Tom Torlakson: Wikis


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Thomas A. "Tom" Torlakson

California State Assembly, District 11 Seat
In office
2009 – present
Preceded by Mark DeSaulnier

California State Senate, District 7 Seat
In office
2000 – 2008
Preceded by Richard Rainey
Succeeded by Mark DeSaulnier

California State Assembly, District 11 Seat
In office
1996 – 1999
Preceded by Bob Campbell
Succeeded by Joe Canciamilla

Born July 19, 1949 (1949-07-19) (age 60)
San Francisco, California
Political party Democratic
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley
Profession Politician

Thomas A. "Tom" Torlakson (born July 19, 1949) is a Democratic politician from Antioch, California. He is currently serving his third and final term in the California State Assembly. Torlakson represents the 11th District, which covers a north section of Contra Costa County. Torlakson lives in Antioch.



Torlakson is a second generation San Francisco Bay Area resident and was born in San Francisco on July 19, 1949. His hometown is Daly City. His grandfather worked in San Francisco as a U.S. Coast Guard seaman. Torlakson’s father worked as a welder and joining built Liberty cargo ships for World War II. Torlakson’s mother worked as a school secretary and in the postal service.

Torlakson worked as a Merchant Marine during the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1970. He served in Guam, Vietnam, Thailand and later on Chevron oil tankers to Alaska. It was his first union job. In 1968, he earned the Merchant Marines Vietnam Service Medal.

Torlakson attended the University of California, Berkeley. He earned a B.A. in History in 1971, a Life Secondary Teaching Credential, and an M.A. in Education in 1977.

Commitment to Fitness

Torlakson has shown a strong commitment to fitness throughout his life. He was a high school cross-country and fitness coach for 26 years. He is an avid runner and biker, he initiated "State Fitness Month" to promote physical fitness and healthier living. He enjoys competing in triathlons, including the "Escape from Alcatraz." He lobbied for healthier snacks in the Senate lounge vending machines. He is the chair and Founder of the California Task Force on Youth and Workplace Wellness, a group seeking to raise the profile of health and fitness in the public schools and in the workplace. Torlakson has a section titled “Tom’s fitness tips” on his Senate website [1].


Torlakson’s career in public service began as a science teacher in 1972. He worked as a teacher in bay area high schools and was an active member of the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association. He demonstrated with students to keep Pacifica High School open, and he walked a picket line for two weeks in 1977 at Mt. Diablo High School during a strike for a better contract.

Local Politics

Torlakson was elected to the Antioch City Council in 1978. Torlakson was selected as the Mayor Pro-Tem. He was involved in Antioch city politics from 1978 to 1981. He was chairman of the Delta Protection Commission. He was a member of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors District 5 for 16 years from 1981 to 1996.

First and Second Terms in the State Assembly

Torlakson successfully challenged George Miller IV, son of the popular congressman George Miller III, for a California Assembly seat. Torlakson was a tough campaigner with a biting slogan, "His own name, his own record." [2] Torlakson was elected to the California's 11th Assembly District in 1996 and 1998.

Torlakson authored legislation to provide $50 million to elementary and junior high schools statewide for after-school programs that eventually was increased to $550 million annually. He was a key architect of the plan for school facilities funding that became Proposition 1A. Californians approved with a 62% "yes" vote in November 1998, allowing $9.2 billion for new schools and for the modernization and rehabilitation of older schools. He also helped provide funding for numerous day care and Head Start centers.

Torlakson helped negotiation during the local labor disputes that included a Kaiser strike, a 22-month contract battle between SEIU Local 250 and Sutter Delta Delta Medical Center, and the BFI-Teamster garbage strike.

Torlakson helped implement the Transportation Congestion Relief Plan that allocated $5 billion, largely with sales tax on gasoline, for transportation improvements though the Legislature often uses this money to cover the state deficit.

Torlakson backed legislation that requires regular maintenance and mechanical inspections of all permanent amusement park rides. He sought the regulations after a fatal waterslide accident at Waterworld in Concord in 1997.

