This post has been updated.

A few weeks back, we held an education discussion with Assemblywoman Shirley Weber. To kick things off, Weber was giving us a rundown of her background and how she ended up in politics, and she said something that stuck with me.

Weber has been elected to two public offices – first the San Diego Unified board of trustees, then the Legislature – but she didn’t really want either job. When now-Speaker Toni Atkins tried to get her to run for Assembly, Weber said no several times.

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“I was having a wonderful life,” Weber said. But after a lot of prodding, “I realized that California had been very good to me. And I owed it to California. I stand on the shoulders of some people who had very little and gave so much. And this is the least I could do.”

That someone like Weber who was eminently qualified had to be basically dragged kicking and screaming into politics is not unusual. In fact, it’s the norm.

In 2008, researchers from Brookings concluded:

Women are less likely than men to be willing to endure the rigors of a political campaign. They are less likely than men to be recruited to run for office. They are less likely than men to have the freedom to reconcile work and family obligations with a political career. They are less likely than men to think they are “qualified” to run for office. And they are less likely than men to perceive a fair political environment.

More recent research drives the point home further.

So how do women end up in politics, and what do they do to bolster their ranks once they get there? I asked the women in San Diego’s legislative delegation about their recruitment experiences, and here’s what Assemblywomen Toni Atkins and Lorena Gonzalez told me. (I reached out to Assemblywoman Marie Waldron’s office several times, and did not receive a response.)

These responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Did you make a proactive decision to run for office, or were you encouraged and recruited by someone? If the latter, who was it and how did it work?

Atkins: After having worked in health care for a community clinic as well as being active in women’s issues and in the LGBT community, I was working for my political mentor, Christine Kehoe, when she represented District 3 on the San Diego City Council. In about 1998, after working in most of the communities of the district, people around me started acting as if it was a given that I would run to replace Chris when she was termed out in 2000.

Honestly, I was hesitant at first, but Chris Kehoe convinced me that these people were, in fact, very serious when they said I should run, and she and others provided the encouragement I needed to help me realize that I could do it. When I joined Chris’ staff, I initially thought it was going to be a short-term break from working in women’s health, and that I would return to that career, because I loved it. But the Council environment offered the chance to be involved in a much broader range of policy issues, and I realized that I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to be involved from a position of leadership.

Gonzalez: I met with (now Rep.) Juan Vargas for coffee one day as he was gearing up to run for Congress and I told him I was concerned that we’d see another very divisive game of dominoes that we’ve seen play out in the South Bay before with respect to the Senate seat he would vacate and potentially Ben Hueso’s Assembly seat if he were to vacate that to be in the Senate. Juan told me he had the perfect plan for that: I would run for Assembly. For months, I just laughed it off. But, when those dominoes did fall, both Juan and Ben insisted that I run for the Assembly and were very supportive the whole way.

What’s your approach to recruiting other politicians?

Atkins: Thinking back on how I was hesitant and unsure about running the first time, what I try to do now is tell potential candidates — particularly women — that they mustn’t let these opportunities slip away. In politics, windows often aren’t open for very long, and there are always others who are more than happy to close those windows or climb through them while you sit there wondering if you should run or if you are good enough.

Gonzalez: I was tapped by my colleagues in the California Latino Legislative Caucus this year to head up the recruitment effort for the 2016 cycle and all of my colleagues — men and women — were very supportive of my vision to recruit more women for these races. Currently, there are only five Latinas in the Legislature, so only 4 percent, even though Latinas make up 18 percent of California’s population. Nine of the 11 incoming candidates supported by the Latino Caucus are women (Latinas). We identified seats where we thought Latinas could do well and sought out women we heard were interested or were already local elected officials. We are now helping them with endorsements, fundraising and campaign advice.

Signing Spree Continues

Gov. Jerry Brown signed these measures from San Diego lawmakers into law this week:

• AB 489 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez allows ocean lifeguards to become eligible for the Public Safety Medal of Valor.

• AB 329 by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber ensures public school students get comprehensive education about sex and reproductive health.

• AB 494 by Assemblyman Brian Maienschein lets people with a restraining or protective order have exclusive possession of household pets. AB 447 by Maienschein protects against discrimination in issuing property insurance.

• AB 1407 by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins helps victims of domestic violence reclaim cell phone accounts controlled by their abusers. AB 1056 by Atkins creates a Second Change Program for criminal offenders.

•  SB 287 by Sen. Ben Hueso requires certain large buildings to have an Automated External Defibrillator onsite.

A Setup for More Turnout Failure, or ‘a Watershed Moment for California’

Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee reminds folks that there’s a difference between voter registration – the people who can legally vote – and voter turnout – the people who do actually vote. For all the hype over Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s New Motor Voter bill, which would automatically register voters through the DMV, “raising overall registration numbers will likely mean a further decline in turnout percentages, perhaps markedly so,” Walters writes.

