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Labor Leader Lorena Gonzalez Wins Assembly Seat

May 22, 2013 1:20 p.m.


Lorena Gonzalez, California Assemblymember-elect, representing the 80th Assembly District

Related Story: Big Night For Labor With Cole, Gonzalez Wins On City Council, State Assembly


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

FUDGE: It's Wednesday, May 22, I'm Tom Fudge. We can call it Labor Day. Yesterday, two special elections took place in San Diego. Both were won by Democrats who are also professional labor organizers. The victories deserve to assure a democratic majority on the San Diego City Council and a democratic supermajority in the state assembly. We begin by talking with Lorena Gonzalez who yesterday won a special election to replace Ben Hueso in the 80th assembly district. Hueso has moved into a state Senate seat. Ms. Gonzalez is a Democrat and the secretary treasurer of the San Diego and imperial counties labor council. Her victory assures the thin supermajority Democrats now hold in the assembly. They also have a supermajority in the state Senate. And Lorena Gonzalez, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

GONZALEZ: Thank you for having me, Tom.

FUDGE: What is your reaction to the overwhelming victory in the south county 80th district?

GONZALEZ: Well, I have to tell you I'm completely humbled and excited. The support we received across county lines was a testament to the fact we were talking about the need for good-paying jobs. And I think that resonates with all of the voters in the district.

FUDGE: You seemed to be pretty comfortable working for the labor council. Why did you want to get into politics?

GONZALEZ: As much as I love to serve as a worker advocate, my frustration has been in the lack of ability to really do anything about the job situation in California, and in particular in the south bay. So I know what was something I wanted to focus on, along with how to implement Obamacare in California, and what we're doing in our public schools. I had to go to a different level and change what I was doing in order to have a real effect. So I'm excited about working on these things for everybody in the south county.

FUDGE: I was going to ask you what are going to be your priorities as a member of the state legislature. And I think you may have answered that. Would you like to expand on that?

GONZALEZ: Sure. Three things, one is focus on creating private sector job growth in California, ensuring it's not just any job but the kind of job you can actually raise a family on. A job that puts a house over your head and ensures that you have healthcare and that your kids can do okay. If we implement, cover California, Obamacare, everybody has exactly what we were promised, accessible and affordable healthcare. I'm concerned over the next five years how those implementations will happen, how much access people will really have. And finally, of course I have two kids in public school, and there is nothing more important to me than their education. If kids don't have a quality, good education then there's not a whole lot that they can do to do better than their parents. And that's what I think every parent wants for their children.

FUDGE: You say you want to create jobs. How does state government create jobs without just creating a larger state bureaucracy?

GONZALEZ: I think there are a lot of things that we do already. We have tax incentives. For years, we had tax increments, we have all kinds of tax breaks that we give to corporate America. And that can be a good thing and a bad thing. Right now, over half of our money, the tax credits go to employers like Walmart and to fast food restaurants. I think it's time we look at those subsidies and redirect them to creating good middle class jobs, manufacturing jobs not until for California but specifically for the south bay. And at the same time looking at how we can help small businesses get off their feet and get moving. So there's a lot that can be done as far as tax credits and incentives.

FUDGE: I mentioned the slim supermajority for the Democrats in the assembly. Do you think that's important?

GONZALEZ: You know, I think right now where we are and what we're doing, it's not maybe as important as it could have been in the past. However, there is in one bill I'm very, very interested in, and that's one that would ensure that the big corporations that dump their workers into Medi-Cal have to pay their fair share. And that is one that would require a supermajority vote. So I think there are some things that would equate to fairness that need to be voted on. But for the most part, I don't think anyone is going to go -- hopefully try to increase taxes or go crazy on the fiscal side. So I think it's going to be a balanced approach.

FUDGE: What can you say to voters who may think that a person with your labor background would want to act too favorably to state union workers at the possible expense of a sound budget?

GONZALEZ: 72% of the voters in the 80th assembly district agreed that I was the right person for the job. To be honest, I've always said and continue to say that those decisions about state workers, about any workers should be handled at the bargaining table. I support that. I'm not going to support anything lavish on either end, giving or taking away. I think they need to be hammered out, and when that happens at the bargaining table, we see what happens here in San Diego. We saved $20 million at the bargaining table for pension reform when it was done that way. I'm definitely going to protect workers, but at the same time I think we need to have a safe, strong budget.

FUDGE: You've been unapologetic about your labor background and have encouraged labor leaders to run for office.

GONZALEZ: I encourage anyone from labor to run for office, absolutely. I think if we have a strong union movement, and I'm talking the private sector union movement particularly, then we have a strong middle class. It's been proven time and time again. And in order to understand the necessity of workers to have a voice on the job, collectively bargaining rights and to be able to hold onto those, are it's good for union workers, but it's even better for nonunion workers because it raises the standard. We need to have living wages and healthcare. Every worker in California deserves that. And nobody understands that better than labor leaders. So yes, absolutely. And we had a great success with it yesterday.

FUDGE: Well, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

GONZALEZ: All right, thank you.