Sacramento Report: Lorena Gonzalez's Strange New Role

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Sacramento Report: Lorena Gonzalez's Strange New Role

When Speaker Toni Atkins was done doling out committee chairmanships and leadership roles, a clear loser emerged. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez wasn’t picked to chair any committees, and ended up as a vice chair, a role usually given to members of the minority party.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins last week named committee chairs and members of her leadership team. The speaker selected San Diego Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, a Republican, to lead the Assembly Committee on Local Government. The rare pick has been attributed to the two terms Maienschein and Atkins served together on the San Diego City Council from 2000 to 2008.

Perhaps more surprising was the assignment given to San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. Gonzalez, a rising star in Democratic politics, wasn’t picked for the leadership team or the Rules Committee (a plumb assignment) or to lead any committees — even though another lawmaker, Oakland Assemblyman Rob Bonta, was chosen to chair two (Health and Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security).

All Gonzalez got was vice chair of Maienschein’s Local Government committee. Republicans, as members of the minority, typically are vice chairs. Every Assembly Democrat received more prestigious appointments this year. And make no mistake, titles are a big deal under dome. Legislative leaders like Atkins dole out the best titles to their favorites.

But Gonzalez’s office insists the assemblywoman doesn’t see her middling appointment as a snub.

“It’s not a big deal,” said Gonzalez spokesman Evan McLaughlin. “We’ve got a plan for the year ahead. It’s true there’s a lot of interest in parlor games in terms of who chairs what, but she’s a different kind of legislator.”

And what kind of legislator would that be? One who can be effective without a chairmanship, he said, noting that Gonzalez passed several pieces of important legislation without chairing a committee during her first term. Atkins’ office, when asked about Gonzalez’s appointment, echoed the sentiment.

“In her first term, Assembly member Gonzalez authored one of the biggest bills of the year, granting paid sick leave to workers, and she did so without chairing a committee,” Atkins spokesman John Casey said in an email. “After discussing a range of potential committee assignments, Ms. Gonzalez and Speaker Atkins decided that Ms. Gonzalez  could best serve the people of California if she remained focused on significant legislation, rather than devoting her time to the chairmanship of any one committee.”

McLaughlin admitted that Gonzalez made requests to chair committees, but she respects the decisions the speaker had to make. “Lorena’s satisfied with not having a chair,” he said.

Still, it’s a curious position for a rising legislative power.

Quick Hits

• Here’s what the Legislature has already accomplished since its swearing-in last week. (L.A. Times)

• The numbers of blacks, Asians and Pacific Islanders in the Legislature are at a record high. (Capitol Weekly)

• Brian Maienschein believes hikes to UC tuition could ultimately come back to bite San Diego’s economy, he writes in a new op-ed for us.

• Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s official gubernatorial portrait is hung in the Capitol. (Sacramento Bee)

• Moderate Democratic legislators gathered in Napa this week. (Sacramento Bee)

• The average age of California Assembly members is 48. The average age of senators, 56. (Sacramento Bee)

• An audit finds the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing needs to get better at paperwork. (Sacramento Bee)

• Gov. Jerry Brown’s inaugural speech this year will double as his State of the State address. (L.A. Times)

• A totally speculative list of people who may seek to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer, if as suspected, she will step down at the end of her term. (Time magazine)

• A sort-of state of the judiciary interview with California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. (Sacramento Bee)

• The California DMV will soon start issuing licenses to people in the country illegally. (L.A. Times)

What’s Next?

Prediction: Big title or no, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez will have no problem making herself heard in the coming legislative session. She has a gift for choosing legislation that hits a nerve.

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