Anthony Cannella remembers falling into a slump in his studies and snapping out of it thanks to then Ceres High School teacher Mary Medeiros. Had he not, Cannella admits that he would not have earned his degree in civil engineering and today would not be in the California State Senate.
"What you do right now matters," Cannella told two gatherings of Social Studies students during a visit to Blaker Kinser Junior High School on Wednesday morning, Dec. 3. "It may not seem like it but it matters. You have an opportunity to go further than you could ever imagine by getting an education."
The Republican and lifelong Ceres resident visited the school at the invitation of Assistant Principal Anthony Little. The visit came just two days after being sworn into office for a second - and final - term in the state Senate.
"I hope you take your education very seriously," advised Cannella. "Education is really the best way to go beyond your current means. It opens up great opportunities."
The only civil engineer in the California Legislature, Cannella noted that the Senate and Assembly have "lot and lots and lots and lots and lots of lots and lots of lawyers. We have a few medical doctors."
Cannella explained how he came up through Ceres schools but at first fell short academically to be able to accept an offer to study at U.C. Davis. Instead, he turned to Modesto Junior College, bearing down on math and science to help him earn his degree.
"My grades weren't all that terrific in high school," said Cannella. "I didn't try."
After being tutored by Mrs. Medeiros, he turned his studying habits around and went to Davis. An injury shortened his college football play, which allowed him to spend five hours a day in the library."
Cannella didn't think he'd ever enter the "pretty nasty" world of politics after watching his father, former state Assemblyman Sal Cannella get slammed. He said he learned that lots of "made up stuff" is slung around at campaign time.
"As a kid I got to see my Dad ‘beat up' and I just didn't really enjoy politics. It wasn't something I was interested in. I went to school to become a civil engineer."
Becoming a successful businessman allowed him to slowly creep into the field for which he had fears.
After starting his own business in 1997, Cannella decided to join the Ceres Planning Commission to benefit the city. After four years he decided to run for Ceres City Council, elected in 2003. He said the tragic shooting death of Ceres Police Sgt. Howard Stevenson in 2005 "really made me interested in government." Out of the horrible experience he switched his focus from community development to beefing up public safety.
"I realized that we can have the best parks anywhere in the state, we can have great shopping centers but if people didn't feel safe going to them, then they were of no good. So I really changed my focus at that time to focus more on the public safety aspect."
Cannella was twice elected mayor unopposed, in 2005 and 2007, and worked for the passage of Measure H, the half-cent sales tax measure, in 2007.
He served five years as mayor and as then state Senator Jeff Denham was being termed out, was asked to consider running. Cannella said it was a hard decision to make since it would require lots of money, time away from family and getting to know a district far beyond Ceres. Cannella broke the normal path by bypassing the state Assembly. The 2010 race against Anna Caballero saw the spending of $5 million on each side.
Cannella's civic lesson touched on how state laws are made and how each senator represents approximately 931,000 Californians. His district covers Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, San Benito and Monterey counties. His pay is about $96,000 per year with a $160 per diem living expenses for every day the Legislature is in session.
He said many people are under the false notion that government doesn't affect them so why get involved.
"That's not true. We're wrestling with a lot issues that very much affect all of you."
He explained how he increased funding for schools in his district by passing the Local Control Funding Formula that considers English learners, higher percentage of impoverished and in the foster system. The result is that school districts will receive $2,700 more per student to hire more teachers and offer more electives.
Cannella told the students that he is "pretty moderate guy" in Sacramento who has got things accomplished by working with others in both parties.
"I'm in the business, as an elected official, of persuasion. I want to persuade somebody to see things the way that I do. I'm a grown man. I'm not going to have another person in the Legislature come to me and try and intimidate me. They're not going to bully me into voting their way. We're going to talk and they're going to try to convince me to look at arguments. The parties, it seems like have got into more of a bullying situation where it's just yelling at each other and who can yell the loudest and it just doesn't work, it's not effective."
The Ceres Republican had nice things to say about California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, despite disagreeing on some issues.
"I think he does a pretty good job. He's got a very difficult job. He's a Democrat in a very Democratic state and a large majority of Democrats in the Legislature and he says no to them a lot. He's tried very hard to navigate the middle because I really think that most people in California are in the middle, honestly."
Cannella and Brown have a "great relationship," he told the students. When he worked on the Local Control funding bill he and Brown spoke about the bill as the governor shaved in the lower parking garage. "He's very collaborative ... he's a very hands-on personable governor."
On a personal note, he told about the time he spotted Gov. Brown eating a burrito by himself in the San Diego airport while waiting to board a Southwest flight. No one near Brown knew he was the governor until Cannella came up and greeted him as the governor. Brown seemed to enjoy interacting with the people who discovered the governor of the biggest state in their midst.
He did, however, condemn Brown's dismantling of redevelopment agencies in California as "a horrible thing."
Few students in the class said they've seen the governor's picture.
Cannella suggested the students visit Sacramento and consider a career in politics. He joked that qualifications to be a state senator are "pretty high - you have to be 18 and a voter."
He suggested young people volunteering to get involved in government. He also invited them to participate in his "There Ought to Be a Law" contest if they had good ideas.
Cannella said he has kept his engineering firm going because he will be termed out in four years "and I still have four kids to put in college."