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‘I just really relate to wanting opportunity.’ Justin Salters sees himself in CSUB’s students, and wants to be a greater advocate for them

Justin Salters at Caravan 2018

New CSUB Alumni Association President Justin Salters addresses the crowd that greeted university alumni, students, coaches and administrators at the 2018 Caravan trip to Shafter on Aug. 18.

Alumni engagement specialist

Justin Salters’ great-grandparents were Dust Bowl migrants from Oklahoma. His dad’s mother grew up in Weedpatch Camp, his dad’s father was a welder. Nobody in his direct lineage had graduated from college until he did from CSUB in 2011.

So he sees himself in the many first-generation college students at CSUB who crave a better life than the generations before them, and through education find it.

He wants to help keep the momentum going, which is why he joined the CSUB Alumni Association board in 2015 and on July 1 assumed its presidency.

“I just really relate to wanting opportunity and seeing how CSUB can be a vehicle to provide that opportunity,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m such an advocate for CSUB and the Alumni Association, and for advancing and developing the university.”

As president he hopes to not only see the association’s scholarship and mentor programs continue to flourish but develop events for alumni families and more actively advocate for government policies that help students and graduates.


Salters, 30, is a consultant at Russo McGarty & Associates, a statewide public affairs firm. He’s in charge of business development and the management of media communications, issue advocacy and government affairs for mostly corporate and trade group clients.

Those clients include Grimmway Farms, the Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce PAC, Western Growers and Californians for Energy Independence.  His professional path is most unlike that of earlier generations of his family.

Salters is the oldest of three boys born to Jeff and Melissa Salters, who were 18 when they got married and 21 when they had Justin. Jeff worked in the restaurant and catering industry, Melissa was a stay-at-home mom. Five years ago they started Salty’s BBQ & Catering.

Justin Salters as a toddler

Salters is the oldest of three boys born to Jeff and Melissa Salters, who married young and never went to college but encouraged their sons to do so.

Salters was an easy-going baby and kind little boy who always did well in school and even taught himself how to play the piano starting in about the fourth grade, Melissa said.

“He enjoyed performing,” she remembered. “He would sing in class programs and things like that. At home, we have a special needs niece and he would stay behind and play with her and make sure she had fun as well.”

He attended Owens Primary and Walter Stiern Middle schools on the east side of Bakersfield, then graduated fifth in his class from Bakersfield High School. He loved school, particularly reading and writing.

“Justin was confident, brainy and conservative … JUST LIKE he is today,” BHS civics teacher Jeremy Adams said in an email. “He was very hard-working and was one of the very first students to ever win the prestigious Kern County Lincoln Day Essay Competition.

“On a personal level he was always easy to teach as he loves the power of ideas to change communities and individual lives.”

Justin Salters graduates from BHS

Salters graduated fifth in his class from Bakersfield High School. Here he is receiving a diploma from Principal David Reese.

Neither Jeff nor Melissa Salters had gone to college, but they pushed their sons to go. Problem was, they couldn’t afford to send Justin away to school.

So Salters enrolled at Bakersfield College. He admits going to BC was difficult to accept at first given his friends were going off to “quote-unquote ‘great places.’”

“I remember shedding a tear maybe only on the inside when I put my parking pass on for BC,” he said. “The vision of what I thought it would take to be successful and to achieve in the meritocracy didn’t go through BC, it didn’t go through Bakersfield.”

But he made the most of it, his mom said, and came to appreciate how good a school BC is. He once told Melissa, “I didn’t realize there were people like that in Bakersfield.”

Salters attended BC for three years, first studying PR and communications and then political science. He served in student government, including running elections. He vividly remembers being the subject of a column by investigative columnist Lois Henry of The Bakersfield Californian when he tried to tamp down on voter fraud by limiting voting to one place on the main campus as the by-laws allowed.

“She portrayed me as trying to strip students of their ability to participate in student government elections, and her quote about me was, ‘Politicians and their talking points know no age limits,’” he said with a grin.

In the fall of 2009 he transferred to CSUB and after weathering a tough transition from semesters to quarters and taking a quarter off because of it, came back “guns-blazing” and had a great experience learning from standout political science professors Mark Martinez, Stanley Clark and Kent Price.

He only took four quarters at CSUB, but believes he got more out of his political science education there than his friends did at bigger institutions. The program has a strong emphasis on research methods and statistical analysis, things that hold him in good stead today.

Justin Salters graduates from CSUB

Salters graduated from CSUB in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Here he is pictured with his parents.

Salters thought every successful poli sci major needed Capitol Hill experience. So he interned with Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, through the Panetta Institute for Public Policy program, which is open to one student from each CSU campus every year.

