Engaging Technology: Sen. Richard G. Polanco

Engaging Technology: Sen. Richard G. Polanco

by , / May 31, 1998
Q: Senator Polanco, SB 2038, on technological infrastructure, attributes much of California's economic recovery to activity related to advanced technology. How did you come to that conclusion?

A: There are several reports. One is a 1995 report from the Governor's Council on Information Technology, Getting Results. There's ample evidence that, if you're going to be competitive, you're going to have to engage heavily ... in the area of telecommunications. Others are [from] the California Research Bureau -- New Challenges to California State Government's Economic Development Engine and two or three others.

Q: Your bill talks about "smart communities" using technology to transform a region with cooperation among government, industry, educators and citizens. How do community leaders begin building such a smart community? Are there good models of successful smart communities?

A: There is a report, Toward a Smart California, [issued] in December 1997 by the International Center for Communications at San Diego State University.

There are several innovative models that have demonstrated successful "smart communities." In my town, there is the Blue Line Televillage Demonstration Project. The Southern California Association of Governments is doing an program aimed at top executives to encourage use of telecommuting. The Net at 2 Rivers in Sacramento addresses literacy and community issues through the Internet. And the Davis Community Network -- supported by the California Department of Transportation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the University of California at Davis, the city of Davis, the county of Yolo, the Davis Joint Unified School District, Sun Microsystems, Qualcomm and others -- is designed to support telework, telelearning, teleshopping, telemedicine, telebanking and electronic democracy.

Q: Your bill would establish an "Interagency Commission on Technological Infrastructure for the 21st Century," an "Office of Regional Telecommunications and Information Policy" and a "21st Century Smart Communities Fund." What functions would those bodies serve?

A: I would like to see them taking the lead in developing smart communities. I think that we've got to ... give them the challenge to develop the strategies and give leadership to smart communities.

Technology and Elected Officials

Q:How well do you think elected officials -- both local and state -- really understand technology and its potential?

A: I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I think there's still a lot of ignorance, and it's still an abstract situation for many. Even for myself, everything's changing. If you're an infant learning how to walk and [things are] constantly changing, it is a real challenge. And with that comes a lot of fear of the unknown. People don't really get it yet, but once they catch it, boy, it lights a fire. It's very, very beneficial, very important.

Q: Just a few years ago, California's legislative data was not available on the Internet. Today, citizens can get on the Internet and pull up all the legislation that you or any other legislator has sponsored, and they can subscribe to be automatically notified of legislation updates via e-mail.

A: It's overnight. It's phenomenal -- all at the fingertips.

Q: What role do you think government should have when disadvantaged and underserved citizens are left out of this advanced technology?

A: I believe we have a responsibility to ensure that we don't create pockets that disengage. We have to make sure that every child has the opportunity to learn and master it. I view this as, really, an equivalent to a language that has to be mastered.

I authored legislation on universal service for telephone service. ... That notion and that concept ought to apply.

We're getting closer now. TVs now can be used [to access the Internet], if you buy the unit for 300-400 dollars. Everyone has a TV. As time goes on, that price is going to go down, and, eventually, it will be a very affordable instrument.

Distance Learning

Q: California recently opted out of the Western Governors' University. How will that affect distance learning in the state?

A: Let me bring [distance learning] to a reality that we face. We have a budget of four billion dollars for 155,000 inmates. That's a lot of money. Rates of recidivism are embarrassing; they just come back. Of those that are returning, 80 percent are parole violators for technical reasons. And when you begin to look at the profile? No education, no tools, can't read and write. All the basics are gone. How do we expect them to go out and compete and measure themselves in the manner that society has established its standards -- get educated, all of that? This is a classic opportunity for us to engage. Distance learning? Perfect opportunity for us to engage!

There are opportunities in populations -- in the Youth Authority, in our probation camps -- where it is very costly to society on an ongoing basis. Over a decade, we've lost 10,000 jobs in higher education. It runs us 250 million dollars to build one prison, 70 to 80 million in startup costs, and another 250 [million] to service the debt.

