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Lorena Gonzalez, a victor in major political fights

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez addressing lawmakers about her labor bill, AB 5. (Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez wrapped up this legislative year feeling pretty good about her accomplishments.

Despite often fierce opposition, the San Diego Democrat was able to pass 11 pieces of legislation, including those that protect child sexual abuse survivors and workers.

One Republican strategist, no friend of Gonzalez’s, described her as the “most important lawmaker in Sacramento” — which takes in a lot of territory.

The daughter of a Mexican immigrant farmworker and a nurse, Gonzalez said she got involved in politics to improve the lives of working Californians.

“From a young age, I thought government could be good for people, make life easier for people,” she said. “I thought that’s how you fix big societal ills – through good government.”

Gonzalez, 48, grew up in San Diego attending public schools and went on to get a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Stanford University, a master’s degree in American government from Georgetown University and a law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles.

She made her first splash in political activism as chief executive officer and secretary-treasurer for the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council.

One Republican strategist, a veteran of the Capitol’s political wars and no friend of Gonzalez’s, described her as the “most important lawmaker in Sacramento” — an observation that takes in a lot of territory.

Aimed at giants like ride-share services Uber and Lyft, AB 5 makes it more difficult for businesses to classify workers as freelancers.

Of the bills she worked on this year, Gonzalez said she is most proud of AB 218, which increases the age child sexual abuse victims can report their crimes from 26 to 40 and gives victims up to three times the damages from defendants who try to cover up their crimes.

She was deeply moved by the many victims, men and women, who shared their experiences with her. She heard stories from women in their 70s and 80s who faced divorce, health problems and attempted suicides as a result of childhood sexual abuse. “Hearing these stories made me realize how important a bill it was for people who never got justice,” she said.

Gonzalez hopes it sends a message to institutions like churches schools and clubs that if they cover up abuse, they will be held liable for many years in the future. “That’s what will make institutions start a zero tolerance policy,” she said.

Gonzalez received widespread media attention for her support of Assembly Bill 5, which drastically restructures the gig economy. Aimed at giants like ride-share services Uber and Lyft, the bill makes it more difficult for businesses to classify workers as freelancers. The goal is to convert more independent contractors into employees, who then receive benefits like workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, paid sick leave, etc. The measure reflected Gonzalez’s organized labor background.

“Working people are incredibly fortunate to have her voice in the Legislature.” — Steve Smith

The difficulty in writing AB 5 was striking a balance between protecting workers and providing needed flexibility.

“We had to talk to and craft language for every industry or job you can imagine, to come out with a bill that made sense,” she said. In the end, she crafted carefully worded exemptions to the law for many jobs — including doctors, real estate agents, hair stylists, travel agents and freelance writers. 

Steve Smith, communications director for the California Labor Federation, says Gonzalez never strays from a fight.

‘Her values are on full display with every legislative proposal she champions,” he said. “Working people are incredibly fortunate to have her voice in the Legislature. The things that she is accomplishing are nothing short of heroic in our view.

”She doesn’t want to go deep into both sides and work out why there is so much uproar.” — Christine Hildebrandt 

For the second time in four years, Gonzalez drew the wrath of vaccine skeptics by pushing a bill to tighten mandatory vaccination requirements to attend school.

Her first bill, SBill 277 in 2015, removed parents’ ability to skip vaccines because of personal beliefs. The most recent bill, Senate Bill 276, passed this fall, makes it harder for parents to get medical exemptions from doctors. She co-authored the legislation; the principal author was Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento.

Christine Hilldebrandt, the founder of A Voice for Choice, which advocates for parental choice on vaccines, said that while she admires Gonzalez as a strong leader, she believes she doesn’t always look at both sides of the legislation she advocates.

“She doesn’t want to go deep into both sides and work out why there is so much uproar,” Hildebrandt said.

“I’ve never had the level of threatened violence as on this one (SB 276).” — Lorena Gonzalez

Some vaccine skeptics have taken to social media to attack Gonzalez. One of the most well known is former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Rob Schneider, who has feuded with her on Twitter over several years.

“Where would it take us if we really believed that vaccines were bad? Welcome back polio, measles and whooping cough?” — Lorena Gonzalez

Gonzalez said she knew she was going to face opposition but said she was surprised by the personal nature of the attacks including hounding of her children on Instagram.

“It’s a very small minority of people but they’re very loud,” she said. “I’ve never had the level of threatened violence as on this one. It was a little more than many of us are used to in politics or in life.” 

While Gonzalez sympathizes with mothers who are concerned about toxins in the vaccines, she said that it was clear to her that medical professionals had the right argument. “Where would it take us if we really believed that vaccines were bad?” she said. “Welcome back polio, measles and whooping cough?”

Gonzalez said she is glad that she has a strong family she can retreat to in the middle of the challenging life of politics.

She married San Diego Supervisor Nathan Fletcher in 2017 and likes proclaiming her love for him on social media. She recently tweeted this about him, along with a photo of him sleeping: “Ladies, find yourself a man who is your BFF and comes out of town with you when you have to work — just to support you and sits through a multi-hour delay at the airport without even complaining. I simply love this sleepy one.”

Between them, the couple have five children ages eight to 23. “Most of my fun is spending time with my family,” she said. “We love to go camping, go to the beach a lot, swim. They’re all water obsessed.”

On the rare times they can get away, she and her husband like to visit presidential libraries and state capitols.

Gonzalez is excited for the presidential race and recently endorsed Elizabeth Warren though she says she will happily vote for any of the Democratic candidates against President Trump. She looks forward to working along with the Democratic presidential candidate to continue helping working people.

“We can rebuild this middle class and the United States,” she said.

Ed’s Note: Corrects 17th graf to show Gonzalez was co-author of the vaccination legislation. Includes men as sexual abuse victims, 9th graf.


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