Race for the State Senate

Torlakson was elected to the California State Senate for District 7 in 2000. At the time, the race for the State Senate seat was the most expensive state legislative race in state history. Torlakson ran against incumbent Republican State Senator Richard Rainey. The candidates spent over $6 million. Torlakson outraised Rainey by more than $1 million. Torlakson took the race by more than ten percentage point. He was favored to win because of the district’s high democratic registration but Rainey’s position as an incumbent made the race competitive.

State Senate


First Term

During his first term in the State Senate, Torlakson supported legislation that merged the Association of Bay Area Governments and Metropolitan Transportation. Torlakson authored laws that extend to 10 years the time a person's DUI conviction remains on his or her record and other tightened restrictions.

Torlakson was Chairman of the Senate's Majority Caucus and the Chair of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee. He was also a member of the Senate Local Government Committee.

During is first term, he worked to reduce sprawl, push localities to build affordable housing, and to improve the health of Californians. Torlakson was strongly against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal of having the Bay Area pay the complete price of the Bay Bridge's new eastern span.

Leadership battle and Second Term

Torlakson supported Senator Martha Escutia of Whittier when Senate Pro Temp. John L. Burton was termed. Escutia and Torlakson had forged a strong relationship due in part to the salsa dancing lessons they took together. Escutia describes Torlakson as her "lifestyle coach[3]. Torlakson said at the time that his policy ideas worked best with Escutia instead of Don Perata of Oakland. Friends say privately that he told them it was time for a woman and a Latino to lead the Senate [4].

Many northern California legislatures were upset that Torlakson was supporting someone from Southern California. Throughout California history, there has been an intentional effort among the legislature that the Speaker and the Senate Pro Temp go one to southern California and the other to northern California. With the Speaker of the California Assembly being Fabian Nunez, the Senate Pro Temp position was expected to go to a northern Californian.

Critics said he chose Escutia because her term ended in 2006, which would have opened the Pro Tem in his last two years of office [5]. Perata and Torlakson seemed to reconcile their differences quickly especially since Perata appointed Torlakson to chair the important Senate Approrpriations Committee [6].

Torlakson is also a member of the Education Committee and the Transportation and Housing Committee. He is Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Schools and Community.

Of the 20 bills Torlakson sent to Governor Schwarzenegger in 2006, 18 were signed into law, including legislation to streamline and improve California's after school programs and provide $2.9 billion in additional funding to the state's lowest performing schools.

Because of term limits, Torlakson was termed out of his senate seat in 2008. After serving only one term in the Assembly, Mark DeSaulnier was elected to take the senate seat.

Third Term in the State Assembly

Torlakson was elected in 2008 to serve in the District 11 Assembly seat. Under current California term limit law, Torlakson can serve one more term in his old assembly seat; then, he will be termed out of the California Legislature.

Future plans

After and during his two years in the Assembly, Torlakson plans to run for California Superintendent of Public Instruction which is currently held by Jack O’Connell. O’Connell will be termed out in 2010.

Awards won (partial list)

  • League of California Cities Co-Legislator of the Year (September 7, 2006)
  • California State University Legislator of the Year (March 2006)
  • Alumni Associations of the University of California 2006 AAUC Advocate of the Year (March 7, 2006)
  • "Community Making a Difference" Award, Mothers Against Drunk Driving California State Organization, April 2005
  • "Elected Official of the Year," California Transportation Foundation, 2004
  • "Legislator of the Year," California Transit Association, 2003
  • Legislator of the Year by Californians Against Waste, 2001
  • "Outstanding Public Service Award - 2000" from the California Public Employees Association
  • California Redevelopment Association, Co-Legislator of the Year, 1999
  • Contra Costa Association of Homeless and Housing Service Providers, Outstanding Leadership Award, 1998
  • California Association of Local Agency Formation Commissions, Legislator of the Year, 1997



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