Secretary of State Debra Bowen holds a political post today that she never had an inkling she would have when she was growing up, she told John Burroughs High School students on Thursday.
Bowen shared her life story of growing up as a shy girl in Rockford Ill., “frequently in trouble for doing things I should not have been doing.” All the while, however, she earned straight A’s on her report cards without any ambitions of a political career.
But that changed after Bowen moved to Venice, Calif., and joined her local Neighborhood Watch committee.
“I joke that Neighborhood Watch was my gateway drug to politics,” she said.
Bowen served as guest speaker at Burroughs’ Junior State of America Club, where about 90 students routinely gather during lunch breaks to debate political issues.
She accepted the invitation from senior Edward Youn, 17, who reached out to her.
“To see elected officials talk to us leads me to believe that the gap between the government and the people is slowly closing up,” Youn said. “We could finally work together on issues that we care about.”
From 1992 until 2006, Bowen served six years in the State Assembly and another eight in the State Senate.
In the early 1990s, she was behind a comprehensive effort to make California’s legislative information on bills and legislators’ voting records accessible on the Internet.
Last year, she was glad to see the state launch its voter registration system online.
“That’s been a major goal for me to get that done, so you don’t have to figure out where a post office is to go get a form,” she said. She also encouraged dozens of Burroughs students to register to vote when they turn 18.
After talking about her job as secretary of state, Bowen fielded questions from students.
When asked about the biggest challenge facing the state, she answered without hesitation. “Funding, and what our priorities are going to be and how we spend our money. It all comes down to who we tax and how much, and how we choose to spend the tax money we have,” she said.
On education, Bowen said, “we’ve gotten way too enamored of tests” with the system too focused on students’ knowledge on exams rather than “whether or not you are able to think about issues and whether or not you’re able to take the skills that you have and apply them to a new issue that nobody’s ever thought about before.”
When one student asked how to overcome fear of speaking in front of people, Bowen suggested finding a private space to raise your arms over your head for at least a minute before facing an audience.
“It will make you feel much bigger than you are, and it changes your confidence entirely,” she said.
To face a single intimidating person, she added, “Imagine them naked, riding a bicycle. They will not scare you anymore.”
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.