Welcome to Insiders, a new series in which I provide a glimpse into the personal lives — and personalities — of key players in the California Capitol.
Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, one of the most influential and high-profile lawmakers in the California Legislature known for her Twitter confrontations and taking on Silicon Valley’s gig-economy titans, says she is actually “kind of shy.”
“I get really nervous if I have to meet new people and I have to really work hard at it,” the San Diego Democrat told me recently from her City Heights home, where she and her husband, County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, self-quarantined after being exposed to someone who had tested positive for COVID-19.
“My comfort place is definitely with my family.”
But quarantining with them was “a little challenging,” Gonzalez admitted, laughing. She and Fletcher have a blended family of five children, of whom three — ages 9, 12 and 17 — live with them part of the time. Gonzalez’s stepfather also normally lives with them, but went camping while she and Fletcher quarantined.
With the kids on Zoom and Gonzalez and her husband on the phone and in meetings, there often wasn’t enough Internet bandwidth or physical space. “We would have to sometimes move around the house — our house is not huge — in order to not interrupt one another,” she said.
Gonzalez, 48, chairs the Latino Legislative Caucus and is the first Latina to chair the Assembly’s powerful Appropriations Committee. She also wrote the landmark bill AB 5, which targets gig-economy companies like Uber and Lyft by classifying workers as employees rather than independent contractors. But she said she considers herself “first and foremost a mom and a wife.”
“And I know that’s not always the most — I don’t want to sound — I don’t want to put women back 50 years,” she said. “But … creating a good home life for my family and being a good mom and being a good partner in my marriage is really important to me.”
While on the phone, Gonzalez chops vegetables or squeezes limes. She leaves lasagna, beans and other meals behind in the fridge so her family has something to eat when she’s in Sacramento.
“I always feel a little weird telling people that, but it’s just so much easier. If not, I know that they’ll eat out or … grab something really crappy, and I don’t mind doing it,” she said.
Nevertheless, she remains hyper-aware that this type of work “disproportionately falls on women,” especially amid the pandemic.
“We’re going to see … years of effects from this,” Gonzalez said. “Women who have to give up working full-time or have to give up the opportunity for promotion … We’re going to have larger discrepancies in income inequality for women and working families that are trying to deal with their kids at home.”
The prospect of another semester of online learning “makes me cry if I think about it too much,” she said, adding that the spring was “tremendously stressful” due to the fact that “we had three different situations with different teachers that engaged different amounts.”
Gonzalez laughingly said that as she helped her kids with their math homework, “I many times kicked myself for voting for Common Core,” which set new statewide standards for classroom instruction. “They understand (math) in a totally different form than I was taught.”
But “in some ways, this experience has really brought me back to my own childhood,” she said. Her family recently bought a Slip n’ Slide, and her husband videotapes everyone sliding down it. They have water balloon fights when the weather gets hot, and almost every night is “family game night.” Favorites include Sorry!, Apples to Apples, Connect 4, Trivial Pursuit (with separate questions for the kids and adults) and chess.
“My mom was a single mom … we were very working class,” Gonzalez said. “But we went camping and we played on the Slip n’ Slide and we played family games. And these are some of the things … we’re doing now. But it’s fun. It’s a different, low-key way to spend time with your family that’s inexpensive. And it really is good for the family unit.”