This interview took place on October 24th, 2018 and has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Please update us on your mentoring of women to participate in the political process since our last interview a year ago. (e.g., appointments to boards or commissions, encouragement to run for office)
My mentoring for women continues to be on par with what I have done in previous years. It includes looking not just at women who want to run for office but also women who are interested in appointments and boards. I continue to encourage women by supporting them and writing letters of recommendation and acknowledging that they are at very different stages, where one size does not always fit all.
[Interviewer: I remember hearing this weekend that one of your employees is now running for city council in Oxnard.]
Yes, you’re right. Vianey Lopez–she is the District Director, in charge of the whole district team. Vianey is running for Oxnard City Council, which just went to district elections. [note: Vianey Lopez won and now sits on the Oxnard City Council.] I was very lucky to work at UCSB with a boss who was very supportive of me doing my job effectively and being involved in the community, so I try to model that. Stephanie Ramirez Zárate just got appointed to her very first board. One of her policy issues in our office is education, and the Santa Barbara Education Fund saw her at many events and now she is on their board. As a member of the leadership team, there are strategic ways that the leadership team in the Assembly gets involved with statewide candidates. Over the last couple of months, I have been a supporter and knocked on doors for Christy Smith in the Santa Clarita area, Cottie Petrie-Norris in the Orange County area, Sharon Quirk-Silva in the Orange County area, and Sabrina Cervantes in the Riverside area. Part of being on a leadership team at the statewide level means working within your district and extending that work well past the district.
Please tell us about diversity on your staff and any changes that may have taken place this year, particularly as regards women and their roles.
My staff grew since our last conversation. I became the second woman in history (and first woman of color) to serve as Chair of the Banking and Finance Committee in the Assembly. Here in the district office we have what I believe to be one of the most diverse staffs of any elected official. The staff continues to be diverse and reflective of what California looks like.
Since our last interview, please update us about how you have addressed gender and other inequities and imbalances regarding women, race, people of color, immigrants, etc. Please include your efforts to protect/defend these groups in relation to bias, violence, etc.
That is a big question, so I will take them one-by-one. On the immigration front, on my legislative page we have a sheet that describes some of the work that the legislature has done. The state budget continued to support efforts to try to keep families together and provide legal services for our immigrant community. Over the last two years I have been working to identify funding at the state level for our DREAMer students because DREAMers are not eligible for work-study programs. We have not yet found funding, but I have been active in those efforts. In 2017-18 I was an executive board member of the California Latino Legislative Caucus, a caucus that is 27-strong in the state, and immigration has been a top priority. We have already met with Gavin Newsome to discuss the issue because it is so important to us. We also know that the current governor, Jerry Brown, has been supportive of our goals.
The other piece that is important to this issue, and to the role that I play as the Chair of the Select Committee for the Nonprofit Sector, is the census, particularly because of the question that the federal government is planning to include in the census (the immigration status question). This has a massive impact on California. We estimate losing at least $2,000 per year for every person who is not properly counted in the census. In 2010, some cities had 100,000 people who were not properly counted. That was shown in one city, and there are more than 400 cities in the state. This is something that is important to the state. I held a hearing at the state level, bringing in some of the nonprofits and foundations that have had a history of doing count-work in our communities (those range from religious-based to others) to get input on how California is going to roll out our process for getting people counted. Again, it is an immigration issue because of the question, but it is much bigger, and it is looking to 2020.
In the area of women, we moved forward several priority bills for the women’s caucus this year, including some that were championed by our own senator in relation to board equity. We still have work to do. The governor vetoed several sexual harassment bills, particularly related to low-wage workers. There has been a conversation amongst the caucus members asking, “What happened?” We must protect all women, including women in low-wage working areas. There is already talk about reintroducing some of this legislation next year and hoping that the new governor will be open to it.
What is your current position on single payer medical coverage and what work have you done in this area? Please include your thoughts on how funding would be provided.
