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Know Your Legislator: Marie Alvarado-Gil
New state senator makes rape legislation, fentanyl and foster kids priorities in first months
Marie Alvarado-Gil trio
State Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil talks with the Turlock Journal about her first months in office (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).


Turlock Journal


State Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil, a freshman Democrat lawmaker who represents 13 counties including Stanislaus and Merced, sat down for an interview with the Turlock Journal on Friday.

It was Alvarado-Gil’s first interview with the newspaper since defeating Democrat Tim Robertson 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent for the District 4 seat last November.

Alvarado-Gil did not ask to know the Journal’s questions prior to the interview, and she did not shy away from answering any of the questions. Here are the highlights:

Journal (KH): So, the first thing… if you could give us a little history about you and then what prompted you to get into politics?

Alvarado-Gil: Well, the main question that I get in interviews or just meeting people is, why did I decide to run for this seat? And, as you mentioned, Senate District 4 is kind of a patchwork of redistricting decisions … I was really interested in seeing who was going to represent me. I just purchased my forever home, raised my kids and being pretty politically astute, I have been involved in public service. I opened several successful charter schools and served on school boards and served as an advocate for children with disabilities. So, for me, it was important to know who was going to be representing me. And when I started asking questions, making phone calls, I discovered that it was really far left or far right. You know, those middle-ground, common-sense, everyday kitchen-table issues representatives were not on the ballot. So, that's why I got involved in the race. Knowing that my husband and I both raised six kids together, they're all within the ages of 18 and 28, and not a single one of them can afford to live here in California. And I think that’s the story that we hear far too often. This is not the California that I grew up in. And the California dream is becoming more of a nightmare for the next generation. So, that's why I got involved and you know, being that I have a new grandbaby, I want to be able to see my grandson grow up here and I don't want my family moving out of California. 

Journal (KH): You have quite a list of committee appointments (Human Services, Chair; Agriculture; Business, Professions and Economic Development; Governmental Organization; Insurance; Military and Veterans Affairs; Select Committee on California’s Wine Industry; and Joint Committee on Fairs Allocation and Classification). So, tell me about that.

Alvarado-Gil: I was prescriptive in terms of the committees I asked for the ones that I felt would give me boots-on-the-ground policy that represents our district, so Agriculture, Insurance, Veterans. I also wanted to make sure that my values around my business sense and my business values were represented and I can bring a voice to contradict the heavy labor in the Capitol, so Businesses and Professionals and Economic Development. Another committee that is specific to our region, is Ag. It's actually cut up into Water Resources and then Agriculture, but they meet at the same time, so I had to make a decision; I chose Ag this round, and I'm hoping to expand that in future years. Another committee that is specific to our district is the Fairs Allocation and Classification. We've got many county fairs in our district and there is an attack to either reduce resources to our fairs or close down rodeos and farming events altogether. I felt it was important for me to also bring that voice there, as well as the California Wine Industry.

Journal (JC): Last week we talked about a particular hill that you are willing to die on at Stanislaus State, and that was regarding SB 268 (which classifies rape of an unconscious person a violent crime). It got out of committee. What do you expect for it now? And are you more hopeful than you were a week ago?

Alvarado-Gil: You know, I am hopeful. I did mention I'm a realist about this. And I know it's going to take some work; anything that touches Prop 57 reform is a touchy subject here in California, particularly with the Public Safety Committees. California has just gone in this direction of not wanting to impose more consequences on criminals, for many reasons. One is prison overcrowding, another is disparities amongst black and brown people. So, I get that. I understand that; however, the pendulum has swung where victims have less rights than criminals. And so for me coming into this, I knew it was gonna be bold as a first year legislator to bring on an a Prop 57 reform bill. We chose to do it in the form of rape of an unconscious person, which everybody that I talked to says ‘What, that's not a violent felony?’ Part of it is education, because when voters would check the ballot box in support of Prop 57, they did not do that knowing that they were going to create these cracks. And for most people you talk to, rape is a violent felony. So, bringing this forward for me was very important, one, because of my personal story, but, too, because as a legislator, our responsibility is to right wrongs. Not just to come up with fluffy legislation that makes us look good, right? So, this is very personal for me. You'll also see that we went in without sponsors; we went in without Big Sacramento support — kind of like my primary, to be honest with you. Getting the support here at the local level from Haven (Women’s Center) was important and then working with Stan State to get the voice of students involved was also important because I do believe that change happens at the local level. We were able to push it through Public Safety Committee. I had to take amendments on it, which gives us the opportunity to live to fight another day. But it still leaves loopholes that I want to close. I'm going to be coming back with some more bills, specifically on this topic, until we can say all forms of rape are included as violent felonies. The amendments say that if you cause that person to be unconscious or intoxicated or drugged and you rape that person, it is a violent felony. So, if you and a friend go to a bar, your friend buys the drinks or slips a date-rape drug into the other person's drink, and then another person actually does the rape or the offense, it's not a violent felony. So, I had to stomach that one and say, OK, the win is that we got through committee. The win is that this is the first time in many, many years that any legislator was able to actually touch Proposition 57 and get a violent felony in that classification. I'm going to push forward with it. It's going into Appropriations, and we are hopeful that it will not die a slow death in Appropriations. Then it’ll hit the Senate floor and I'm pretty confident if it hits the Senate floor, we have the vote. A lot of my colleagues are passionate about this. They understand the issues around rape, they understand the silence that befalls victims. And the politics; that wedge of politics is what's preventing many of my colleagues from actually standing forward and saying ‘yes, this is a good bill.’ So, I'm optimistic, but still have work to do. The biggest hurdle for us is going to be in the Assembly. We still have a Public Safety Committee in the Assembly that is not willing to even ‘agendize’ any type of sentence enhancements. So, we have our work to do there.

