Well, it didn’t take long for a political earthquake to strike Sacramento.
Moments after state lawmakers rung in the 2022 legislative session Monday, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez — who for years has been one of the state Capitol’s most powerful players — announced she will step down Wednesday to prepare to assume leadership in July of the California Labor Federation, an influential alliance of unions representing about 2.1 million workers.
“It wasn’t a tough decision after everything I’ve been through in the last few months,” Gonzalez told Alexei Koseff, who started Monday as CalMatters’ new Capitol reporter and contributed to this dispatch.
Gonzalez was diagnosed last year with breast cancer and recently underwent a mastectomy and a series of other surgeries, tweeting updates from her hospital bed.
- Gonzalez told Alexei: “You do a lot of introspection, and my life’s work is with the labor movement and with workers.”
Gonzalez has been the labor movement’s most prominent and vocal champion at the Capitol since her election in 2013. Unafraid of Twitter confrontations — as exemplified by her now-infamous tweet “F*ck Elon Musk” — and taking on Silicon Valley gig-economy titans, Gonzalez has steered significant union victories through the Legislature, including a bill that made it harder for companies like Uber and Lyft to define their workers as independent contractors and a bill that targets warehouse speed quotasused by companies like Amazon.
As leader of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, through which nearly all major bills must pass for fiscal review, Gonzalez also exerted outsized influence on the legislative agenda. (On Monday, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon announced that Assemblymember Chris Holden, a Pasadena Democrat, will take over the committee.)
But Gonzalez, who would have termed out of the Legislature in 2024, faced narrowing options for her next act. She had planned to run this year for secretary of state — until Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Shirley Weber to fill the position in late 2020. And under newly-redrawn legislative maps, Gonzalez would have had to move districts or run against another sitting assemblymember, Weber’s daughter Akilah Weber, for her final two-year term.
While plenty of other Democratic lawmakers will likely assume the mantle of organized labor — including state Sens. Connie Leyva of Chino and Maria Elena Durazo of Los Angeles, both former union leaders — Gonzalez’s departure could have significant implications for legislative business.
And it could affect one of her closest allies, Rendon, whose leadership is facing its most direct challenge since his colleagues elected him to the position in 2016.
Rendon in November stripped a potential rival, Democratic Assemblymember Evan Low of Campbell, of his committee leadership post amid rumors that Low was working behind the scenes to replace Rendon.
- Gonzalez told Alexei: “I don’t think (Rendon is) vulnerable at all. … I think a lot of people have lofty goals of seeing themselves in a position of power but haven’t done the work to necessarily hold that position. … When you have the votes to take out the Speaker, you don’t run around telling rumors that you have the votes to take out the Speaker. You actually do it.”