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    What Kounalakis gets to do as acting CA governor


    Lynn La  LYNN LA 

    Monday, California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis issued a proclamation honoring labor activist Dolores Huerta on her 93rd birthday.

    But it was Gov. Gavin Newsom who announced the state has secured an emergency stockpile of as many as 2 million Misoprostol pills in response to a federal judge suspending FDA approval of another abortion pill on Friday.

    That’s pretty much how it goes when Kounalakis is acting governor because Newsom is out of state (or in this case, reportedly out of the country, in the Bahamas). Her job is far more issuing proclamations than making major pronouncements or signing legislation.

    Kounalakis, the first woman to be elected to the No. 2 office in California, did make history last year as the first woman ever to sign a bill into California law when she extended an eviction moratorium while Newsom was on another family vacation abroad.

    Last month, she signed her second piece of legislation, ensuring the availability of COVID laboratory testing and therapeutics after the end of California’s state of emergency. Last week, she submitted a request for federal disaster aid after the cancellation of salmon season.

    In some states, Texas for example, the lieutenant governor’s office has more responsibilities and wields a lot more influence. But in California, the role has historically been rather minimal: voting on the boards of the three public higher education systems, serving on the commission that oversees state land, and stepping in when the governor leaves the state.

    California is also one of a handful of states where the lieutenant governor is independently elected. That can lead to some friction: Newsom, when he had the job, didn’t always see eye to eye with then-Gov. Jerry Brown. And when governors and lieutenant governors belong to different political parties, they can clash, as happened with Democrat Brown and Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Curb.

    In the case of Newsom and Kounalakis, however, their relationship is much more amicable. As their press offices told CalMatters, they coordinate what happens when she’s filling in:

    • Aleksandra Reetz, Kounalakis spokesperson: “We have a really collaborative and close and positive working relationship with the governor’s office. That comes from the top. The lieutenant governor and the governor have a decades-long relationship, and this governor knows what it’s like to be the lieutenant. He understands what the job is, and that goes for his staff as well.”
    • Alex Stack, Newsom spokesperson: “There are some things you can plan for, like the Dolores Huerta Day proclamation, and some things you can’t plan for like what the judge did on Friday…. It’s a case-by-case basis, and we’re all a team and we work with each other very closely.”

    And while lieutenant governor is not always a stepping stone to governor, Brown and Newsom both made that move. Kounalakis makes no secret she wants to be next: She told CalMatters during her reelection campaign last year that it’s “very good training ground for the bigger job.”


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