By Laurel Rosenhall, CALmatters
Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes had held elected office just a few short months when she was summoned to the Governor’s Mansion earlier this year. Many lawmakers go their entire career without ever negotiating face to face with Gov. Jerry Brown. And yet there was Cervantes, the Capitol’s youngest legislator — just 29 at the time — squaring off with a governor fifty years her senior.
Brown wanted Cervantes to vote for his plan to increase gas taxes to pay for billions of dollars in road repairs. Cervantes, a Democrat from a Riverside County district long held by Republicans, knew that supporting a tax increase wouldn’t go over well at home—unless she could reap significant benefits for her constituents. So she laid out a wish list of projects to improve freeways, railroad crossings and bridges in her district, and told Brown her cities and parks needed more money, too.
“She wasn’t at all intimidated by the governor or intimidated by the situation,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who was in the Governor’s Mansion as Cervantes met with Brown. “She was there to represent her folks, and it was impressive.”
Cervantes voted for the gas tax. And Brown, through the road-repair bill and later budget actions, approved nearly half a billion dollars for her Inland Empire region — $427 million for transportation projects, $18 million for parks and $16 million for four small cities. It’s an extraordinary amount for any lawmaker to send home, but an especially deft act of leveraging by such an inexperienced politician.
Cervantes’ tactical skills will be put to the test as she faces her first re-election campaign next year, a contest that could decide not only her own future in politics but also the balance of power in Sacramento. Her…