He prescribes that same ominous solution that Assembly GOP leader Kristin Olsen suggested earlier this year: “If politicians seek causes and cures of this civic malady, maybe they should look in the mirror.”

Walters follows up with this piece detailing California politicians’ recent transgressions, including two revealed by VOSD.

•  Elsewhere in the Sac Bee, at least one person is more excited about the bill than Walters. Cristobal Alex, president of the Latino Victory Project, says the measure “could be a watershed moment for California, the moment when Latinos stand up and demand that the government act in their interests.”

•  Latino residents already outnumber white residents in California. But Latino voters are expected to outnumber white voters in 2040, according to new numbers from UC Davis. (KPCC)

•  The Motor Voter bill is also on this L.A. Times list of measures its editorial board supports and whose fates are still undecided.

The list also includes Sen. Joel Anderson’s bill to require warrants for digital searches, Speaker Toni Atkins’ bill banning most ivory sales and Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s bill requiring police to collect racial data on traffic stops.

Gonzalez Bills Under Fire

Anti-vaxxers fell far short in their effort to force California’s tough new vaccine law, co-authored by San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, onto the 2016 ballot.

The leader of the failed signature drive, former Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, said the effort “was sabotaged from without and within by powerful forces from its very inception,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Referendum on Vaccine Bill fails!! California kids & public health win!

— Lorena Gonzalez (@LorenaSGonzalez) September 30, 2015

Another Gonzalez bill that hasn’t yet been signed by the governor – one that would take some powers away from Civic San Diego – has some powerful opposition, CityBeat reported this week. The Downtown San Diego Partnership has hired a D.C. firm run by a friend of Gov. Jerry Brown to lobby against the measure. Gonzalez took issue with one of the Civic San Diego board members quoted in the story:

Jeff Gattas is really full of it. Workers & Community didn’t get a single thing. We deserve more than nothing.

— Lorena Gonzalez (@LorenaSGonzalez) September 30, 2015

SD to CA: Change the Rules for Us

As part of the state’s cap-and-trade program, the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities effort aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by funding housing projects that are affordable and close to public transit. More people walking and biking to work means fewer car trips.

But only two San Diego projects got funds from the program. Far more projects in San Francisco and Los Angeles made the cut.

SANDAG, the regional planning agency, is now asking the state to loosen the rules of the program so that San Diego can be more competitive, VOSD’s Maya Srikrishnan reports. Right now, projects have to be within a half-mile of transit stations in order to qualify for funds. SANDAG officials say projects farther away should be considered.

Aye, Nay and I’m Away

This cool interactive from the Sacramento Bee shows each state lawmaker’s voting record for the year – when they voted yes, when they voted no and when they didn’t vote.

Oceanside Assemblyman Rocky Chavez had the highest percentage of missed votes. Assemblyman Brian Maienschein had the most “yes” votes among all Republicans in the Assembly.

The Civil Wars Rage on

The Union-Tribune has dubbed 2016 the year of the political friendly fire, thanks to the two intraparty battles raging: On the Dem side, Speaker Toni Atkins is trying to oust Sen. Marty Block; on the GOP side, state Sen. Joel Anderson wants to replace County Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

The U-T’s Michael Smolens reads the tea leaves on Atkins-Block:

The governor has stayed out of this intramural battle, at least publicly. But he has a close working relationship with Atkins, and it didn’t go unnoticed that he gushed with praise about her in a routine news release about bill signings on Tuesday. Some Capitol watchers said that’s not very common in such bill updates.

Atkins is going full force on the pitch that she will be a leader in the Legislature, not a warm body. In this fundraising appeal, Atkins writes: “I am committed to continuing our work in Sacramento and to make sure San Diego always has a place at the head of the table. … I will continue to not only fight but LEAD the fight on these issues and to protect San Diego and our common interests.”

On the Anderson-Jacob front, this week Jacob got a boost in the form of an endorsement from Mayor Kevin Faulconer. (Times of San Diego)

Golden State News

• Where you live within California affects more than just your feelings about the word hella. It also determines how much you pay for medical services. A knee replacement costs more than $42K in Sacramento but $27K in Los Angeles. (Sacramento Bee)

• The New Yorker examines the many contradictions of GOP candidate Carly Fiorina, and revisits her Senate campaign against Barbara Boxer. It also notes Fiorina believes California’s drought “is a ‘man-made disaster,’ not because of climate change but because ‘liberal’ politicians, worried about fish, prevented the state from building dams.”

 Bakersfield Rep. Kevin McCarthy is gunnin’ for that No. 1 spot – he announced he’ll run for speaker of the House. If he gets it, both leaders of the House would be from California. Don’t get any ideas though, McCarthy and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are not pals. Like, at all. (Huffington Post/L.A. Times)

 Some realtalk on California’s economy from John Myers.

 “To save California’s democracy, I propose the Avocado Party.” (L.A. Times)

 The juice is loose in Sacramento. (CalMatters)

• Four years into realignment, “the policy shift has largely achieved its goals without many negative consequences.” (KQED)

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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