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Profile: Filipina American serves in Tom Torlakson staff


Every Californian who cares about education will want to take a close look at one of the statewide office elections on the November 2 general election ballot.

On that day, Californians will select a new State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Many believe this statewide office is the next most important one after Governor. Why? Because this non-partisan office is the top elected leader in education and head of the California Department of Education. The incumbent, Jack O’Connell, is termed out after eight years in office.

Assemblymember Tom Torlakson is running to succeed O’Connell as State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Torlakson’s journey has led him from the classrooms of Contra Costa County’s Mt. Diablo High School and Los Medanos Community College to the Antioch City Council, Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, and the California State Senate and State Assembly.

“I’m running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction because I want to fight each day for our kids,” said Torlakson. “I want to take what I’ve learned as a science teacher, high school coach, and elected official and put that experience to work to restore our schools to the top ranks in the nation.”

“I believe in this time of crisis for our educational system that our education leader must use the platform a statewide office provides to highlight the problems—and their potential solutions. That’s why I have brought together the largest and most diverse group of supporters of any statewide candidate this year,” added Torlakson. “I know from my personal experience and direct conversations how important our educational system is to members of the API community—and how concerned its members are about the dramatic impact of the recent large funding cuts to our schools.”

Throughout his career in public office, Torlakson has demonstrated his support and friendship for the Asian Pacific Islander community. It’s not just his policy positions. You can see it in the people he trusts around him the most.

In 1981, when Tom was first elected to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, he hired Gloria Ramil Omania as his chief of staff. Omania was the first Filipina (and first minority) to serve in such a capacity in Contra Costa, a county in the East Bay region about 40 minutes east of San Francisco.

Omania continued with Torlakson when he was elected to the State Assembly in 1996, becoming the first Filipina to serve as chief of staff for a California State Legislator. Gloria has been working with Torlakson for over 29 years and is currently Tom’s campaign manager.

“Gloria has been a true leader, an inspiration, and my chief partner in my public service career since the day she began working in my office 29 years ago. She is my top trusted advisor and has helped to shape major policy issues impacting our community and California,” said Torlakson. “Gloria has helped so many people resolve problems they have had in the communities I’ve served. She is a great manager—extremely organized, hardworking, dedicated, and loyal.”

Earlier this year, Torlakson named Omania his 11th Assembly District “Woman of the Year” in recognition of all she has done and achieved for the people in Contra Costa County.

“Gloria is a highly respected leader of the Filipino-American community in Contra Costa and the East Bay. She has dedicated her time and talent to mentoring and promoting leadership in the Fil-Am community,” said Torlakson. “I was honored and pleased to have an opportunity to thank Gloria publicly, in front of my colleagues in the Legislature, for all she has done so far during our successful and active public service.”

Tom is married to Mae Cendaña Torlakson, a board member of the Ambrose Recreation and Park District. Cendaña Torlakson is the first Filipina elected to office in Contra Costa County. She is also seeking reelection to her position this November.

Mae and her husband are partners in education. She works as a program coordinator for University of California Office of the President for the MESA (Math, Engineering, Science Achievement) program. It is a job that connects well to Tom’s expressed priority to enhance STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education in California schools.

Together, the three of them enjoy serving the community and participating in numerous local projects and events.

“Working with Tom, I have had the good fortune as an adult to have a position that allows me to empower others,” explained Omania, when she made a presentation on his behalf at a Filipino American Coalition event in September. “I just happened to luck out and find a good job, that became a better job, and grew into an incredible career because my boss is all about ‘creating opportunities.’”

As an Assemblyman for 6 years and State Senator for 8 years, Tom authored and supported legislation to recognize the valuable contributions of the API community. He has been steadfast in his support for the Filipino Veterans Equity Act to provide long overdue benefits to Filipino veterans. Tom has co-authored legislation to include the role of Filipino Americans in World War II in the high school social studies curriculum, as well as the resolution to declare October as Filipino Heritage Month.

“Improving public education has been my passion. As a teacher, it is a lifelong commitment,” Torlakson explained.

For more information on Torlakson’s campaign for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, visit his web site at or Facebook page at You can learn more about Cendaña Torlakson’s reelection campaign at

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