Tom Torlakson

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Tom Torlakson
California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.jpg
27th State Superintendent of Public Instruction of California
Assumed office
January 3, 2011
Governor Jerry Brown
Preceded by Jack O'Connell
Member of the California State Assembly
from the 11th district
In office
December 1, 2008 – November 30, 2010
Preceded by Mark DeSaulnier
Succeeded by Susan Bonilla
In office
December 2, 1996 – November 30, 2000
Preceded by Bob Campbell
Succeeded by Joe Canciamilla
Member of the California State Senate
from the 7th district
In office
December 4, 2000 – November 30, 2008
Preceded by Richard Rainey
Succeeded by Mark DeSaulnier
Personal details
Born (1949-07-19) July 19, 1949 (age 66)
San Francisco, California
Political party Democratic
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley
Profession Politician

Thomas A. "Tom" Torlakson (born July 19, 1949) is an American politician from California. In 2010, he was elected to the position of California State Superintendent of Public Instruction. He is a member of the Democratic Party.

He previously served his three terms in the California State Assembly, representing the 11th district, which consists of northern portions of Contra Costa County. He also served two terms in the California State Senate, representing the 7th district, which consists of most of Contra Costa County.


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, building Liberty cargo ships for World War II. Torlakson's mother worked as a school secretary and in the postal service. He is of Icelandic heritage.

Torlakson served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1970. His assignments included Guam, Vietnam, Thailand and later on Chevron oil tankers to Alaska which was his first job where he was a union member. In 1968, he received the Merchant Marines Vietnam Service Medal.

After his maritime service, Torlakson attended the University of California, Berkeley. He earned a B.A. in History in 1971, and an M.A. in Education in 1977.

Torlakson is married to Mae Cendana, a member of the Ambrose Recreation and Park District board of directors.[1] He has two daughters, Tiffany and Tamara.[2]


Torlakson became science teacher in 1972. He worked as a teacher in Bay Area high schools for six years and was an 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[edit]

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 when he was chairman of the Delta Protection Commission. Subsequently, he was elected to become a member of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors from District 5 (then East Contra Costa County) for 16 years from 1981 to 1996 when he choose to be a candidate for the California Assembly.

Either the part about Antioch is in ERROR or the fact that he taught Science for the the Walnut Creek School District in the 1980's and did some coaching was after an left out here, he was elected to Walnut Creek's City Council, where he proposed that the city build gymnasiums at the district's Middle Schools for the school's Physical Education classes and sports programs, with the 'gyms' being available to the community's use when not needed by the schools. That was/is avery successful collaboration between city & district, in fact San Ramon initiated similar set up years later!

First two State Assembly terms[edit]

Torlakson challenged George Miller IV, son of the congressman George Miller III, for a California State Assembly seat. Torlakson was a campaigner with the slogan, "His own name, his own record."[3] Torlakson was elected to the California's 11th State 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 an 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 assisted in labor negotiations during local labor disputes including 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 using sales taxes on gasoline, for transportation improvements though the Legislature often diverts this money to cover the state budget 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.

State Senate[edit]

First campaign[edit]

Torlakson was elected to the California State Senate for the 7th Senate District in 2000. Torlakson ran against incumbent Republican State Senator Richard Rainey.

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 his first term, he worked to reduce suburban sprawl, push localities to build affordable housing, and to improve the health of Californians. Torlakson was against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal of having the Bay Area pay the complete cost of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge's new eastern span to replace the span damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Leadership battle[edit]

Torlakson supported Senator Martha Escutia of Whittier when Senate President Pro Tem John L. Burton was prohibited from having another Senate term by the two-term limit established by citizen initiative in 1990. Escutia and Torlakson had forged a strong relationship due in part to the salsa dancing lessons they took together. Torlakson said at the time that his policy ideas worked best with Senator Escutia instead of Senator Don Perata of Oakland.

Many Northern Californian legislators were upset that Torlakson was supporting someone from Southern California. Throughout California history, there has been a consistent effort among the Legislature to divide the Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate President Pro Tempore between Southern California and Northern California. With the Speaker being Fabian Nunez of Los Angeles, the Senate President Pro Tem position was expected to go to a Northern Californian.

Critics say he chose Senator Escutia because the two-term limit would end her Senate career in 2006, which would have opened the Pro Tem position during Torlakson's last two years in office.[3] However, Don Perata of Oakland defeated Escutia allowing Perata to continue in subsequent Senate sessions.

Second term[edit]

Perata appointed Torlakson to chair the important Senate Appropriations Committee.[3]

Torlakson was also a member of the Education Committee and the Transportation and Housing Committee, and he was Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Schools and Community.

Of the 20 bills Torlakson sent to Governor Arnold 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.

Third State Assembly term[edit]

Because of the two-term limit set by voters, Torlakson was prevented from seeking a third Senate term in 2008. Torlakson and Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier switched offices. After serving only one term in the Assembly, DeSaulnier was elected to replace Torlakson in the Senate while Torlakson was elected to replace DeSaulnier in the Assembly to finish the final of the three Assembly terms allowed.

State Superintendent[edit]

Torlakson ran for California State Superintendent of Public Instruction in the 2010 elections, defeating Larry Aceves in the general election held on November 2, 2010. Torlakson replaced Jack O'Connell, who was termed out of office. He was re-elected in 2014 against Marshall Tuck.


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