. 

Another student asked him why he wants the job of assemblyman. “I think it’s a way I can reach out to more people,” he said. “As a prosecutor, you can only help one person at a time.”

One of the fifth graders wondered which presidential candidate Mr. Higgins prefers, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. He was frank: “I haven’t decided yet. I don’t like either one.”

Mr. Higgins said that, should he join the assembly, his top priorities would include keeping taxes down, reducing crime and increasing safety. One of the best ways to accomplish the latter is to encourage more kids to graduate from school. In the courtrooms, he has seen that, regardless of ethnic or socioeconomic background, the people who are in trouble with the law are often those who dropped out of school.

A young audience member wondered what laws Mr. Higgins would like to enact as assemblyman. He said he’d prefer to take a break from making new laws and work on improving the ones that are already in effect.

A kid asked what Mr. Higgins would do to help homeless people. It’s a complex issue, he explained. “Some people don’t have jobs, others are war veterans, others have mental illness, others have drug addiction and some have all of those issues,” he said. “I would first address the drug problem. We also need more facilities for those with mental issues.”

At the end of the 45-minute talk, Mr. Higgins had high praise for Sumner students.

“These questions are better than the debate questions last night,” he said, referring to the initial face-off between Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump that aired the evening before.  

“A good part of learning is the questions you ask,” he said. “You can’t have a voice without asking what’s wrong and how to fix it.”

—Sarah Torribio


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