Salters learned early on that career success isn’t just what you know but who you know, and so as an intern in Chevron’s government and public affairs office got to know all the top people in his division. When Salters graduated from CSUB, Chevron created a job for him as a field representative, then moved him up to issues and reputation advisor.

One of his high-profile assignments was analyzing the impacts of, and deciding how to respond to, efforts in 2016 to ban fracking in Monterey County.

With a consultant there, Salters built a coalition aligned with Chevron’s interests and lobbied against a proposed county ordinance and then a ballot measure prohibiting the controversial oil extraction technique, said Carla Musser, who recently retired as Chevron’s manager of policy, government and public affairs in Bakersfield.

“Here you have this 28-year-old going out and meeting all these people and he had such a presence about him,” Musser said. “He learned everything about our business to be able to talk about it intelligently and then be able to promote our company.”

The anti-fracking ordinance failed. The ballot measure passed but a judge has found it is preempted by state and federal laws.

Musser also credited Salters with starting the California Forum for Leadership on Water Solutions, a local group of businesspeople, farmers, builders, energy producers, water agencies and others that educates the public about the beneficial uses of treated produced water, water that comes out of the ground along with the oil.

Salters went to work for Russo McGarty & Associates in April 2016, interested in serving a variety of clients and tackling a variety of issues. He’s currently in the middle of election season.

“Work is very busy and very demanding. I routinely work 12-plus hour days,” he said. “But you know you can do it because in 91 days, we’re done.”

Salters speaks at University Day 2018

Salters thanks CSUB faculty and staff for all they do for students at University Day, a kickoff of the new academic year, Aug. 23.

On the side he writes a column for The Californian on government and politics. He’s been reading and admiring the paper since he was a kid; he used to compete in a community contest at Beale Library that tested who had read its pages most thoroughly.

He describes himself as right of center, but approaching issues from the angle of “what’s the best thing for us?”

“I think Justin wants to be seen as thoughtful and fair-minded,” Adams said. “Frankly, one of the crises of our time is that public service does not always attract the most thoughtful and sober minds, which is what Justin has.

“… Justin is more David Brooks than Donald Trump. He believes in the power, majesty and allure of powerful ideas because they can lead to movements that transform society. He wants to be a part of that process.”  

Last December, Bakersfield talk radio host and former Californian CEO Richard Beene included Salters on a list of young, engaged citizens he hopes will consider running for office. Salters said he’s happy to add his voice to the conversation but doesn’t have any desire to run for office.

Salters’ mother believes him.

“We’ve asked him that also,” she said. “With working in politics, he definitely sees the negative aspects of that. And so he’s like, ‘You know, I don’t want my family to go through that.’”


As alumni board president, Salters wants to increase the number of “touch points” between alumni and the university, including developing events that involve not only alumni but their families.

He also wants the Alumni Association to become more of an advocate for its 50,000-plus graduates and 10,000-plus students.

“I want to see us leverage (those numbers) and be advocates in Sacramento for funding to make sure the CSU has the funding it needs, to make sure the CSU continues to be a vehicle for upward mobility for the students and to serve this region.

“Another opportunity is we have a significant population of Dreamers. How can we push our representatives to enact meaningful reform that serves our students, that serves our peers in the alumni community?”

While he’s doing all this, Salters is also growing a family.

Justin Salters, Emily Salters and Pierce Salters

Salters with his wife, Emily, and their 2 ½-month-old daughter, Pierce.

Salters and his wife, Emily, were born six days apart and grew up four houses apart in Bakersfield’s Oleander neighborhood but didn’t meet until high school. After Salters discovered through Facebook that she’d returned to Bakersfield after graduating from Biola University, he sent her a message inviting her to the 2012 CSUB Alumni Hall of Fame gala.

“I said sure,” Emily remembered. “In my head I was thinking, ‘Sure, I’ll go for a free dinner at the Petroleum Club.’”

Salters picked her up wearing a suit and bow tie and playing music by The Civil Wars in the car. He’d seen on Facebook that she liked the group.

They hit it off and he eventually proposed to her in front of a house he was building.

“He got down on one knee and said, ‘Emily Ann Pierce, I don’t want to call this my home anymore, I want to call this our home,’ she said. “And he asked me to marry him.”

The Salters were married at First Presbyterian Church in June 2014. Their daughter, Pierce Everly, was born on her due date in June. Emily teaches fourth grade at Stine Elementary.

“It’s one of those things where I think so much less about my success or happiness,” he said of having a child. “Now it’s about, ‘OK, what do I need to do for her success and happiness?’”