Gonzalez said she almost withdrew from the Women's Legislative Caucus last year when the group declined to support the paid sick-leave legislation, even though groups like The Shriver Report on women and poverty list paid sick days as the single largest reform that could be made to improve working women's lives.
"This year [the Women's Caucus] is doing a little bit better. They're doing the backlog of rape kits, which is really important, but it's not controversial. So everybody of course supported that. I think it's easier to get together and have priorities that are not controversial," said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez finds herself in an unusual political position: She’s a progressive who can win over conservatives, but who often has trouble playing nice with other progressives. As a result, she’s been snubbed in terms of committee assignments and was yanked from a high-profile committee earlier this year. "People say, 'Oh but we're all Democrats,' and it's like yeah, wait till you talk to some of these Democrats,” she explained. “They're my friends, but we're coming from different places in life.” On both sides of the aisle, she’s earned a reputation for being publicly combative but privately conciliatory.
The state's raucous debate over mandatory vaccination is the latest example of her unique approach. Gonzalez is co-author of a bill signed by Governor Jerry Brown this week that removes the personal belief exemption from California's vaccine laws, which allowed parents to forgo vaccinating their children without a medical reason. Video of Gonzalez aggressively questioning opponents over their claims of how the bill would deal with immigrants—her district borders Mexico—went viral. She also publicly sparred with actor Rob Schneider, a vaccine denialist, on Twitter.
But few people know about another celebrity vaccine encounter that went differently. During the California Democrats Convention in May, Gonzalez slipped out with some staffers to grab lunch. They were sitting at a communal table inside a restaurant when some women squeezed in next to them. One of them was the actress Jenna Elfman. Elfman's group noticed the various stickers and pins Gonzalez and her team were wearing for the convention, including one that said "I (heart) immunity." Elfman, who was there to protest the vaccine measure, asked if she and Gonzalez could talk about the issue. Despite the public rancor surrounding vaccines, their discussion was polite and friendly.
"She was the most reasonable person I've had a discussion with on this," Gonzalez said about her discussion with Elfman. "It was very civil compared to everything else. She was a nice woman, just wrong."
That willingness to engage behind the scenes is also how Gonzalez won over Anderson on two bills that she co-authored. One measure would eliminate taxes on diapers; the other one cracked down on fraudulent legal-services companies that prey on immigrants seeking help in obtaining U.S. citizenship. "We don't agree on how to address the immigration issue, but we agree nobody should be exploited," said Anderson. "She invested time to figure out who I was as a person and then she pitches her ideas in a way I can understand. That's not normal. Most people in the majority usually dictate—'I need you to vote this way.'"