First in a COURIER election series:
Gonzales aims to bring life experience to Sacramento

Candidates for the state legislature are moving full gear toward Election Day, to be held on Tuesday, November 6. The rallies and meet-and-greets are becoming more frequent as incumbents and legislative hopefuls work to reach voters before the early-voter deadline of Monday, October 15.

This year voters face the ballot box to vote for the first time on California’s newly redistricted senate, congressional and assembly districts.

For Claremont, that means 3 districts with new representation. The district lines of former Senator Bob Huff and Assemblyman Tim Donnelly no longer include the City of Trees, and after 32 years representing Claremont, Congressman David Dreier announced his retirement last February.

With 6 candidates new to Claremont voters, the COURIER is sitting down with each candidate to help acquaint locals with their potential new representation. Candidates for the 25th State Senate, 27th Congressional and 41st State Assembly districts will be presented in a series of profiles within the next 6 issues.

Republican Gil Gonzales—a 2003 Pitzer graduate running for the 25th State Senate District, including Claremont—looks to bring a personal perspective to Sacramento if elected this November. Mr. Gonzales, raised by a single mother, moved between 16 different elementary schools and 5 different high schools growing up as his mother hopped from job to job. His mother was left paralyzed by a near-fatal crash when he was 12 years old, and at the age of 15 he dropped out of high school to support his family. Refusing to let his struggles define him, Mr. Gonzales went on to get his GED and earn a full ride to Pitzer College, where he now serves on the board of trustees.

Mr. Gonzales plans to bring the experience of his own hardships to the Capitol, and hopes to benefit families that are struggling with similar situations in the 25th District.


Q. You’re a first-time candidate—what inspired you to run for office?

A. It probably started with my grandparents, who helped me develop a commitment to “service above self.” My grandparents on my dad’s side came to this country from Mexico to give better opportunities to their children and grandchildren. On my mom’s side, my grandfather, who somewhat raised me, always put forth the idea of giving to your community, sacrificing in order to make sure that others have a better shot at the American Dream than he had, and I guess that’s what inspired me to run. Also, my mother is disabled. She is completely dependent on social services. She is paralyzed and seeing some of the challenges she deals with on a day-to-day basis also inspires me to go around and be involved in the community.


Q. How does your background uniquely qualify you to lead the 25th district?

A. From a professional standpoint, I started a literacy program after college called Borrowed Voices, which to this day is going strong throughout the juvenile justice camps. I worked in the legislature as a senate fellow/legislative director for state Senator Bob Dutton so I know how the Capitol works. I also have private sector experience as an industrial real estate broker. I worked with hundreds of small businesses and saw what problems they endured on a day-to-day basis trying to thrive in our state and employ Californians. The combination of that job experience brings a different skill set to the Capitol.


Q. You say you want to “draw on your education and life experiences to represent the needs of voters and chart a better course for California.” How do you plan to do so?

A. I want to be an advocate for the residents of the 25th, from the schoolchildren all the way up to the parents. The 25th isn’t unlike other areas in the state of California experiencing high unemployment. There are mothers and fathers who are struggling to put food on the table in parts of Pasadena all the way up to Upland, folks that went from making a very comfortable living to downsizing considerably and in certain instances living with family members because they couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage and they lost their home in this housing crisis. Or even the school kid who sits in an overcrowded classroom, for that matter, who’s struggling to learn who maybe doesn’t have the resources in the school or outside the school to make that happen.


Q. How do you plan to employ your advocacy in the state of California if elected?

A. By really lobbying and helping folks understand that California can thrive again and that the state isn’t dead. We have thriving sectors and, as long as we help get government out of the way, there is plenty of entrepreneurial startups as well as big businesses that want to thrive in this state and employ Californians.  

On the education front, I’m really looking at education reform. Cutting education isn’t an option anymore. It’s been cut to the bone and school kids are going without. I want to really look at models that have worked elsewhere—in Maryland and Florida, for example—bringing teacher accountability, student accountability, school choice and incentives to teachers who succeed. All of these options really need to be put on the table because they are models that have worked in other states that are facing similar problems as ours. We need to look, not recreate the wheel.


Q. How do you plan to revitalize the job market?

A. This is going to sound terribly simple, but it’s hugely important: California needs to have a customer service-oriented attitude, from our governor to our state-elected officials to our locally-elected officials and all the way down to the gardener at the State Capitol. When you go to states like Texas or Nevada, you call up some of their elected officials or economic development organizations and they really take the opportunity to sell you on the state as well as help you get your business open without putting 6-inch binders in front of you and saying you have to go through loophole after loophole just to get a business license. On that front, I plan to really help all of my colleagues in the state legislature as well as all forms of government understand that they have a role in helping business thrive, whether it’s the city planner who needs to take an extra look at a set of plans to help provide some ideas to a small business owner who wants to open a restaurant, or the state legislature looking at hard reforms like CEQA reform. All of these options need to be on the table because business wants to thrive in California. We just need to change our attitude to help make that happen.


Q. On taxing and spending you have said that “all too often our state’s elected officials seek to rely on taxing hard working Californians as the sole means of balancing the budget.” You feel that this is irresponsible leadership. How do you specifically plan to change this?

A. Taxes are necessary. They are the backbone of how our public infrastructure, our schools, public safety and other things are funded, but if you look at the way our state has gone about funding our budget gap, especially in this most recent budget with the government looking at Prop 30 as being the sole means of balancing the budget, that becomes a problem. You have to look at the totality of the issues at hand and understand why we are where we are. There is $500 billion worth of unfunded pension obligations that the general fund is going to need to backfill because the funds themselves are not performing. We need to look at pension reform. Our state has one of the highest income taxes in the nation, one of the highest business taxes in the nation. Taxes are necessary, but they have to be a last-ditch option because in this environment, states with lower taxes and tax incentives are flourishing and that’s proof: Texas, North Carolina, Nevada, etc. Before we talk about raising taxes, we need to clean up our own house and figure out ways of shoring up our budget through other reforms like pension reform before we talk about putting the burden on the taxpayer.


Q. You say the key to accountability is bipartisan collaboration. Why is this important to you? How do you plan to encourage this? 

A. If I’m blessed enough to be elected, I realize that I’m not just representing Republicans. I am representing all constituents of the 25th and of the state for that matter. There is an apathy that has been developed by voters because they feel as if what they do, what they say, when they show up at the ballot box doesn’t matter, because both political parties are fighting and creating this environment of mutually-assured destruction. Nobody really gets to move their agenda forward.

I think we start small and look at areas we agree upon. We agree that there needs to be comprehensive pension reform, comprehensive CEQA reform and tax incentives in terms of luring businesses to the state. We agree that greater teacher-student-school accountability works in educating our students and at the same time stopping the cuts to schools is essential. I don’t care if you are an Independent, Democrat or Republican, there are areas where we can move some policy forward and I think that’s what the voters of the 25th and the state want to see. They want to see us tackle some real issues that have substantive effect on the state to show that we are looking to work together rather than constantly being at odds.

To learn more about Mr. Gonzalez’s campaign, visit

—Beth Hartnett

Next up in our series: Republican?Jack Orswell, congressional candidate for the 27th District.


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