March 30 2016 12:57 AM

The state Assemblywoman takes control of the Appropriations Committee

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, first Latina head of the influential Appropriations Committee, is ready to rev.
Photo illustration by John R. Lamb

    Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men. —Joseph Conrad

    The scheduling requests to meet with state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez have grown considerably since her recent appointment as head of the Assembly’s mega-powerful Appropriations Committee.

    “Exponentially, yes,” Gonzalez said Monday with only a hint of a sigh.

    The 80th District representative was running 20 minutes behind schedule that day as she was whisked from a session on the Assembly floor to a meeting with members about the big Sacramento news of the week, a proposal hatched by Gov. Jerry Brown, a handful of legislators and labor leaders to raise California’s minimum wage incrementally from $10 an hour to $15 by the year 2022.

    The fast-tracked plan, unveiled Monday, gets its first legislative hearing—where else?—before Gonzalez’s newly gained Appropriations Committee, which holds influence on any legislation involving the expenditure of money.

    “Three quarters, somebody told me, of all bills come through Appropriations,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a great committee, a unique committee. You see a large number of bills.”

    Never mind that her first hearing as chairwoman will be to shepherd through a historic minimum-wage hike that opponents loathe with all their might as a proverbial “job killer.” Taking on her detractors seems to be part of what makes Gonzalez tick.

    When Spin Cycle asked a Republican insider to rank Gonzalez on the local GOP’s Enemies List, the answer came quickly: “Number one.” Which probably explains why so few calls of congratulations on her new appointment— despite its purse-string prowess— came from her opponents.

    “Steve Cushman told me he’s really proud of me. How’s that?” the former local Labor Council leader said with a chuckle. Gonzalez once referred to Cushman, Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s right-hand man on the forever-meandering San Diego Convention Center expansion saga, as the “king of the San Diego 20,” a murky reference to the small clique of perceived city power brokers.

    But what about the mayor himself? Faulconer, after all, handed Gonzalez her last election defeat in 2005 for the city council seat he eventually left to become mayor. “No, the mayor did not reach out. Go figure,” she said.

    It was that defeat that solidified in her mind that Sacramento is where the action is. “I always thought that state government is where things get done. Still believe it,” she insisted.

    With Faulconer’s rumored interest in a 2018 gubernatorial run, one must wonder what would have been the harm in a quick note of best wishes. Maybe Faulconer found the idea awkward.

    That would be fitting, considering that the mayor did find time to mention Gonzalez and her personal relationship with former mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher during the recent roast speech he delivered to his pals at the Downtown San Diego Partnership, or as he called it, the “Employment Office for Former Jerry Sanders’ Aides.”

    “Now, I know people are going to want Chargers jokes tonight,” Faulconer said in the joke-filled speech. “Not gonna happen. The talks are too sensitive. Making Chargers jokes right now…it would just be awkward. Kinda like, I don’t know, Nathan and Lorena flirting on Twitter awkward. And that’s pretty awkward.”

    To be fair, the mayor followed that line with glowing praise of his wife, Katherine, who he noted “doesn’t suffer fools easily…which is why I spend so much time outside of the house.”

    Gonzalez said she found the crack “kind of funny” but added, “I’m sorry Kevin feels that a relationship is awkward. It’s not like Nathan and I tweet at each other. We just tweet when we go to dinner or something every once in a while because people talk shit about us. So we just say, ‘Yeah, we were at dinner.’

    “If I have to be in a fishbowl for third grade, then I’m going to be like, ‘Yes, you did see us.’” Perhaps there’s a bit of jealousy that Gonzalez feels comfortable in her own shoes while Faulconer has to “Shhhh!” people when they mention he’s a Republican. “I have nothing real to hide, so who cares?” she said.

    Gonzalez said she even has shock!—befriended Republicans in the Assembly, one of whom also receives considerable hate mail.

    They joke together that some day they’ll do their own version of “Mean Tweets,” where the recipient reads the vitriol of the sender.

    When her chief of staff glares at her, indicating she is now 25 minutes behind schedule, Gonzalez hints she must end the conversation. But she points out that, as opposed to the tendency of opponents in San Diego to remain in their own comfort corners, in Sacramento, “Everybody tries to talk—even the ones who know you’re not going to be with them.”

    Gonzalez, whose South County constituents are far removed from the power structure, hedges on whether her new power appointment will mean greater attention for San Diego and its woes. “I know there are those who believe that San Diego matters only for what matters downtown,” she said, “and I obviously have a different area than downtown that I worry about.”

    Her progressive legislative conquests—from diapers to paid sick leave—have leaned heavily in favor of the underserved and struggling, those with little power. That, she promised, will not change. “I’ll continue to focus on issues that I’ve always focused on,” she said. “You know, is it good for working and middle-class families? Is it something that helps people become more self-sustainable? Is it empowerment not charity?”

    he $15-an-hour debate, however, could be a crowning achievement, even as it pushes opponents to invest in diapers. “It kills business,” she laughed. “Giving businesses seven years to get to $15 will kill them, apparently.”

    Her latest push, to give independent contractors in the “gig economy” the ability to unionize, will likely make Republican heads explode. Lincoln Pickard, a perennial candidate seeking to unseat her, said she should leave these workers alone and focus on funding more highway projects.

    Probably not going to happen. As the new Appropriations Committee chairwoman noted about priorities, “If SeaWorld wanted a corporate tax break, I doubt they’re going to get it here!”


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