- Chairman of the California Democratic Party
- Former California Senator
- Advocate of racial preferences
- Advocate of expanded rights for illegal immigrants
Born in 1946, Arthur Torres holds a B.A. degree from UC Santa Cruz’s Stevenson College and a J.D. from the UC Davis School of Law. He also served as a teaching fellow at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
In 1972, Torres narrowly lost his first political race for a seat in the California State Assembly. Soon after that election, he became the national legislative director for the United Farm Workers, where he worked closely with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta and helped write the union’s first constitution.
When Torres again ran for the California State Assembly in 1974, he emerged victorious and went on to serve there for the next eight years. Then, from 1982-94, he held a seat in the California State Senate where he served variously on the Insurance Committee, Assembly Health Committee, Joint Committee on Science and Technology, Joint Committee on Refugees, and Committee on the Entertainment Industry. And as the founding chairman of the Senate Toxics Committee, Torres co-authored the California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, known as Proposition 65.
In 1989 Torres assisted in drafting Pope John Paul II’s environmental message, which the pontiff delivered in St. Peter’s Square on New Year’s Day, 1990.
Torres also served as a German Marshall Fund Fellow. In that role, he delivered a paper on Western European immigration issues. The late U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy appointed Torres to the Commission on International Migration and Cooperative Economic Development, which in 1990 presented its recommendations on immigration reform to then-President George H.W. Bush.
Speaking to an audience of some 400 Latinos at UC Riverside on January 14, 1995, Torres characterized California’s recent passage of Proposition 187 — a referendum whose purpose was to deny public welfare to illegal aliens in that state — as a Nazi-like campaign designed to exterminate Hispanics. Said Torres: “[W]ith [Proposition] 187 on the ballot, what is it going to take for our people to vote? To see us walking into the gas ovens? It is electoral power that’s going to make the determination of where we go as a community. And power is not given to you – you have to take it. Remember: 187 is the last gasp of white America in California. Understand that. And people say to me on the Senate floor when I was in the Senate, ‘Why [do] you fight so hard for affirmative action programs?’ And I tell my white colleagues, ‘because you’re going to need them.’”
From 1996-2009, Senator Torres served as chairman of the California Democratic Party.
From 2000-03, Torres was president of the Kaitz Foundation, dedicated to creating racial and ethnic diversity in management within the cable television industry.
In March 2009, Torres was unanimously elected statutory vice chair of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, the governing board of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).
In 2009 as well, Torres came out publicly as a gay man during a farewell speech to the California Democratic Party.
On November 18, 2010, Torres commenced a four-year term on San Francisco’s Public Utilities Commission, where he served two years as vice president and two years as president.
On July 8, 2015, the State of California’s Senate Rules Committee appointed Torres to the Covered California Board of Directors.
In 2017, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee appointed Torres to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors.
Further Reading: “Art Torres” (CoveredCA.com, UCSC.edu); “Kaitz Chief [Torres] Accepts Challenge” (Multichannel News, 3-29-2018); “Former State Senator Art Torres Joins the SFMTA Board” (SFMTA.com, 5-16-2017).