It was a colossal Capitol mistake. One headline called it "Capitol Cruelty". However, the abused individual became the big winner of this year's California legislature.
MP Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) jumped from rookie lawmaker to rising star literally overnight.
The undeniable loser – at least the PR loser – was the congregation spokesman, Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood).
A likable guy, Rendon became another headline dubbed "California's New Scorn" after rejecting Wick's request to proxy the legislation. Wicks asked to vote from home because she was breastfeeding her newborn baby. And there was the highly contagious coronavirus that she was worried about for her month-old daughter.
The spokesman first said to her: "I don't understand why not," he says. Congregation lawyers later warned him that voting by proxy could be illegal and jeopardize any passed bills that Wicks voted for. The judges could throw her out. Lawsuits were threatened.
Two days before the end of the session, Rendon called Wicks back and informed her that she did not qualify for the recently passed house rule that allows proxy voting for members of the congregation who are at high risk for COVID-19.
It doesn't matter that the Senate set up a remote system for debate and voting on Zoom. Democrats forced Republicans to use it when a GOP senator tested positive for COVID-19.
When Rendon Wicks said she couldn't vote by proxy, he said she didn't argue about it. The narrator also says that he did not ask her to come to Sacramento. And he certainly didn't know she was going to bring the baby.
Why did Wicks bring her?
"She feeds every two hours," Wicks told me. "She hasn't left my side since she was born four weeks ago."
Says Rendon of his decision, "I knew it wasn't going to get popular. But my job is to defend the house and the votes."
It should also protect the image of the house and its own. He looked politically deaf and insensitive to motherhood, despite the fact that his wife gave birth to a daughter 11 months ago. His decision was not only unpopular, it caused national outrage.
It wouldn't have looked so bad if Wicks hadn't followed her conscience and sense of duty by showing up in the assembly chamber on the last night of the session to vote for bills that matter to her – wearing a pandemic mask and wrapping Elly around on her chest.
A photo and video went viral. Buffy and Elly became faces for the increased consideration of working mothers and the insensitivity of male bosses.
Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) – a leader in the family vacation movement – both tweeted their support.
Wicks, 43, has some connections. She was the architect of Barack Obama's announced 2008 grassroots organization that helped him be elected president. She was a senior executive on both of Obama's presidential campaigns and an adviser to the Obama White House. In 2016, she was State Director of Clinton's successful California Primary Campaign.
Wicks was raised in a very republican tiny forest hill in the Sierra east of Sacramento. Her father was a firefighter with the US Forest Service; her mother, a loan officer.
"I grew up in the conservative Foresthill and now somehow represent (liberal) Berkeley," she muses. Wicks began her political career in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 2000s, organizing rallies against the Iraq war.
She was elected to the assembly in 2018.
"I love being a legislator," says Wicks. "You can hear something on the radio that is important to you and say," I can do a bill. "They can have a meaningful purpose in people's lives. Just don't let it go into your head."
A bill that inspired her to wrap Elly up and drive 90 minutes to the Capitol's extended maternity leave so more mothers can stay home longer with their newborns without getting fired. Another measure would have increased housing production by making it easier to build maisonettes on plots for single-family homes.
Wicks spent the last day of the session in her Capitol office, watching the gathering on television, changing diapers, and breastfeeding her baby. As the midnight deadline approached, colleagues wrote that their votes were urgently needed.
"I was grooming back then," she recalls. I grabbed Elly in my arms and ran down two flights of stairs. I knew it was a race against the clock. Everyone saw me there with my newborn. "
Wick's vote for the family vacation bill was crucial. It allowed Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara )’s move to pass with the minimum required votes.
Wicks gave a short speech – for Senate Chairman Toni Atkins (D-San Diego )’s apartment bill.
"Please, please, please pass the bill – and I'll finish feeding my daughter," she said in a speech that was likely different from the one previously heard in a California legislative chamber.
"My daughter started crying, of course," Wicks told me. "I'm trying to put on your blanket. My mask is coming off. …"
The housing bill was passed by the Assembly just before midnight – too late for the Senate to take it up and send it to Governor Gavin Newsom.
The senators grumbled that Rendon had "timed out" on housing legislation and other major bills so they couldn't pass.
"That's absurd," says Rendon. "Absurd."
The next day, he publicly apologized for not letting Wicks vote at home.
"I did not ensure that our process takes into account the special needs of our members," said the speaker's prepared statement. "I commit to do better."
In fact, Rendon did a great favor. He picked up her political star and she became a potential future speaker.