Jay Jefferson II ’12 (economics) is legislative director for California State Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Carson). In this role, Jefferson leads the representative’s staff on legislative and budgetary priorities for the 64th Assembly District, which encompasses much of the Los Angeles South Bay area. He discusses the path he took to his current position and how students interested in public sector careers can get started.
What was your path to securing your current legislative director position?
I initially came to Sacramento as a result of the Jesse M. Unruh Assembly Fellowship, which is similar to an internship program and gives 18 fellows an opportunity to serve as direct staff in a legislative office or committee. I was placed in the office of Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, who is now a state senator.
This role gave me a unique opportunity, in which I staffed one of the toughest committees in the California Assembly, the Assembly Health Committee, and staffed four substantive pieces of legislation, in addition to a resolution, while in my first year. This foundation was a launching pad when I started looking for other opportunities once the fellowship was over.
In November 2014, Gipson was elected to represent California’s 64th Assembly District, which encompasses the cities of Carson and Compton and includes portions of other cities within the Long Beach and Los Angeles areas. I joined Assemblyman Gipson’s office in January 2015 as a legislative assistant and was promoted to legislative director the following year.
For the 2015-2016 legislative session, Gipson authored 19 bills that passed through the legislature, 13 of which were signed into law, with a direct budget impact of more than $10 million. Now in the first year of his second term, Gipson serves as the chair of the Assembly Democratic Caucus. With the cycle of this legislative year coming to a close, Gipson is moving an aggressive legislative agenda that spans health, transportation, public safety and education policy, with district victories that include securing $11.3 million to restore Compton Community College as an independently accredited college.
Under the direction of Gipson and our chief of staff, I work to maximize the cohesion and impact of our capitol team to ensure these and other projects are executed effectively.
You are also chief financial officer for Sacramento-based Improve Your Tomorrow Inc. (IYT), a nonprofit college preparatory program. What is the mission of this organization and how is it related to your work at the California State Assembly?
IYT is a college prep program for boys and young men of color across Sacramento County. Serving five high schools and two middle schools, the goal of IYT is to establish a pipeline to college that further leads to increased retention and college graduation of young men of color. IYT operates on a site-based model with individualized programing at each site, while maintaining core organizational themes. Since its founding in 2013, the program has cultivated a new generation of leaders by giving staff opportunities to some of the young men who have moved through the program and want to continue to give back to the next cohort.
IYT not only provides on-site tutoring and classroom support, but also focuses on regular exposure to off-site career experiences and university tours. An example of this is the IYT Capital Internship Program, which provides internship opportunities for high school juniors and seniors at the California Legislature, along with an accompanied eight-week educational component.
How did your experience and involvement at Cal State Fullerton assist your career?
My time at Mihaylo College helped my career by giving me both a politically and intellectually strong foundation as a student on campus.
My concentration in economics helped me develop a trained focus for analyzing pros and cons and the economic relationships between key factors in society. This, coupled with a few philosophy classes that challenged my thinking, assists me in doing my job in the California Legislature. Politics is primarily about the allocation of resources. Most policy issues involve some economic or financial relationship, whether it is a local government complying with new emission reduction requirements, or an entrepreneur paying a fee for a business license. Studying economics gave me the tools to frame the financial intersections of these issues and philosophy helped me understand how to raise critical questions.
I also had invaluable leadership experience during my term as ASI Executive Vice President in 2011-2012. As the largest college on campus, the students of Mihaylo provided a strong turnout in my favor, allowing me to take on a student leadership position that opened a number of doors as it relates to future opportunities and personal development.
What advice would you give to students or alumni considering careers in the public sector?
If you are just now thinking of working in government, I would recommend considering how you want to make an impact and what sector of government you want to gain exposure to. There are a few considerations that come to mind. Are you interested in the local, state or federal levels? Do you desire to work for the legislative, executive or judicial branches?
One of the most important factors in my personal development was my ability to gain exposure to early leadership opportunities. These allowed me to improve my résumé and be an impressive candidate when reviewing work experience for the next opportunity.
There are many options, there is no one right path, but being in student leadership positions usually also prepares you to think organizationally in ways that you would not have to as a cashier in a restaurant. This is not to say you cannot do both. While at Mihaylo, I did both, working at UPS as a package handler while serving as the ASI elections commissioner.
Even if you don’t have a leadership role, student involvement allows you to gain strong organizational experience, work better in teams and learn about yourself.
For me, the Assembly Fellowship Program was my doorway into the public sector. This fellowship is part of a larger umbrella program, the Capital Fellows Program, which is sponsored by CSU Sacramento but open to graduates of all universities. It has four programs:
- Jesse M. Unruh Assembly Fellowship Program
- California Senate Fellows Program
- Executive Fellowship Program
- Judicial Fellowship Program
These programs are a great option for professionals of all ages looking to transition into government. The legislature contains a range of opportunities and age ranges. Additionally, the California executive branch is broad-reaching in scope of authority and range of professions. You could be anything from an economist, a policy analyst or a scientist and still work for the state government.
Joining campaigns is also a good way to gain access to the political world and meet someone or make a connection that allows you to land an opportunity. As in most professions, relationships matter. Another option is to look at the career page of the website of a government department or agency of interest to see if there are any vacancies available.