Valley Voices

How David Provost changed my life and yours

Retired Fresno State political science professor David Provost had a big impact on the lives of his students – and on the discussion of political issues in the Valley. He died Aug. 6, 2016, at the age of 86.
Retired Fresno State political science professor David Provost had a big impact on the lives of his students – and on the discussion of political issues in the Valley. He died Aug. 6, 2016, at the age of 86. The Fresno Bee file

When I read about the passing of David Provost, I felt a great personal loss. He was such a great teacher, mentor and role model in many, many ways. Like a lot of students who were political science majors, he had a big impact on our lives. Provost gave me the practical application and wisdom to go along with it that changed my life forever.

Provost ran the Political Science Department at Fresno State and he was also responsible for the internship program for political science majors at the time. It was a requirement to have an internship, which was very practical for those of us who thought we might want to work in government and politics.

I worked very hard at analyzing all the different offices where I might want to intern. I studied local government, state government, the federal government and non-profits to see where I might want to start this bold new adventure.

Like a lot of potential interns, I had lofty visions about myself: get an internship, immediately change the world, quickly move up in the organization and prove myself indispensable to whomever I was interning for at the time. So, you see, my choice had to be very serious!

One day Provost called me into his office and asked me why I had not selected an internship yet. He said I was the only student not yet placed. I was really pleased with myself when I explained all the studying I had done and how I wasn’t sure which internship to take because I knew how important the choice was.

He looked at me quizzically and asked, “Do you know what party you belong to?” I answered yes. He said, “My advice is to pick the highest office in your party that has a local office because no matter where you intern, you are going to make copies, get coffee, answer phones and do filing. So pick the top spot and see what happens.”

Right then and there, I picked the internship at U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson’s office. Thank goodness, I followed his advice. It changed the course of my life.

I have three other special memories of Provost.

First, when I was a senior, he advocated for me with a professor that I be allowed to write a paper on my experience as a staffer for one of Pete Wilson’s campaigns instead of being in class every day because I couldn't do both. I sat there as he told his colleague, “This is what we want these students to do, so what do you say?” My professor agreed.

My second fond remembrance occurred many years after we last had spoken. When I got elected to the California Assembly in 2004, he sent me a note. Congratulations, he wrote, but you now have the tremendous responsibility of fulfilling the bond between the public and its representatives. Do not forget that your job is to serve the constituents and the state.

And, third, when I became the Assembly Republican Leader a couple of years later, we were going through our largest budget deficit ever in 2008 and 2009. Provost sent me a stinging letter. He stressed the need to compromise and put the state first.

He said he was disappointed that we had all let politics get in front of serving the people. It hurt, but it was true. Soon after, we agreed to a historic budget compromise, and then we also agreed to put the historic reforms of open primaries and independent redistricting on the ballot, which the voters approved.

I’ve often wondered if Provost knew how instrumental he was to all those votes back in what was a time of crisis in California. My biggest regret is that I didn’t tell him.

I hope in some small way this encourages others to do what Provost did: to personally invest in our students and people in general, to advocate for others, especially if they can’t advocate for themselves at the time, to remind ourselves that we are best when we serve others, to not take ourselves too seriously, and to be willing to humbly admonish each other once in awhile if we veer off course.

I will miss Provost. Go ’Dogs!

Mike Villines represented Fresno and Madera counties in the Assembly from 2004 to 2010. He is CEO of the Villines Group, LLC in Sacramento.