Like his politician father, Chris Holden serves his voters.
by Sarah Veissalov
photography by Christopher Mora
Chris Holden, all 6 foot 8 inches of him, is at the door, greeting people, shaking hands, learning names, warmly welcoming folks to his event. He seems to have an unusual patience for a politician. He holds the focus found with radio talk show commentators—the good ones; Those who let everyone talk and feel respect for their views. You would think he is running for office. Instead, this is a first 100 days town hall event hosted by Christopher Holden, 41st State Assembly member. He has sent out postcards to his constituents, inviting them to hear his report about himself, to witness what he has done so far for his district and to hear their voices. That is who Holden is: a Democratic leader who is responsive to his constituents, who wants to truly serve the people he represents in a sweep of territory that stretches from Pasadena to La Verne and beyond. And while some people might like to think that La Verne is a suburb of Pasadena, the needs across the district are very different. Yet, they share some similarities that include transportation, job building and air quality. It is Holden’s job to knit that together and also to hear their individual needs. And it is his mandate to put citizen interests first. That makes for a hectic daily schedule with only 15 minutes to eat lunch.
Juggling and multitasking comes easily to him. During high school and college, he was a starting center/forward on the basketball team. At Pasadena High School, he was senior class president. From San Diego State University, he graduated with a degree in business administration and marketing. He holds a real estate license and owns CHMB Consulting. The real estate practice is on pause, for the real family business is politics. Holden grew up holding the hand of his famous father Nate Holden, a high-profiled Los Angeles politician for 30 years. Nate, now retired, was a state senator in 1974 and moved on to serve in the Los Angeles City Council in 1987.
Having a busy career has not stopped Holden from building in family time. He is married to Melanie, with a blended family of five children, now all young adults and in college at the same time. Although he followed his father’s footsteps in politics, his children have yet to decide whether they have the same passion. “It’s too soon to tell,” he says. “They do volunteer, and I do drag them to events just like I was dragged.” Jean Burch, the family’s long-time pastor from the Community Bible Church, says Melanie and Chris are the directors of the married couple ministry and serve as church elders. They are known, too, for their 15 years of hosting an annual summer block party. In the picnic setting, adults and children gather to eat, listen to live music and get acquainted with friends. It is an open event where many join in.
It was a long road for Holden to become an assemblyman. Fresh from college, he began making community connections and took on challenges. He wanted to make a difference by creating job and education opportunities, and by bringing services into his neighborhood that included supermarkets and other facilities. These goals led him to run for the Pasadena City Council at age 23. He lost. “The incumbent Loretta Glickman decided to run after saying that she would not, but it was a great opportunity to discuss issues, to be more involved on a civic level and really just to gain a greater understanding how a city government works and how it can be used to benefit the needs of the people more effectively. And so even though I did not win that first time, I stayed involved.” He recalls what he calls “a great piece of advice” from former Los Angeles supervisor Kenny Hahn, “It’s not where you serve; it’s how you serve.” “So the bottom line to that is if you have a commitment to public service, it doesn’t matter if you’re elected or not elected; there’s an important role that we can all play,” Holden says. He redoubled his service effort and gained appointment in 1985 to the Human Relations Commission and to the First Redevelopment Project Area Committee in Pasadena. Later, he joined the Light Rail Alignment Task Force, the first group to lay out a plan for light rail. This group selected the light rail route through Pasadena and its connections into Monrovia and beyond. “The light rail is making its way through Pasadena currently, but we are now seeing the phase that will be completed by 2015 that will extend from East Pasadena to Azusa.” In his new leadership role, he recently held a meeting for Gold Line expansion that explores ways to fund the second phase through Azusa to San Dimas, La Verne, Pomona and ending in Montclair. His ultimate goal is for the Gold Line to expand to the Ontario Airport. He believes the Metro Gold Line is a project that defines communities.
He also served for 20 years as a commissioner at the Burbank/ Glendale/Pasadena Airport Authority, where he was president for eight years. After leading on the Pasadena City Council for 24 years, he was elected to the State Assembly November 2012. “It’s really important to develop relationships,” he says. “[It is important] to meet with people in the district, and it’s a partisan process so you’re initially making relationships with people within your party so that ultimately you can get your party’s nomination for the position. Following, have a platform of ideas and things that you feel voters will connect to in order to make a difference in the community; then you have to put yourself out there.”
Political prominence as Assembly leader
Holden says he felt excitement and jubilation when he won the assembly member position. Phil Hawkey, ULV executive vice president and long time friend, says although Holden is a newly elected member, he is considered the “majority whip,” meaning he is the top Assembly leader. On the Assembly, Holden represents the cities of South Pasadena, Pasadena, Altadena, Sierra Madre, Monrovia, San Dimas, La Verne, Claremont, Upland, Alta Loma and other incorporated areas of East Pasadena. He is tasked with several committees, including the Appropriations Committee, responsible for reviewing the fiscal impacts of bills; the Transportation Committee, important to him given Gold Line development; and the Labor and Employment Committee. “I’m excited about how I can advocate for our community. We address bills that make life better for many people in our state.”
“Chris has consistently been a leader and advocate in local government and economic development. [He is known for championing] health, financial fiscal responsibility and the future birth of cities,” Hawkey says.
Presently, Holden is promoting a human trafficking bill that allows a judge to issue a warrant for wire tapping while investigating a sex trafficking case involving minors. He also is promoting a bill to keep psychologically unbalanced individuals away from the streets. This bill transfers such offenders to state facilities so that they can receive better mental care services. He supports an enterprise bill, which makes changes to the tax provisions to better the economy. He notes that Governor Jerry Brown disagrees with the changes in this bill, but that does not stop Holden from pushing forward with it. “We initiated them, and now they are going through the process.” He is also pushing for healthy communities and the creation of new clean energy jobs. “I support the reduction of pollution and moving our state toward independence from foreign oil and the creation of more green jobs.”
Bill Bogaard, current Pasadena mayor, has known Holden for more than 30 years. Bogaard, a Democrat, is favorably impressed with Holden’s diligent effort toward introducing these bills important for the district. “He is responsive to the needs he knows about,” Bogaard says.
Hawkey has known Holden since 1990, when he was city manager for Pasadena, and Holden was a city council member. As Hawkey moved on to the University of La Verne, he and Holden kept their friendship fresh as they dealt with local government issues. Hawkey also took part in helping his friend during his assembly campaign. “Chris was a big candidate. I was pleased to work with a public servant,” Hawkey says, adding, “all the time working with him, he does his homework, strives to find consensus and cares about the public good.” Hawkey believes Holden stood out from the other candidates because of his experience, understanding of government and his instinct toward politics.
Chris Holden has accomplished much during his political years. He strives to be an excellent leader and to keep his election promises. His goals this year are to create good paying jobs, bring in safety to the communities and to improve schools. These are lofty goals that both he and his constituents believe can happen by working together. No matter what, the majority of his constituents, who swept him into office, feel he will do whatever he can to uphold his promises, to evenly represent them and to listen to their views as together they strive to make this region a better place to live.