Meet Christopher Cabaldon
Democrat for State Senate
Answering the Call
Right after the 2016 election, President Barack Obama summoned a dozen mayors—including Christopher Cabaldon—to the White House for a clarion call: with the incoming federal government poised to be the largest threat to civil and human rights, democracy and elections, the safety net, and America’s role in the world, mayors must step up to protect the nation and its people.
Christopher answered the call, rushing to the Texas border with a bipartisan delegation of mayors to shine a national spotlight on the incarceration of immigrant children stolen from their families. He helped mayors in suburban and rural America deliver messages about the impact of the Muslim travel ban and other racist attacks in a way that strengthened the nation’s resolve even in red states.
As the education leader for America’s mayors, he brought a bipartisan coalition to the fight against Betsy DeVos’ anti-public school and anti-trans initiatives. When Trump abandoned Puerto Rico in the midst of a devasting hurricane, Christopher went to help mayors rebuild critical infrastructure.
He pushed for rapid adoption in his city of community-based alternatives to policing for mental health-related and neighborhood disturbance calls. Along with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, he led the national mayors’ task force to disrupt systemic racism.
Christopher took on a new assignment as U.S. delegate to the Global Parliament of Mayors, buttressing America’s diplomatic relationships as Trump assaulted our allies and abandoned our climate and refugee policies. And, as the Vice President of the nation’s Democratic Mayors, he fought battle after battle over four years to elect Democrats to city, state, and federal offices to rescue the country.
Democratic Values with Meaningful Results
Christopher is a nationally recognized thought leader on issues ranging from education, sustainable growth, and equitable economic development. President Barack Obama appointed Christopher to the national board at the launch of College Promise, a campaign to incubate free community college programs in communities and states in the face of intransigent Republican opposition in Congress.
Alongside Dr. Jill Biden, the board chair, and national education, business, labor, civil rights, and student leaders, Christopher helped shape College Promise into a startling success, seeding promise programs in more than 400 places all across the country, including California and many of its cities.
One of those first college promise programs was in West Sacramento. Christopher’s signature initiative—the West Sacramento Home Run—guarantees graduating local high school seniors a tuition-free college education. This program is among the nation’s most awarded municipal education initiatives, because the Home Run also connects every child to high-quality preschool, opens a college savings account with a public starter investment for every kindergartener, guarantees a paid internship in college and career pathways for local high school students, and awards college scholarships to local students who engage in community services.
Governor Gray Davis appointed Christopher as Vice Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, the nation’s largest system of higher education. There, Christopher secured the largest budget increase for student success in the colleges’ history. As national president for Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education, Christopher exposed racist admissions practices and tests, winning major policy victories at universities and in state legislatures.
Governor Davis also asked him to serve on the state’s water quality control board for the region, to assure drinkable water for counties like Solano, Napa, Yolo, Contra Costa, and Sacramento, and ensure rivers and streams were safe for fishing and swimming.
Governor Jerry Brown appointed Christopher as California’s interstate higher education commissioner. Governor Gavin Newsom reappointed him to a fourth term, and Christopher also joined his 30×30 statewide committee to preserve millions of acres of land and coastal waters over the next seven years in the face of climate change. Christopher has served in the administrations of every Democratic governor of the past 24 years.
A Democrat’s Democrat
Like so many Democrats eager to make a difference, Christopher first joined his local Democratic club to get engaged. Changing the world starts with building basic grassroots infrastructure, so he signed on as club treasurer. Christopher was elected to the Yolo County Democratic Central Committee the next year and was later appointed by the Chair of the California Democratic Party (CDP) as lead Co-Chair of the CDP’s Legislative Committee and was elected to the state central committee as an Assembly District delegate. He pitched in as a member of the state party’s AAPI, Filipino, and LGBTQ caucuses. Even after his election to the city council and then mayor, he kept up what he saw as the party’s most important work, working as a county and state central committee member on grassroots campaigns for more than a decade.
As a student activist at UC Berkeley, Christopher protested the university’s investments in South Africa’s apartheid regime, and as student body vice president led the statewide student lobbying campaign to pass divestment legislation by then-Assemblymember Maxine Waters. He helped enact an ethnic studies curriculum, root out anti-Asian policies and practices in admissions procedures, end the “zero club” of academic departments with no women or faculty of color, and created the state’s first Tagalog language course at a public university. Christopher led the first statewide organizing campaign for UC student employees participating in the United Farm Workers’ grape boycott.
