The following comes from a Feb. 2 segment of a series on freshmen state legislators.

God or Country? Miguel Santiago has contemplated devoting his life to both.

Tracing an arc Gov. Jerry Brown followed decades ago, the Democratic Assembly member from Los Angeles entered politics despite initially intending to spend his life serving in the Catholic Church.

“My mindset was for some time, even during my college years – I didn’t share it with my friends at the time – that I really had a deep passion and wanted to go the seminary,” Santiago said. “I ended up in politics but quite frankly I was on my way to the seminary – at least mentally prepared.”

In the end, politics prevailed. Santiago recounts an awakening familiar to many young Latino politicians in California: the son of Mexican immigrants, he was pushed into politics when voters acted first to deny immigrants public services by passing Proposition 187 in 1994 and then to end race-conscious admissions policies with Proposition

209 in 1996.

“When Proposition 209 came about, for me that was a moment that I decided that public service was going to be where I needed to be and what I wanted to do,” Santiago said.

Santiago’s career prior to the Legislature has involved community organizing around access to higher education and healthcare and, most recently, a stint as district director for former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez [ see Cal Catholic story on Perez]. His faith has endured throughout.

“I’m not going to agree with everything the Catholic Church has, from some of the belief systems to policy beliefs,” Santiago said, but “as a practicing Catholic I still attend mass on holy days of obligation and periodically jump into a parish just to say a prayer or two.”