Lawmakers perpetuate “system-is-rigged” narrative by honoring family members with awards, critics say

MariaLuisaAlejoCovarrubias2

Alejo honors his mother Woman of the Year. Courtesy of Alejo’s office.

At a time when voters are increasingly convinced the system is rigged, some state legislators are making that perception worse by giving district-wide awards to their family members, critics say.

While it’s not uncommon for legislators to participate in award ceremonies recognizing constituents for their accomplishments, it’s becoming more common for those honorees to be friends and family members of the legislators.

In March, members of the Legislature honored women from their districts to be Woman of the Year: Assemblyman Luis Alejo picked his mother. In May, Assemblywoman Nora Campos selected as Small Business of the Year a brand new political strategy firm both her brother and her longtime political consultant work for, which had also held fundraisers for her. And just a few weeks ago, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez picked her boyfriend, Nathan Fletcher, a former state legislator, to be Veteran of the Year.

“These ‘awards’ are a generally cost-free technique for buying some goodwill in the community,” said John J. Pitney, Jr., a Roy P. Crocker professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College. “Generally, they are harmless, but when lawmakers give them to their relatives, friends and squeezes, they just contribute to the sense that the political system is rigged.”  

“We already have a surplus of cynicism, and this nonsense makes it worse,” Pitney said.

Hurts the association

This was the first year Campos, a San Jose Democrat, chose to participate in the Small Business of the Year award, selecting Voler Strategic Advisors, which had been in business less than one year and does not have a working website.

The same month the award was given, Voler held a fundraiser for Campos’ Senate campaign — Campos is challenging Sen. Jim Beall, a fellow San Jose Democrat.

“This is absolutely not the spirit of the award,” said Samantha Toccoli, legislative coordinator for the California Small Business Association, one of the groups in charge of the program.

California Small Business Day was created by an Assembly resolution in 2000. Toccoli said she was unaware of any familial relationship between Campos and Voler and added that the organization is run by volunteers who have no way of efficiently vetting every honoree.

“I would hope that this reflects on the legislator and not the integrity or intention of our organization and the 25 other organizations that host the event,” Toccoli said. 

A Campos spokesperson countered that the award was technically given to Voler’s owner, not Campos’ brother, Xavier, who is a senior vice president, or her longtime political consultant and former communications director, Rolando Bonilla, who is Voler’s chief strategy officer.

Look no further

For Alejo, a Watsonville Democrat, it’s his last year in the Legislature, having been termed out and elected to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors — he said he “could not think of anyone better” for the award than his mother, Maria Luisa Alejo Covarrubias. 

“I wanted to honor my mother during my last year in the state Assembly,” Alejo said in a statement at the time. “Our mothers are our first teachers and made us who we are today. My mother has done so much for my family and for our local communities, and I could not think of anyone better for this year’s Woman of the Year for Assembly District 30.”

Alejo did not respond to requests for comment.

Cronyism?

Because Gonzalez’s boyfriend is a former legislator, her awarding Fletcher was more conspicuous than the two prior examples. On Instagram, Fletcher said: “Honored to be chosen as Veteran of the Year by my Assemblywoman:)” 

San Diego Republicans blasted Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat, for choosing her boyfriend, which she defended on Facebook by highlighting Fletcher’s work with veterans, by denouncing the attacks as partisan and by blaming the media. She pointed out that others, including Republicans, had done the same.

“It is well known that Nathan and I are in a committed relationship, but there is a long line of assemblymembers who have picked husbands, wives, fathers, mothers and other relatives for recognition,” Gonzalez wrote. “Never once has it been questioned.”

Not who it is but how it looks

But the question isn’t so much whether Fletcher or any of the others are deserving of the awards, it’s a question of what message these actions send to the public, which is already weary from the perception of widespread double standards and cronyism. 

“These examples reflect poorly on the Legislature,” said David Wolfe, legislative director for the right-leaning Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “We need to ask if the awards program as a whole is in the best interest of California taxpayers.”

“If the Legislature truly desires to honor [taxpayers] it should rededicate the hours that they currently spend on pomp and circumstance shows like these and instead focus on fixing real problems, like our state’s $500 billion unfunded pension liability,” Wolfe said.

Lax leadership?

So far, the three incidents are isolated to Assembly Democrats and it’s unclear if Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood — who waited more than two months to take action against a committee chairman accused of domestic violence and under a temporary and then three-year restraining order — will ask fellow legislators to abstain from taking actions that give the appearance of cronyism.

Rendon did not respond to requests for comment.

9 comments

Write a comment
  1. Leaving Soon
    Leaving Soon 21 July, 2016, 17:49

    Where is my barf bag ?

    Reply this comment
  2. DaveW
    DaveW 21 July, 2016, 21:11

    Consider the source(s).

    Reply this comment
  3. losbanos1
    losbanos1 21 July, 2016, 21:14

    These liberal loons need to be put in their places.

    Reply this comment
  4. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 21 July, 2016, 23:32

    Cough,cough,cough,kaahhaaccckk BIRD BARF UGH IM SICK

    Reply this comment
  5. LA Jones
    LA Jones 22 July, 2016, 18:16

    I agred wit Alejo mama. She ated hole ting.Jud like burreto, butz bigg reale bigz.

    Reply this comment
  6. Dr.Ted Tedly Trumpsteaks
    Dr.Ted Tedly Trumpsteaks 23 July, 2016, 08:43

    It’s like a soccer trophy! All kids get one cause they are ALL “special” ! I love it—-soon, in our new world, we will all be equal……

    Reply this comment
  7. FFLF
    FFLF 23 July, 2016, 09:26

    Speaker Rendon is my assembly rep in stinkramento. I have REPEATEDLY tried to contact him regarding many issues. I have finally given up. He is a RABID anti-gun far far left wing liberal who will NOT give anyone with different ideas ( you know conservative ) the time of day.. and the DUMB brain dead voters here CONTINUE to elect and re elect hard core tax and spend retarded democrats and continue to stay poor and dumbfounded at the lack of fair or balanced leadership in stinkramento! Simply a waste of time to even try to communicate with anyone in the assembly or senate!

    Reply this comment
  8. Mike
    Mike 23 July, 2016, 18:02

    . I wonder if Trump is elected, we will get a progressive enforcement of treason with traditional sentences, managed by New York mob. No rope, piano wire makes a nice statement. 1/3 of Cal legislature would self deport. The cartels would be the victim of genocide. What is Mexico going to do, declare war?

    Reply this comment
  9. Queeg
    Queeg 29 July, 2016, 11:20

    Comrades

    it is ok to kiss their rings…….don’t fight one party reality.

    Reply this comment

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