Melissa Melendez has been a powerhouse in the California Legislature for 10 years, but she was already pretty badass, even before serving in public office. Melendez is a United States Navy veteran who is fluent in Russian. Melendez served for 10 years throughout the remainder of the Cold War, and in Operations Desert Storm and Shield. Once she left active duty, Melendez built her own business providing transcription services to high-level Pentagon officials.
Did I mention that Melendez is also the mother of five—that’s F-I-V-E—children? While running her business and raising her family, Melendez served on the Lake Elsinore City Council. She was first elected in 2008, and served until 2012 (and did one term as Mayor of Lake Elsinore), when she ran for California State Assembly for the then-67th District in Riverside and won. Melendez served as Assemblywoman until 2020, when she ran for State Senator in District 28, where she also won.
Melendez served as State Senator from 2020-2022, her last term in the legislature. Because of California’s term limits, she is gladly moving back into the private sector. For most politicians, term limits have become the new form of government grift. Former legislators go back to their communities only to run for city council or board of supervisors. They use their name recognition not to serve, but to suck up the oxygen and the kickbacks–while fresh faces and voices who truly want to serve the people are crowded out. Not so for Melendez. She expressed relief over the prospect of stepping away from Senator Melendez and returning to being Citizen Melendez, she told RedState:
I think term limits are a good thing. I am happy to go back to the private sector and having a bit of anonymity restored. We can look at our Congress and see what having the same voices produces. We need fresh voices and ideas in our governance.
When we corresponded to set up this interview, Melendez jokingly said she’d been “paroled” from the California Legislature. When we spoke on Thursday, she qualified that bit of humor with an expression of gratitude “for the opportunity to be the voice for the people I served,” she said.
As a legislator, I read every email, text, listened to every voicemail. I know not all legislators did that, but I wanted to. How can you say you have the ear of your constituents if you don’t personally read and respond to their concerns? It was an honor to have that role and I am thankful that the people who elected me trusted me with it.
Walking out of the building for the last time as a Senator. It’s been an incredible privilege to serve and I’m so blessed to have had such incredible staff members on my team. Thank you for trusting me to be your voice. pic.twitter.com/qZJIYldFXv
— Senator Melissa Melendez (@senatormelendez) December 2, 2022
But Melendez still plans to maintain her finger on the pulse of government policy. She has been named as president of the Golden State Policy Council, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that seeks to use research and data to help legislators craft policy and build laws that align with the values and desires of California constituents. As president of the organization, Melendez will spearhead the Council’s policy and communication strategy, develop the council’s presence in the state, and oversee their engagement efforts.
I’ve had a lot of “what’s next for you” questions. I’m pleased to announce I will be taking the helm of the Golden State Policy Council.
— Senator Melissa Melendez (@senatormelendez) December 15, 2022
Golden State Policy Council‘s motto is, “Forging the California Future,” even while many in the nation feel as though California’s brightest days are a thing of the past.
“Our whole goal is to change policy in California,” Melendez said.
We don’t seek to make policy. That is still the legislators’ job. What we do is academic research to present to legislators, with the hope that they will get insight into what Californians are looking for in the governance of their state.
In Melendez’ 10 years in the legislature, she saw lobbyists and industry sectors who were paid to speak before committee on a certain matter, or advocate for a particular bill’s passage. Rarely was anyone advocating or testifying on behalf of the California citizen. Golden State Policy Council is looking to change this.
Our organization is for the people of California, and our clients are the people of California. We want to make sure California returns to being an affordable place to live for everyone, and not just the very rich or the working poor. We want to make sure there’s a better quality of life.
The council is modeled after the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which was started 25 years ago with the help of former California legislator and conservative stalwart, former Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. “Texas did this exact same thing 25 years ago, and look at them now,” Melendez stated.
They are moving policy in the state of Texas. We want to do the same thing here. To return California to the way it used to be. California used to be the place where everyone wanted to be. Now we have more people leaving than staying. That’s got to change.
The initial focus of the council will be energy and quality of life, in regards to the cost of living. California has the highest percentage of people living in poverty, with a cost of living that is one of the highest in the nation. Couple that with increases in cost for food and goods, and the highest gas prices in the nation, and you have an issue of policies that are a harm, rather than a help to the people they are supposed to be serving.
Our long-term mission is to make California more affordable, and produce a better quality of life in California. We don’t get involved in political campaigns, or endorse any politician.
Our job is to work from the outside in. Produce the data, the information, the research that will help our legislators make better laws, and affect change for the good of the citizen.
Melendez’ legislative experience is an asset to a policy organization because she has been on the inside, and knows how the system works, and how the majority party thinks and navigates. This allows the council to present the research in a manner where it can be received, rather than rejected outright.
However, Melendez affirms that while a policy institute can bring factual data and hard numbers to back up and support constituent concerns, the most critical catalyst for change in the state is people engaging in the legislative process and making their voices heard.
That is the biggest role you can play in ensuring our work lands and your concerns are addressed by the elected representatives who craft the policies.
The form of work and the foundation for building the Golden State Policy Council also requires public engagement. “Because we do not accept government or special interest money, we rely on donations,” Melendez said.
You can go to Golden State Policy dot com and click the Donate button to help our advocacy. You can also help build awareness by subscribing to our newsletter. I promise you, we will not spam you to death with appeals! It will just be information on the work we are doing, how we are affecting the changes California needs.
I asked Melendez if she had plans to run for public office again.
I was raising my five children and running my business, with no intention of running for city council, but the opportunity arose, and I ended up spending four years there. Then the opportunity to run for State legislator presented itself, and I felt as though I was supposed to do it. All that to say, I don’t have a forward plan, I just see where God is leading and I follow.
Melendez has been a powerful advocate and voice for the people of Riverside County and her local community. Now that she is not limited by a public office, through her guidance of an organization like the Golden State Policy Council, she can facilitate the amplification of constituent concerns across the state. California and Californians are fortunate to still have her on our side.