My position has not changed. I have been active and vocal about supporting models that include single-payer, healthcare for all, but funding has not changed and is not likely to change with this federal government. In order to create either of these models the federal government must give California a waiver to use their federal subsidies, and I think we all feel that it is not going to happen at this time. The state Assembly health committee moved forward a $1 billion proposal to inch us there, with five or six different bills that did this through increased access to care. Additionally, another big issue is reimbursement rates for providers. There are more and more doctors, especially in the 37th Assembly District (Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties), who struggle with taking government healthcare because of the low reimbursement rates. That has been an area we have tried to target because if the state can provide better reimbursement rates doctors can see more patients, which would increase access to care. The Assembly moved these policies forward, but they were not included in the final budget. As a side note, the budget works in the following way: the Assembly comes up with their budget, the Senate comes up with their budget, and the governor comes up with his budget. All three entities have representatives who convene in a conference committee to agree on what gets in the final budget. The governor is the first one to go. He starts in January, and he provides a draft. Then we have the “May Revise;” he revises it and starts to hear input from the legislative houses. We vote for the final budget in June – and we lost our proposal through this process.
What can you tell us about your efforts on gun safety/gun violence legislation, and what legislation and/or trends you anticipate for the future?
As you know, California has the strongest gun safety of any state in the country, and we did indeed move additional bills forward in 2017-18. This year there were proposals on increasing gun training for teachers, which did not go anywhere because that is not where the state wanted to go. This continues to be an important issue for us in the state.
[Interviewer: Tangential to that, I’m remembering a bill that was about police officers’ use of force that did not go forward.]
That bill did not make it out of the state Senate. The bill was authored by Shirley Weber. It would have redefined a standard used to determine whether it was appropriate for law enforcement to shoot a gun at someone. Public safety was opposed to it because the redefinition could change their work. The intent of the bill was to reduce the number of people who are shot and killed by public safety officers.
Governor Jerry Brown has had a track record of being very invested in thinking about criminal justice issues. We do not know where the new governor will potentially fall on those issues.
What new patterns, trends, and challenges do you see ahead in California and its legislature? What role can SBWPC play to help?
Water is still a big issue, specifically for this area. After the natural disasters, Thomas Fire and the Montecito debris flows, a lot of our watersheds were damaged–not just damaged but also low and empty. You couple that with Ojai and Ventura County being in the same position, and it creates a big problem. You cannot produce agriculture or build housing without water. Santa Barbara County is the 13th largest agriculture producer; Ventura County is the 8th largest agriculture producer.
There is also the potential of a recession. We do expect that in the next four or five years our economic growth in the state will slow down. These issues may not be ones that are obvious “women issues,” but they will be. Women are homeowners and pay bills, so they will be impacted.
As for other trends, the Thomas Fire had not occurred since our last conversation. Since then, a lot has been focused on natural disaster response and recovery. For our area, it could take us about four or five years to rebuild. I do not know if that is a trend, but we are going to be talking about that for several years.
SBWPC has submitted letters of support for bills you have authored. Please comment on to what extent you find these effective and how SBWPC might help going forward.
Yes, thank you!
[Interviewer: We’ve also been doing work trying to get people to contact the governor when the bills are on his desk. So, do you find those effective and is there something else you’d like us to do?]
I think that what you have done as far as calling in, emailing my office and asking the governor for support is effective. That continues to be helpful on the legislative side. On the policy side, continue having conversations with our office to understand the bills.
Of course, if there are issues that people identify that need some attention, then bringing those to our attention is helpful. On the candidate support side, I appreciate the support, attending our events, and making sure people know about the work that we are doing in the community.
What else would you like to share with the SBWPC? (e.g., bills of which you are especially proud, contributions you have made or foresee making in the future)
On the banking and finance side, I have had great success this year. I am chair of that committee at a time when there are not a lot of women in banking and finance. I had sixteen bills signed by the governor. Every single one of those had bipartisan support, and I think people do not always realize that. I have also had incredible loss on some very big bills as chair of the banking committee. I took on predatory lending practices and I lost my bills. We are a huge state, and these issues make up a huge market. But I am committed to bring those forward again. I am very proud of the work I have done in banking.
The other piece that I am not sure people realize is that I played a key role in negotiating to remove one of the initiatives from the November ballot related to lead-based paint. After a 20-year battle the courts found some paint companies responsible for knowingly advertising paint that contained lead and could poison kids. Ventura County was one of the litigants. The bond was for $2 billion that in the long run would have cost the people of California $3.9 billion. The forty million people in California have one less ballot initiative because we were at the table.
[Interviewer: It was really great to hear about the DC Planned Parenthood meeting that you did as well.]
Oh yes, I was one of two legislators invited to DC with Planned Parenthood.
[Interviewer: Well, thank you for making time!]