Kevin Mullin, Communications Studies '92

Art of the Possible

Senior lawmaker devoted to expanding civic participation

When Kevin Mullin ’92 was elected to the California State Assembly five years ago, he made voter engagement and empowerment a priority. In the years since, he has passed landmark legislation that makes it easier for California residents to vote.

“While other states are suppressing the vote, California is modernizing access to voting and creating innovative ways to encourage civic participation and strengthen our democracy,” says Kevin, a Democrat who represents San Mateo County, just south of San Francisco. “Exercising your right to vote is at the core of this democracy, and I want to make sure every vote counts and the process is fair and transparent for everyone.”

Kevin, who holds the second most influential post in the state Assembly as the speaker pro tempore, has authored and passed eight election reform bills designed to improve transparency and increase voter participation.

I preside over the floor sessions of the Assembly, and my communications background really comes into play in this role.

Legislating Jesuit values

One of these bills tested a new approach, allowing San Mateo County in 2015 to hold its first all-mail ballot local election. Voter turnout jumped 15 percent to the highest rate in 15 years

“The raw data — more than 105,000 ballots tabulated in 2015 versus a four-year average of 85,000 ballots for local elections — shows we have reversed a long-term trend of declining turnout,” Kevin says. “When you factor in the taxpayer savings of operating fewer polling places, the benefits of an all-mail ballot election are significant.”

Kevin’s bill opens the door for another all-mail ballot election for the county in 2017. The voter turnout data from both all-mail ballot elections will be used to help other California counties determine if they want to implement a similar approach. Some of Kevin’s other legislation allows more time to collect signatures on unsigned mail-in ballots and provides additional resources for verifying signatures on signed ballots.

When Kevin authors a bill or casts a vote in the Assembly, his Jesuit education at USF is never far from his mind.

“The way I legislate is very much in line with the Jesuit values I saw on display at USF,” Kevin says. “How do we make sure we have an inclusive democracy and an inclusive community in which economic opportunity is shared by all segments of society?”

In addition to his work on election reform, Kevin is focused on campaign finance reform, closing the wage gap between women and men, and growing the Bay Area’s biotech and life sciences industry — which is largely based in San Mateo County.

Cultivating civility

Kevin was first appointed as speaker pro tempore in 2014, and was re-appointed in 2016.

“I preside over the floor sessions of the Assembly, and my communications background really comes into play in this role,” says Mullin, who was a communications studies major at USF and previously owned his own multimedia communications company, KM2 Communications. “I’m managing the debate on the floor, making sure we have bipartisan cooperation and civility.”

Mullin is making a name for himself in California state politics, but he isn’t the first in the family to become a public servant. His father, Gene Mullin ’60, is a former high school teacher who was elected to the state Assembly after serving as a South San Francisco City Council member and mayor — all roles his son served in after him.

“Politics can be a tough business, but it is still the art of the possible,” says Kevin, who praised his father’s influence and the emphasis of service above self at USF for pointing him in the direction of public service. “It is still about crafting public policy that can help improve people’s lives and give people opportunity.”