SACRAMENTO, CA – June 24, 2020 California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis discussed immigration, trade policy, women in politics and her hopes for the future with host Karen Greenberg, Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, on the Vital Interests Podcast.
From the Center on National Security, Vital Interests Podcast was designed to help listeners think about security in its many dimensions, from pandemic to climate change, from terrorism to population migration, from war to peace – all with an eye towards the rule of law, the protection of human rights and the respect for civil liberties.
The podcast opened with Greenberg noting that Kounalakis is the 50th and first woman to be California’s Lieutenant Governor and then asked about the duties of the office. Kounalakis noted that “if the governor for any reason is out of state or unable to fulfill his or her duties, you have someone who can step in, but over the years the role of lieutenant governor has changed in California and it’s really been shaped largely by the dynamics between the LG and the Governor and then also just the interests and expertise of the person holding the position. I should start by saying that I was elected separately from the Governor, and we are an incredibly large and diverse state, I campaigned in all 58 counties, I’d never run for public office before though I had served in government office as an Ambassador and it was this extraordinary election of 2016 when women emboldened by the loss of Hillary Clinton and who heard her call that women should stand up and run for office, I heard that call and before I knew it I was running and built a coalition and have been in office for about a year and a half bringing with me the priorities of the people who I represent and so many of whom I had a chance to meet out on the campaign trail.”
Concerning California and international relations, trade, immigration, and climate change, Kounalakis said, “Because I’m a former U.S. Ambassador, and I’ve had all of this experience in trade, that is the main reason why the office of the lieutenant governor is at this moment very engaged and I have a terrific working relationship with the Governor that goes back many, many years, and he asked me right after I was elected if I would work with him and represent him as his representative on international affairs and trade which, of course, I’m delighted to do. So it is an unusual thing that I would be engaged at this level and it has to do with those things I just said, it also has to do with the fact that California is a nation-state, in most states you wouldn’t really have the level of international engagement that we do in California and it’s really more important than ever, because so many of our values in those areas you described, on trade, on immigration, on climate, we have a very different view on these things than the current administration in Washington, so that has given us the opportunity, we already had the platform but we’re also very driven because we take these issues very seriously. The work that we do on climate change is very important, the importance to our economy of international trade is enormous, we are without question impacted disproportionately to the rest of the country when it comes to the tariffs disputes or USMCA … then in the area of immigration, like the other two, we don’t have sovereign authority here, but we are 27 percent foreign born in California and it is estimated that 8-10 percent of our workforce is undocumented, so these policies are critical for us and we would argue that they are critical for the whole country because the contribution of California to the U.S. economy is so enormous so that’s what gives us the platform.”
On the podcast, Kounalakis said, referring to her post as Ambassador to Hungary under the Obama administration, “My grandmother in Greece never learned to read, never learned to write, let her son come to the United States alone to work as a farm worker and in one generation her granddaughter was sent back to Europe by the President of the United States.”
The complete podcast is available online: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/leadership-hope-view-from-california-lt-gov-eleni-kounalakis/id1513338397?i=1000484888133.