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It’s Beef Week at Voice of San Diego. We’re explaining some of the region’s long-running tensions — and the characters behind them — to help you understand civic affairs in San Diego.
Call it a marinating beef – it’s quietly gathering flavor behind the scenes, but no one is willing to talk openly about it. It’s the feud between two of San Diego’s most powerful Democrats in Sacramento: Speaker Toni Atkins and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.
It’s unclear why this feud started, but most attribute it to their similarities. Both are strong Democratic women, who’ve succeeded in different ways. While Atkins is a political powerbroker, Gonzalez’s meteoric rise has come by advancing progressive policies to aid workers, women and marginalized communities.
On the surface, the two political stars deny there’s a feud. But there’s evidence to the contrary.
Last year, when Atkins handed out committee assignments, Gonzalez was chosen to play second fiddle to Republican Assemblyman Brian Maienschein on the local government committee.
Even more rare than members of the minority party getting a chairmanship is for a star lawmaker from the majority party not to.
Fast-forward to this spring, when Gonzalez was removed from the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee. Initially, Gonzalez told the San Diego Union Tribune that she withdrew from the committee because she “could not fulfill… without violating her values and her obligation to protect families in her district.”
Both later downplayed the public safety change-up. “I have in no way ever intended to slight Lorena Gonzalez,” Atkins said. (Notice the qualifying statement “intended to.”)
The beef has also manifested itself in subtle jabs on social media. When we reported earlier this year on Gonzalez’s perfect week passing legislation, Atkins spokesman David Rolland whined that the speaker wasn’t given equal billing.
“Left unmentioned: @toniatkins got at least five bills out of committee this week. Just sayin’,” he tweeted. (The speaker’s communications staffer generally doesn’t complain about good press for one of their members.)
This week, Gonzalez offered a backhanded compliment to Atkins, whose San Diego district includes SeaWorld.
“Happy to vote to (re)ban the sale of ivory – would be happier to ban orca captivity for entertainment in California,” Gonzalez tweeted.