From the Mount Diablo Unified School District, where he remains a teacher-on-leave, to the Antioch City Council, Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, and the California state Senate and Assembly, Torlakson has been active in the Democratic Party and a member and supporter of the California teachers union, which spent more than $2.1 million on his election campaign. He defeated former county superintendent Larry Aceves in the race to replace Democrat Jack O'Connell, who has held the post since 2002.
He was an occasional visitor at Pleasanton City Council meetings and worked with city leaders on legislation favorable to the city.
"It has been a while since I taught here, but I still call Mount Diablo my school," Torlakson told the assembled guests at his swearing-in ceremony at Mount Diablo High. "That's just how teachers think. It's never `the school' or `the class' or 'the student'--it's 'my school,' 'my class,' 'my student.'"
"That's the kind of commitment and responsibility every educator places on his or her own shoulders every day," he added. "It's not in the Education Code. It's not in any contract. It's just part of being a teacher. Let's be sure we never take that for granted. Because everything we hope to accomplish rests on the commitment of those who make teaching their life's work."
Torlakson acknowledged that he was taking office at a difficult time for public education after years of budget cuts have placed undue hardships on schools across the state.
"We face huge challenges in California," Torlakson said. "Yet we also have incredible opportunities—to make the investments that restore our state to its rightful place as a leader in public education; to give every child the chance to learn in a safe and healthy school environment; to bring teachers, parents, and advocates together in a thoughtful and productive dialogue that makes learning a priority; to bring 21st century learning to every school; and to hold ourselves accountable for the dollars we spend and the results we achieve."
Torlakson pledged to form partnerships and collaborate with professional educators, newly-elected Gov. Jerry Brown, lawmakers, higher education advocates, business, and non-profit and community-based organizations to focus on giving every California student the opportunity to succeed.
Dublin High School teacher and the city mayor Tim Sbranti served as master of ceremonies for today's event. Barbara Nemko, superintendents of the Napa County Office of Education, administered the oath of office.