Crafting Policy and Driving Real Change
When anti-war and civil rights activist Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), was named Chair of the California Assembly Higher Education Committee, he hired Christopher as Chief Consultant. There, Christopher and Assemblymember Hayden fought tuition hikes, crafted new college affordability programs, wrote some of the earliest HIV/AIDS laws, investigated reproductive rights abuses and privacy violations at university clinics, reversed laws banning student employee unionization, and pressured public colleges and universities to accelerate progress toward greater diversity and inclusion. Christopher helped pass the first legislation by Assemblymember Richard Polanco to open public colleges and universities to DREAMers, laying the groundwork for the enactment for the landmark law allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges. When Hayden was named Special Advisor on Global Warming by the UN Secretary-General, Christopher helped craft the very first California legislation to identify and tackle climate change.
Uplifting People and Improving Community
Christopher knew from his grassroots experience: Democracy is local. He chaired the Yolo County health commission, supporting a transition to significantly improve care for low-income residents and immigrants. Then he ran for the City Council in the place where he’d made his home, and where he’d started out as a Democratic club leader. He won and would go on to win a citywide majority in 10 subsequent elections.
In 1998, Christopher was sworn in as mayor of West Sacramento, a diverse, struggling, forgotten old-industrial town with big dreams but a legacy of disappointment and disinvestment. Over two decades as mayor, Christopher led one of the most remarkable transformations—without displacement—of any American city.
Cited as “America’s most interesting small city”, “America’s most livable small city”, and one of the world’s “21 Smart Cities to Watch”, West Sacramento under Christopher’s leadership deployed entrepreneurial strategies to tackle social challenges Christopher was the first directly elected mayor in the city’s history. As Mayor, he spearheaded groundbreaking initiatives including:
- Establishing urban farms
- Guaranteeing universal access to preschool
- Enhancing flood protection and floodplain management
- Creating college and career pathway internships
- Instituting free college for local students
- Promoting sustainable land use
- Championing next-gen transit and personal mobility
- Converting hotels into housing for people experiencing homelessness
- Becoming one of California’s first seven Pro-Housing Communities, building market and affordable housing at one of the fastest rates in California—while shrinking its footprint and protecting even more habitat and agricultural land.
These accomplishments launched West Sacramento to the national and international stage and cemented its status as a model for sustainable and equitable growth.
As chair of the Sacramento region’s metropolitan planning organization and its transportation committee, Christopher has won numerous awards for his pioneering work on integrating transportation, land use, environmental justice, housing, air quality, and climate change. At the Yolo-Solano Air Quality District, he helped launch an agricultural engine replacement program that cut pollution across the region. He chaired the Yolobus board, modernizing and extending transit service to rural and urban communities that had been left behind. He also worked on the original Capitol Corridor board of directors to dramatically expand rail transit service in the North Bay and Sacramento, becoming the third busiest rail corridor in the nation and taking 100 passenger miles off the highways.
Promoting a Democratic Agenda Across America
At the US Conference of Mayors, Christopher chaired the Jobs, Education & the Workforce Committee, leading the work of the nation’s mayors on youth employment, college and career pathways, early learning, digital badging, and rebooting workforce development to meet the disruptive impact of trade and technology. He was inaugural chair of the national LGBTQ Mayors Alliance, and former chair of both the Asian/Pacific and LGBT caucuses of the League of California Cities. His journey out of the closet was the subject of an episode of the Logo network’s internationally-syndicated Coming Out Stories series. A column on gay marriage he wrote for USA Today with Julian Castro and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was cited as evidence of changing social norms in cases cementing marriage equality in US jurisprudence.
Christopher delivered an address, carried live by CSPAN, at the 50th Anniversary of the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and the debt which the LGBTQ+ and every other community owes to those who risked everything. The White House invited him to moderate the session on education at the President’s celebration of Filipino American History Month.
At home, Christopher kept fighting for the environment while building inclusive economic prosperity. He worked with the Obama Administration on sustainable communities policies and funding incentives. As a member of the state’s Delta Protection Commission, he made sure that sprawling development and the massive tunnels project were stopped in their tracks in the heart of California riparian ecosystem, and that Delta communities got the support they needed to thrive.
As a co-chair of Filipinos for Hilary and a member of her National AAPI Leadership Council, Christopher crisscrossed the country, walking precincts in battleground states to turn out AAPI voters for the Democratic ticket.
As a tenured professor at Sacramento State University, Christopher has taught California government, design thinking for public policy, state and local budgeting, urban economics, and the political environment of policymaking. He was especially proud when two of his students ran for elected office in 2022, one successfully defeating a far-right school board candidate who outrageously equated gender-neutral bathrooms with rape.
After years of service in the party at the club, county, state, and national level, Christopher was elected to the Democratic National Committee in 2020.
Christopher then joined the Institute for the Future as its Mayor-in-Residence. He was recently confirmed by the State Senate to a fourth term as California’s interstate higher education commissioner. He serves on the boards of EdSource, Project Attain, California Competes, All4Ed.