(Editor’s Note: Both the questions and answers have been paraphrased for brevity and clarity.)
Earlier this year, Lorena Gonzalez won a special election for her seat after the previous Assembly member vacated the position to serve in the State Senate.
Where were you born and what is your early life narrative?
My grandfather came to this country as a Bracero from the state of Michoacan, but went back home when the Bracero Program ended in the 1960s. However, many family members remained here and my father came to California as a documented worker years later and worked as a farmworker, mostly in North San Diego County. He married my mother, who was a nurse, and had me as well as my two older brothers. My parents divorced when I was very young so I was mostly raised by a single mom in the Oceanside/Vista area. It was a much different place back then (1970s). By the time I can remember, my father was no longer a farmworker, but instead was a small businessman running a used furniture store.
Your educational resume is quite impressive; you must have been a very good student. Tell us about your educational upbringing?
I came from a very solid working class family where education was very important. I have two older brothers — one of whom is an attorney and the other is a teacher. I went to public schools and was a good student. Consequently, I was able to go to Stanford where I received my undergraduate degree in American Studies. I then got my masters at Georgetown and my Juris Doctorate at UCLA.
How did you begin your professional career?
When I was in law school, Cruz Bustamante had become the first Latino elected to a statewide position in California. That was soon after Proposition 187 (anti-illegal immigration initiative) was passed and declared unconstitutational. I was motivated by the idea that a Latino could be elected in California and I wanted to work for him. I did just that and eventually became a senior advisor to him. In that position I was a consultant to the Commission on Economic Development and served as his representative on the California State Lands Commission.
How did that experience alter your career and is that when you started thinking that you wanted to hold elective office?
I guess at the time I hoped that one day I could be an elected official. All of my experiences have helped form my philosophy which is why I want to do good things and empower people to help themselves. There is a difference between giving charity and giving opportunities and I make that distinction. I want to help people help themselves.
From your role in the Lieutenant Governor’s office, you entered the organized labor movement. Discuss that phase of your career?
I joined the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council around 2006 and was elected CEO and Secretary-Treasurer in 2008. It is a nonprofit labor advocacy organization dedicated to improving the lives of all workers in the region through community organizing. It goes along very well with my philosophy of helping people help themselves. In that quest, there is nothing more important than having a job.
When did you decide to run for office?
It was a domino effect with the state senator for this district winning an election to Congress and then the assemblyman that was in office running for the state senate. I was encouraged to run and I did. Probably the biggest challenge is the fact that I do have two children that are 10 and 17. Balancing that is difficult. But that has also given me some specific goals for my time in office. There are not a lot of mothers with kids at home in the Legislature. I do know the challenges of working mothers and I want to represent those in the Assembly. So one of my top issues is education. It is very important and very important for my district which is heavily Latino.
Initially, you have had some success with the passage of a couple of bills having to do with the immigration issue. That appears to be one of your signature issues.
It is very important to me. The immigration debate is very important to this country and I do have strong feelings about it. I know by the grace of God I was lucky to be born in this country. I also know that the people work very hard to get ahead and it is very hard work they do in agriculture and in foodservice and hospitality industries. But you can live the American dream if you work hard. Only in American can you go from farmworker to Assemblywoman in one generation. We see the same thing with the “Dreamers” and I believe they should have the opportunity to live and work here and make a difference.
I did sponsor legislation that helps undocumented immigrants with consumer protections and career opportunities to improve their quality of life and allow them to more productively contribute to California’s economy. I also sponsored the legislation that allows undocumented workers that have passed the bar to practice law.
The constituents of our magazine, of course, are involved in the production of fruits and vegetables. Have you had the opportunity to study the agricultural issues in your few months in office?
I have a very deep respect for agriculture and the very hard work farmers do. Agriculture is what allowed my father to come here, work hard and succeed. I appreciate that. I do not believe farmers and farmworkers need to be adversarial. Of course, they come to the issues from a different perspective, and with my background I do come with a farmworker’s perspective. But I believe they should be able to work together on mutual issues such as immigration reform and increasing the water supply in California. Those are very important issues. I do not have much agriculture in my district, but when I was running for office both Western Growers and the California Farm Bureau offered to take me to farms to see what farmers do and I really want to do that.
What is your first impression of the Legislature as one of its newest members and a member of the Super Majority?
There are a lot of rules that seem to make governing difficult. In the first place, I am one that wants to read everything and I have found that to be a challenge. There are just too many bills. I’d like to see fewer bills. Of course, my staff is helping me work through that.
We do have a responsibility as members of the Super Majority. I suspect that it was a lot harder to get the Super Majority than it will be to lose it. I believe the most important thing that has happened in the Legislature is the open primary system. Now legislators have a challenger. For me, it will be a Democrat in the primary, but that does require me to talk to Republicans in my district and be their legislator as well.
We do have 41 new members in the Assembly and I do sense that people are reaching across the aisle. It is a lot easier to pass a budget and we do have extra money to accomplish things that couldn’t be done before, but I do notice a willingness to reach across the aisle and consider the opinions of the minority.
You have only been in office a few months, but already you are being touted as a future leader. What is your future and what do you think of that talk?
Although I worked for six years with Lt. Gov. Bustamante, I still don’t know where all the bathrooms are. I am still getting lost as I walk around. I tell people let me find all the bathrooms before you start talking about my future.
Our members produce the finest fruits and vegetables in the world are you a consumer of our products? And do you have some favorite items?
Oh yes. I love avocados and wouldn’t dare eat an avocado that isn’t from North San Diego County. We grow the best avocados. I also love fresh strawberries and almonds. Cooking is not something I do which makes your fresh fruits and vegetables all the more important. I can eat them without cooking them. I am very much a fan of California-grown product and am always looking for that little sticker. I also think that food security is very important and we should do whatever we can to preserve our production of agricultural products.
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