It's nuts. We ought to be doing it differently. We ought to cut the rates of recidivism, and we do that by distance learning opportunities. Unfortunately, the governor saw fit to disengage himself. It sends a mixed message to everyone but, more specifically, to his subordinates. I think we ought to look at partnerships.

Q: In many correctional facilities, inmates watch television.

A: Sure. You institute distance learning, and say: "If you don't have a job, if you're not doing a duty, you're going to be in school, and you're going to learn, and we're going to teach you."

Education for the Global Village

Q: As you know, Proposition 227 would abolish bilingual education, and now the State Board of Education has rescinded policies requiring school districts to offer bilingual education. Schools in El Paso, Texas, are using technology to provide bilingual education on the Internet. Do you see something like that happening in California if Prop. 227 passes?

A: Languages are critical as we deal in a world economy. For people to learn more than one language is important. Should this technology be used? Absolutely. Absolutely. I've got my CDs in Spanish for my kids, and that's just one language.

You have the approach of Unz [sponsor of Prop 227] that deals with the dismantling of the program. There are two sides to the bilingual debate: There are good programs, and there are programs that should be closed. However, I don't believe that the approach should be to disband them all and then make your appeal. We don't approach the business community in that fashion.

What we ought to be doing is ensuring that kids master the English language -- and that they do so in a timely manner -- and give parents the opportunity to say, "I want you in," or "I want you out," and that there be measurements of success. Those are the type of elements that are missing in the Unz initiative. Those are the types of elements I think that create effective educational enrichment for the kid. And, if they were in place, then we would not have to have the debate on what's good and what's bad, because now we've created some elements that have the checks and balances and the accountabilities.

Q: One Hispanic educator said he's afraid that, as the Spanish-speaking population grows, the same thing could happen in the United States with Spanish that has happened in Canada with French -- that the country could divide along the lines of language.

A: In the Latino community you have Salvadorians, Nicaraguans who come from countries that have been torn by war -- a totally different mental paradigm and experience. With Mexican-Americans, we fought for this country. We engaged heavily, and there's a real sense of patriotism to this country, and there's a sense of pride to the culture.

But there's no way, shape or form that there would ever be a movement from the majority of Mexican-Americans or a significant number for Mexican-American community to begin to disengage itself. No. There are too many war heroes, too much pride and commitment to this country.

People have the tendency to misread the sense of pride to the history, to the culture of Mexico. We are born Americans. We fight for the rights of people, we believe in them and our

dream is the American dream -- good-paying jobs, decent education, equal access to higher education, fairness. You look up and down the California Central Valley, and the political infrastructure is a reflection of the community. Ten years ago, that was different.

Kids ought to master [math and science], if at all possible, in two languages. It is certainly going to make that person more marketable. And that's what they're doing around the world.

Q: The Sacramento County Office of Education has an adult literacy program on the Web. It is getting responses from Chile, Japan, Sweden -- all around the world -- because its resources are available to anybody that wants to access them, especially English as a second language. There are some wonderful success stories. For example, a teacher in Chile who said that she uses that site to teach her students English because she has no books, no library and few resources.

A: Well, that's the future. That's what the world is. It is now global. It is no longer community or block radius or city boundary or state boundary. Now it's the world. There's a lot of good that can come from that.

Resources Mentioned
in this Interview

Blue Line Televillage
Demonstration Project

California Senate
Home Page

Davis Community Network

International Center
for Communications,
San Diego State University

ICC's Cities of the
Future Conference

Net at 2 Rivers

Sen. Polanco's
Home Page

Southern California
Association of Governments

Unz initiative
(Proposition 227)

June Table of Contents

Wayne Hanson

Wayne E. Hanson served as a writer and editor with e.Republic from 1989 to 2013, having worked for several business units including Government Technology magazine, the Center for Digital Government, Governing, and Digital Communities. Hanson was a juror from 1999 to 2004 with the Stockholm Challenge and Global Junior Challenge competitions in information technology and education.

Platforms & Programs