Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegan Jessica Padron beat out tough competition for a coveted internship in the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, and she's not going to let money — or the lack of it — get in her way.
The internship is unpaid and the cost of living in Washington is high, but Padron knows working for the Senate majority leader in the nation's capital is too good of an opportunity to pass. So Padron, an aspiring politician, is turning to a crucial political skill to make the internship become a reality: fundraising.
Padron, 20, was born in Las Vegas to a Cuban father and Mexican mother who met while working at the Riviera. Both her parents kept up with news and current affairs, but her mother gave her the taste of politics that got her hooked. Her mother participated in phone banks for the Democratic Party during the 2000 election, when Padron was in fourth grade, and took her daughter to the buzzing, hectic office.
Shortly after that, Padron's brother, who is in the Army, was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and Padron’s interest in politics only grew.
“In fourth grade we would have discussion time, and I’d bring up news and current topics, and all the other kids just wanted to sip their juice in peace,” she said. “My dad always encouraged me to be informed and my mom always encouraged me to get involved. She has always voted and hauls the whole family down to the polls on Election Day.”
Padron is not one for wasting time. After her sophomore year at Canyon Springs High School, she transferred to the College of Southern Nevada High School, where she finished work on her high school diploma while also taking college-level courses. While there she became the youngest CSN student senator ever, elected at age 17.
“I have a passion for lobbying. I got to experience some advocacy and participate a lot in this last legislative session,” she said. “… When I was younger I wanted to be a senator, and I said it all the time. But, as I got older and learned more about the process, I became interested in lobbying. So, what I’d like to do now is start off at the state level and continue on in politics, and run for office while also possibly going into lobbying.”
Padron won't turn 21 until December, but she has already managed a successful campaign, Maggie Carlton’s Assembly District 14 win, and has served as the senior program manager at the nonprofit Nevada Youth Coalition.
Marisol Montoya, who works for the civic engagement group Mi Familia Vota, said Padron has the type of magnetic personality that draws in people.
“She has a very dynamic personality,” Montoya said. “Working on a volunteer campaign is not easy. You have to work twice as hard as someone with paid staff. She was convincing young people to come in and work and get engaged in their community (at Nevada Youth Coalition). She has a special drive and passion that translates to how she works with other people.”
In the spring, Padron submitted her resume for one of the competitive internships on Capitol Hill, specifically to work in Reid’s office. In July, Padron found out she had been awarded a spot in the senator’s D.C. office, but the interns receive no compensation.
Padron, unwilling to allow this opportunity pass her by, quickly put together a campaign to raise the money she estimates she needs, $6,500, to pay for four months of housing, food and transportation in Washington. As of Sunday, she had raised about $2,400, mostly from donations of $100 or less.
Padron is studying international relations and foreign affairs at UNLV. When she finishes her degree, she will be the first person from her family to graduate from college.
“I want to see more diversity in politics,” she said. “I want to see more people get involved. Ninety percent of the time when I go to meetings, I’m the youngest person in the room.”
While she continues to work contacts and public events for donations, Padron is getting ready for her inaugural visit to the nation’s capital, including watching “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” for the first time.
“I loved it,” she said. “I’m a political movie junkie.”