They didn't appear before the
students to debate, deliver stump speeches, or solicit votes. There wasn't
press or campaign staff present. Instead, two candidates for the Assembly seat
in the 37th District met together for the educational benefit of the
students in a public policy and politics class at California Lutheran
Jeff Gorell, an adjunct professor
who teaches the class--a part of CLU's graduate program in public policy and
administration--is also a veteran and former prosecutor that's all but guaranteed
to win the Republican primary. Ferial Masry is one of the nation's foremost
Saudi-American politicians and is seeking the Democratic nomination.
The candidates met for the first
time in the hallway outside of Gorell's classroom in the Humanities building on
CLU's Thousand Oaks campus last Thursday, and then Gorell introduced Masry to
the class. For the next hour-and-a-half, Masry discussed her life story, her
past races (both she and Gorell have run for the 37th Assembly
District before), and her thoughts on the wars in the Middle East, where her
son fought in the U.S. Army.
Masry was born in Mecca, one of
seven children. Her mother sent her girls to Egypt to be educated, and after
Masry graduated from college in Cairo and married a civil engineer, she and her
husband moved to Nigeria, England, and then ultimately to the United States in
Masry told Gorell's class that in
Saudi Arabia, society revolves around the past. It's important who your parents
are, who their parents were, and who their parents were, and so on for
generations. Europe, she said, is all about the present--culture revolves around
who you are right now. America attracted her because a person's status isn't
determined by their ancestry; Americans are always looking toward the future.
But Masry looks to the past for
inspiration. In 2004, when she attempted to become the first Saudi American to
hold public office, she
told ABC News that she's motivated, more than anything else, by the U.S.
"It's a very small document
-- 7,000 words, five pages -- but what it had in it is something visionary and
beautiful," she said. "It really emphasized not to put the power into
one man or one group."
That same year, Masry was a
write-in candidate for the 37th Assembly district seat, but lost to
Audra Strickland (who defeated Gorell a few months earlier in the Republican primary).
Masry told Gorell's class that each time
she's run since then--in 2006 and 2008--she's done incrementally better. This
year, she faces two opponents in the Democratic primary. Any money she spends
against them is money she can't spend against Gorell in the general election,
should she emerge victorious from the primary.
But campaign considerations such
as those were for another night. Gorell's students were instead interested
about her position on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (where Gorell was
deployed after the 9/11 attacks), and her book, Running for the Right Reasons.
"She is a pleasant person with a
very interesting and inspiring story," Gorell said, "especially for young
people or for people who take freedom, education or democracy for granted." He
added that it's his intention with every class to try to convey in politics and
public policy that participants should be passionate but not take things
Masry shared with me a letter she
wrote to Gorell after she addressed the students.
"It is with great pride, in our
system of American democracy, that I serve as an educator, citizen and
candidate in this process," she wrote. "My enthusiasm is nurtured by the dream
that together we can overcome the barriers between worlds both locally and
globally. We can reach for economic
prosperity and social progress through compassion and civil discourse."
Both candidates should be commended for their civil treatment of each other despite their political differences. The nation seems to be polarizing, so examples such as these are truly refreshing.
Another Democrat, Moorpark City
Councilman David Pollack, will address Gorell's class next.