Big Night For Labor With Cole, Gonzalez Wins On City Council, State Assembly
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.
FUDGE: Now we speak with Myrtle Cole. She won the race yesterday for the San Diego City Council's 4th District, which includes most of southeast San Diego, a racially diverse district which was recently represented by Tony Young. Young quit his job to run the local Red Cross. She is a former police officer and the Regional Coordinator for the United Domestic Workers union. COLE: Thank you for having me. FUDGE: And congratulations, first of all. COLE: Thank you! FUDGE: And what are your feelings about winning in the 4th district? COLE: I'm excited. I'm excited to get started, Tom. Looking forward to getting in office, making some changes, making sure that we all come together, that we start healing as a community, as a district. And I'm ready to get to work! FUDGE: You ran against another Democrat named Dwayne Crenshaw. And the contest got pretty personal. What do you think was your message which eventually won the race? COLE: Well, my message was putting neighborhoods first. My message was integrity. My message was I've been there, I can get the job done, I have a lot of people that endorse me, that trust me, that know that I can get the job done. That's why I had so many people walking for me, so many people endorsing me, and that's why I won because they know that I will put the members of the 4th council district first and put neighborhoods first. FUDGE: Your race against Dwayne Crenshaw got fairly personal. One of your mailers accused your opponent of using drugs, incorrectly, it seems. Is that something you regret? COLE: You know, I will not say anything about that. Things happen over the course of a campaign. Unfortunate things happen over the course of a campaign, both to myself, and to the opponent. I hate to say that's politics, because that should not be. But that's how it was. And that's all I can say about that. FUDGE: I mentioned that you're a union organizer. And I think at least half of your financial support came from labor unions. Now I'm going to ask you a question I asked Lorena Gonzalez, what do you say to people who think you won't be tough enough on limiting may to unions in interest of keeping the San Diego budget in check? COLE: Well, first of all, my door will be open to everyone. I will welcome small businesses. I will welcome everyone to my office. And No.2, labor is just a small word for working families. That's all we are, working families. We're teachers, nurses, firefighters, police officers, sanitation drivers, lifeguards. That's what we are. And I am so proud to be represented and to be endorsed by working families. FUDGE: What would you say are your goals for your time in office? I think you got into this a little bit. But elaborate on that question. COLE: My goal No.1, is public safety. When I walked through the doors of the voters, first thing they say, I am scared to go outside of my home. I'm scared to leave my home. So public safety is No.1. So I'm going to get with the police officers and make sure that our streets are safe and that we have a better relationship with the residents, that the police and the residents have a great relationship. That's what I'm going to start working on. No.2, infrastructure. I was standing on the corner, and the streets were cracked, the sidewalks were cracked, we have to address the infrastructure. And then of course, jobs. We need good-paying jobs, quality jobs, and services in our community. FUDGE: The 4th district is low-income in many ways. What can the city do to improve the lives of people who live there in terms of infrastructure needs or anything else you can think of? COLE: Well, exactly that. We have to invest in our neighborhoods. We have to put neighborhoods first. That's what Bob Filner got into office to say. Neighborhoods first. That's what I will do. Making sure that we do pave our streets, that we do address our broken infrastructure. We have to address that, we have to pave our streets and make sure that we have walkable communities. And again jobs, good-paying jobs is what we need in our district. We need to bring those jobs in. And services. We spent $870 million outside of our district, and we have to bring those dollars back into our district. FUDGE: Ms. Cole, let me ask you a question about infrastructure for the 4th district. Why were you opposed to the creation of a shopping center in the district that would build a Walmart store? COLE: Well, until Walmart pays good-paying jobs, and pay their employees decent wages, until they give them health benefits, I cannot support something like that. I want the jobs in our community to be quality jobs and to have good wages and health benefits. That's what I want for the residents of my district. And Walmart does not given us this yet. If they do, then I will welcome Walmart. FUDGE: What about your constituents who want a place where they can shop and buy groceries? COLE: Absolutely I will bring those shops in. I want to bring in a different grocery store into our district. That's the first thing that I said, that we only have really two grocery store, a food for less and a Ralph's. I want to bring other Ralph's, Albertsons, are Vons or one world markets. We are going to bring grocery stores into our district. We will do that. FUDGE: As long as they're not Walmart, it sounds like. COLE: Well, Walmart should start paying better wages to their employees, treating their employees with respect and dignity. Once they do that, then I will welcome Walmart. FUDGE: All right, well, thank you, ma'am. I've been speaking with Myrtle Cole, thank you very much for joining us. COLE: You're welcome, thank you for having me.
Tuesday was a big night for labor in San Diego, as Labor Council CEO Lorena Gonzalez handily won a seat on the state Assembly and the labor-backed candidate for San Diego City Council, Myrtle Cole, won with 53 percent of the vote.
Cole won with 710 more votes than her opponent Dwayne Crenshaw.
Labor coordinator and former police lieutenant Cole was unabashed in thanking all of the unions who backed her candidacy.
“My volunteers, my nurses, my teachers, my sanitation drivers, my firefighters, my police," she said. "All the people that walked for me, knocked on the door, called. Those are the people that got me here today. I stand on their shoulders. We’re in this together, that’s why they’re here.”
Cole ran against longtime community activist Crenshaw to represent southeast San Diego on the City Council. Former Council President Tony Young left the seat vacant in January after six years in office to become CEO of the San Diego and Imperial Counties chapter of the American Red Cross.
Cole had the backing of Mayor Bob Filner, along with most of the area's Democratic office holders and labor organizations. She came out on top in the March primary election with 33 percent of the vote.
Crenshaw, who is on leave as executive director of San Diego Pride, was endorsed by environmental organizations, school district trustees and most of the other primary candidates.
In the 80th Assembly District, which includes the southern areas of San Diego County, Gonzalez won in a landslide with 72 percent of the vote against Chula Vista Councilman Steve Castaneda to replace Ben Hueso, who was elected to the state Senate.
Gonzalez told the crowd on election night that union leaders must run for office to ensure union interests are represented.
“All I promise you is that I will continue to wake up every day like I have for the last five thinking how can we create better jobs, more jobs,” she said.
Both elections fill the two remaining years in the terms for the two districts.
Young left office just after redistricting took effect, but state law required the 2010 District 4 boundary to be used to determine which candidate will be his successor because those voters elected the original candidate, according to the county Registrar of Voters office. The updated boundaries will be used in the 80th Assembly District race.
Voting results will be certified in the first week of June.