In the 365 days that came in between the explosive Harvey Weinstein revelations last fall and the divisive Brett Kavanaugh confirmation vote this weekend, California’s state Capitol was the stage for some of the most contentious debates of the #MeToo era.
Beginning barely a week after the Weinstein bombshell last fall, more than 140 of the state’s most prominent female political leaders organized a “We Said Enough” movement designed to fight back against what they called a “systemic” and “pervasive” culture of sexual harassment and assault in California government and politics.
Adama Iwu, the Vice President for State Government Relations and Community Outreach for Visa, was a co-founder of that effort and was named a Time Magazine Person of the Year for her leadership. While Iwu applauded Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent decisions on many of “We Said Enough’s” legislative priorities, she also said much work remains to be done.
“Since We Said Enough wrote the first #metoo politics letter signed by over 140 women working in California politics, we have been committed to ensuring that the California state Capitol, and every workplace, is free from harassment, bullying, discrimination and abuse,” said Iwu, one of The California Influencers. “Progress has been made towards that goal but there is still much to be done if we are going to prevent workers from being sexually harassed…”
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Amanda Renteria, who served as political director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and as a senior advisor to state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, was less measured in her assessment of progress in this year’s legislative session.
“In a year when so many survivors have courageously shared their story, I expected more from our political system,” said Renteria, who ran for California governor this year on a platform with a strong #MeToo emphasis. “In order to change the culture of sexual harassment and abuse, we must continue to hold bad actors accountable and ensure a process that protects survivors.”
“Our power structures and social norms reward those in power and ensure victims remain voiceless,” agreed Kim Yamasaki, who used her response to the Influencers series to say that she had her own experience as a victim of sexual misconduct. “While several monumental bills have been passed in the Legislature that would bring the state to the forefront of preventing workplace harassment and protecting sexual assault victims, there is still much room for improvement.”
“Culture shifts are gradual, but legislation doesn’t have to be,” Yamasaki, the Executive Director for CAUSE (Center for Asians United for Self-Empowerment), added. “Let’s not pat ourselves on the back for a job half done.”
Angie Wei, Chief of Staff for the California Labor Federation, was more emphatic, saying that she was “totally opposed” to Brown’s veto of legislation that would have prohibited forced arbitration of harassment claims. “Governor Brown failed to recognize and address the struggle of low wage, immigrant women in service industries who toil in the face of harassment, intimidation, retaliation every day.”
Business leaders expressed mixed feelings toward the governor’s actions, praising Brown for some decisions and criticizing him for others.
“We supported increased training … because it improves awareness of sexual misconduct and includes features to combat abuse and encourage communication.,” said Dorothy Rothrock, President of the California Manufacturers and Technology Association. “ (But t)he Governor got it wrong when he signed … a bill that will make it harder for meritless claims to be quickly resolved short of litigation. Keeping frivolous litigation under control is a major concern for manufacturers.”
Lara Bergthold, Principal Partner, RALLY Communications, disagreed with Rothrock on the question of undisclosed settlements.
“Sunlight is the disinfectant that can help prosecute and prevent sexual harassment,” said Bergthold, who is also the former director of the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee. “I understand there’s a balance to be struck with worker and corporate protection, but we have to start shifting the balance to protect victims and these bills were a good start in that direction.
Other Influencers were even more laudatory of the progress in the Capitol this year, but still emphasized how much more was needed.
“Governor Brown and California’s legislature are again leading the nation by enacting laws that increase protections for women, and workers generally, in the face of systemic abuse and harassment,” said Monica Lozano, President and CEO of the College Futures Foundation and former chair of the University of California Board of Regents. “While the governor vetoed a number of related bills, signing this package into law is a bold statement about our values to protect and defend the most vulnerable.”
Dan Schnur, a veteran analyst and longtime participant in California politics, is director of the California Influencers series for The Sacramento Bee and McClatchy.