SACRAMENTO, Calif. — When Assemblyman Bill Essayli was 16, he experienced an event that became a defining life moment.
He was visiting his mom, who worked at a Wells Fargo in Norco, when a bank robbery occurred.
Not knowing if he was being heroic or foolish, Essayli followed the bank robber from the scene of the crime, which led to the robber’s arrest. The FBI interviewed Essayli and provided witness testimony to help the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecute the individual.
This experience shaped Essayli’s career. Before, he wanted to be a police officer. He was a member of the Corona Police Explorers when he was in high school.
“Being exposed to that at a young age helped me to grow up. It gave me structure, it gave me discipline, and it really set me on a course to have a successful career,” Essayli said.
It was after being exposed to the legal process to prosecute the individual who robbed the bank that made Essayli interested in prosecution.
“I think that day really shifted my trajectory in life because at that point, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I was really interested in law enforcement,” Essayli said. “I thought I was going to be a police officer, but then getting a firsthand account of what a prosecutor does and what happens after an individual is arrested. There’s an entire system in process that begins at the moment of the arrest that leads to a conviction, and I became really interested in that.”
Essayli served as both a local and federal prosecutor before running for office. He worked on several high-profile cases, including the prosecution of the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino.
Now a freshman lawmaker, Essayli said he is going to approach the role as prosecutor instead of as a politician.
“I’m just somebody that saw a calling that our state was headed in the wrong direction and instead of complaining, I stepped up and I ran and now I’m in a position to influence,” Essayli said.
As both a former member of the Corona Police Explorers in high school and a career prosecutor, Essayli’s primary focus is on public safety.
“I think the pendulum has swung way too far on soft on crime policies and now we are protecting criminals over victims and that’s got to swing back because safety is first,” Essayli said.
The son of Lebanese immigrants also wants to tackle the important issue of affordability for residents.
“California has become so unaffordable and I believe it’s because a lot of the policies coming out of Sacramento — regulations and taxes that are driving the cost and burdens up and it makes it impossible to build or develop or have good businesses flourish in California,” Essayli said.
Essayli is the first American Muslim to be elected to the California Assembly, and while he didn’t make his religion a center of his campaign, he said his faith gives him his moral compass.
“It’s not why people elected me but I think it says more about what this country is about because the fact that you can be anyone of any faith and come from any country and succeed in the United States says a lot… and I think it’s a testament to the American dream,” Essayli said.
Essayli’s parents left Lebanon in the 1980s during the civil war and immigrated to California.
“My mom, my parents — they’ve always worked hard for us and they never played the victim. They were never the victim,” Essayli said.
A product of the American Dream, Essayli is ready to get to work in the legislature to represent the people who put him on the path to the state Capitol.
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