Journal (KH): You're talking about the issues you've been having with the Public Safety Committees. So, fentanyl; have you authored or co-authored any fentanyl bills?

Alvarado-Gil: Yes, I’ve coauthored a few in the Assembly. I'm working pretty closely with Assemblyman Alanis, both him and I campaigned on public safety platforms, specifically Prop 47 and 57. He's taking the angle on Prop 47 and doing an amazing job. We decided to work together on fentanyl because that's been one of the issues that is being held up in both the Senate Public Safety Committee as well as the Assembly. So, we're coauthoring each other's bills. The bills that I have are actually really, really vanilla compared to some of the fentanyl bills that we're seeing in both houses. I simply am looking at adding illegal fentanyl to a list of already listed narcotics that, in conjunction with a gun, would be a felony. It's simply correcting a wrong where we have cocaine, methamphetamine, but we don't have fentanyl. I made an incorrect assumption that my more progressive colleagues in the Democratic Party would look at this as perhaps a fair gun-control bill. I'm not controlling guns; I'm pro-Second Amendment, but what I am saying is it's already in law. Let's just make sure fentanyl is part of that list. I didn't get a very warm welcome. So, my bill is going to be heard this next week and I don't know where it's gonna go.

Journal (JC): You mentioned that you have 13 counties in your district and 22 cities. And I would wager my reputation that homelessness is a problem in each of those counties and in each of those cities.

Alvarado-Gil: It absolutely is. What do we do? Well, so this is one of those areas that is so complex, there's really not one resolve. My philosophy is this. I want to be the voice at the Capitol in Sacramento to represent those 22 cities and 13 counties. I believe that we have solutions at the local level that we need to support and resources at the state level, ensure that we have federal and state grants that can filter down into our local communities, because the same homeless issues in Jackson, where I live, are not the same homeless issues in Turlock. And so, we have to be mindful that those who are elected at the local level have a kind of a boots-on-the-ground knowledge to address the local issues. Now, with that being said, I'm not in agreement with the heavy hand of the state putting these kind of threats, if you will, on counties around homelessness, because again, it's not the same issue from county to county. I'm excited about the pilot program we have in Tuolumne and in Stanislaus, CARE Core. We have that opportunity and I want to see what our local supervisors are able to do and I've been in contact with both counties and their CEOs around their plans, where I can help and where we are moving forward … to ensure that if they use state land, we can open that up for housing that's affordable for homeless. We just had a vote in the office of the Ag Committee this week … to allow some of the land at county or state fairs, where we have excess land, to be used for affordable housing, because some of our counties, Tuolumne in particular, just does not have any land and most of their land is federal land. So, those are some of the problems that we're facing. I just aim to be a partner and a good steward of my constituents.

Journal (KH): So, we talked about your rape legislation, fentanyl and homelessness, but are there any other issues or legislative priorities that you have in the next year or so?

Alvarado-Gil: Yeah, so one of the committees that I didn't mention was the Human Services Committee. I was asked to chair that as a freshman and I feel very fortunate to be able to do that. Coming from my background, Health and Human Services has been one of those areas that I had anticipated championing legislation. But as the chair of the Human Services, I have more of an opportunity to steer policy in the right direction. So, this is policy around foster-care services, disaster preparedness, and disaster response. Working with teens, young teens or pregnant moms that are struggling with just that bridge to self-sustainability. I have been supporting my colleagues and putting forward some policy for foster kids. Those who are looking to prevent homelessness and also for those who are looking to build bridges to college and career.

Journal (JC): How significantly has your life changed since you've been elected? 

Alvarado-Gil: You know, my life has changed pretty dramatically. I started working from home in 2018. So, I didn't have to get out of my sweats or yoga pants for a while. My husband and I bought our forever home in the foothills and I’ve not been even driving in a car for a long time. So, that is a big change for me, just being back in the office and being back amongst people. This is a position where you're on 24 hours a day. That is not unique for me; that is something that I've done throughout my career. Now, I'm doing less fishing and kayaking and more, researching, reading and meetings. I do try to strike a balance. One thing that I did was make sure that my girls and my grandson were closer, so they recently moved to Patterson. I'm really happy to have a foot here in Stanislaus County as a constituent, as well. I spend time between the Capitol and Stanislaus County to ensure that I'm meeting all my obligations and still have ‘me time,’ like my grandma time. And I have an agreement with my dog that I'll come home every night. I did not opt to get a second residence in Sacramento. So, I do drive back and forth every day. For me, it’s a commute. But you know what, it's something that our constituents do every day to make a living, so I'm no exception.