For Freddie Rodriguez, it all started with the park.
A lifelong resident of Pomona, the newly elected Democrat didn't have any notable involvement in politics until 2005. He was preoccupied by his work as an emergency medical technician.
But then he found some local motivation: an effort to renovate a public space across from his house had stalled, so he started reaching out to local elected officials about reviving the project.
At first, he got little traction. The frustration motivated him to dig in.
"I know what it feels like to be ignored," Rodriguez said. "You should never ignore people."
Things began to shift when he found an ally in then-Pomona Mayor Norma Torres, now a state senator, who recruited Rodriguez to seek a spot on the Pomona City Council.
Rodriguez won, unseating a long-tenured incumbent. He managed to secure the funds to finish the park, which he pointed to as the first of several locally-focused successes that eventually led him to Sacramento.
"When I got the park done, I thought, 'Wow, if I can do this there's probably a lot more to do,'" Rodriguez said. But prior to his campaign, Rodriguez added, "had that park gotten completed, I would never be here."