A conversation with Gloria Molina: Lessons Learned

by Patricia Quintero Estades

Last Tuesday September 24th the Bedrosian Center welcomed Gloria Molina for our first Lunch with a Leader event of the school-year. USC students, faculty, and visitors had the opportunity to sit down for a lively and varied conversation with Molina, who, among other firsts, was the first Latina to be elected to the California Legislature.

Media Coverage of Politics and Public Governance

One of the recurring themes throughout the discussion was the relationship between politics and policy, and the media. Molina shared some of her experiences with the media, criticizing frequent inaccuracies and a tendency to cover only the “sexy stories.” By sexy stories she meant those plagued with conflict and scandal. “It is sexy if someone is accused of corruption or gets arrested. That is what gets covered,” she stated.

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One of her main concerns was that she knew of plenty good policymakers and public servants doing good policy work, that are unfortunately not getting visibility. Media outlets don’t cover the stories of when things go right and someone is actually doing a good job. She said that there are good leaders with integrity that are doing the work and getting results, but the public does not hear about it. She stated that this is problematic because stories of good, effective governance can motivate and inspire young people. It could help keep their faith and interest in their political system.

A student asked Molina what could be done about the apathetic attitude of some Latino youth towards politics and another asked about the challenges women face when running for office and winning elections. Molina expressed her disappointment with the situation of Latino youth who are disinterested and disengaged from political affairs, when she believed the Latino community especially to have high stakes in policy outcomes and politics.

Because there is a problem of a disengaged electorate, media can play an important role in fueling those sentiments of apathy and disinterest. A more comprehensive coverage of policy and politics, and issues of governance, one that acknowledges successes and not only the failures of the system, could help alleviate some of that apathy and help draw a younger usually disenfranchised sector of our voting-eligible population– youth in underserved and minority communities.

Along those same lines, in the case of women she held that  “Women are often put off by the nastiness and the nonsense of politics.” She listed that as one of the main reasons women don’t run for public office (and also why they should). It comes back to the idea of looking at the way that politics are covered in the media, and in the case of women it can be especially detrimental.

“Before Donald Trump, no one really criticized a male politician’s hair, but that is the case for every single female candidate to have ever run [for office].” Molina talked about how as politicians and public servants, women are often criticized more harshly than men and are held to a different level of scrutiny. This treatment of women, and this picture painted of politics by news outlets could be deterring women and young people in general from wanting to run for office, or even just to become actively engaged with the political process at all.

Media outlets have a responsibility to provide objective, accurate, and comprehensive news reporting of governance and politics. This is imperative to a just and well-functioning democracy and effective governance. But not only do media outlets need to do a better job of covering governance issues, as consumers of news and media we have an opportunity to create a demand for more of the positive stories that Gloria Molina would like to see in the news. If as consumers we only seek to find out about the “sexy” or scandalous stories in governance, then we can expect that it is what news outlets will offer.

21062346613_bd1a5afc11_oWhile the picture can  be gloomy, here is some of the advice that Ms. Molina shared with our guests and students about working in governance, policy, and politics:

3 pieces of advice from Gloria Molina

Run for Office

She talked about how it takes courage to stand the criticism and to take on the challenges of raising enough money to run an effective campaign, but how if you are put off by the “nastiness” of politics, chances are you can help to clean some of that “messiness” by becoming a good public servant yourself.

Be True to Yourself

When asked about ethnicity and one’s personal background and how that plays into politics, she was adamant that you should always remain true to yourself and true to your identity. When speaking of minorities in particular, she expressed that as minority populations “we need to be at the table,” but if by the time you get there you have compromised yourself and your identity you will not be valuable to the community you set out to represent.

Don’t Let Your Failures Define You

Recent Price School alum Matthew Gonzalez posed “When you are breaking through glass ceilings, you are likely to get cuts along the way. How do we deal with those wounds?” To which Molina responded that there is failure in everything we do, but you can’t let the losses define you. She said to be optimistic about what you get right and learn from what you get wrong. In the end, there is work to be done, so you pick yourself up and try again. “The losses don’t define you. The fight, the struggles, the goals: that’s what defines you”.

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If you want to hear more wise words from Gloria Molina, join us for our Policy at the Playhouse event tonight: Real Women Have Curves. After the play, we will have a Q&A panel that will include Molina, our very own Prof. Nicole Esparza, and the play’s director Seema Sueko. For more information and to get discounted tickets click here.