Menlo Park resident Rich Gordon was elected to the California Assembly last November. He serves the 21st District, which includes the communities of Atherton, East Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, Menlo Park, Monte Sereno, Palo Alto, Portola Valley, Redwood City, San Carlos, Woodside, and the Almaden Valley of San Jose. Previously he was on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, representing the 3rd District.
The Assemblyman is a fourth-generation Californian, born and raised in San Mateo County. Before seeking public office, he worked as a minister in the United Methodist Church and as Executive Director of a nonprofit youth agency. In 2008, he married his partner of almost three decades, Dr. Dennis McShane. They have three cats, which Gordon says is “one too many.”
InMenlo sat down with him recently at his District office to get answers to five questions:
InMenlo: How has ordained ministry shaped your political life?
Gordon: It grounds me in a set of values. Probably the core of that faith is the belief that everyone is my neighbor, that I share responsibility to time and place. It relates to the role that government plays in helping people achieve their dreams.
And it gives me the hope that is necessary in this political business, because this is difficult work, particularly in the current climate where we are so polarized.
InMenlo: How did you wind up living in Menlo Park?
Gordon: In 1982 I had just come out of the closet and come to grips with my sexuality. About 10 months later I met a guy, and he owned a home in Suburban Park. We’ve been together ever since and now live in Menlo Oaks.
InMenlo: What about you would most surprise your constituents?
Gordon: Maybe my eclectic interests. I have season tickets to the opera and symphony — and the 49ers. Also, I put myself though USC by working in Fantasyland. I worked for one week in Small World and asked to work at any other ride — I couldn’t stand it. I got transferred to Dumbo and learned how to make elephants fly. It’s made it easier to work with Republicans!
InMenlo: What’s surprised you most about your first months serving in the California State Assembly?
Gordon: The pace of the work makes it very difficult to be deliberate — it’s so fast. There are institutional rules and customary practices that set deadlines for consideration of legislation and that means I’m often being asked to vote on something where I’ve had at best the night before to read the legislation.
I’m hopeful that part of what I’m experiencing in that regard is that I’m a freshman. But in a world of term limits, 28 of the 80 people in the Assembly are brand new — roughtly a third turn over every two years.
Most members of the State Senate served previously in the Assembly. And the Senate is more deliberate. They look at issues and craft a more elegant response. In the Assembly, we’re talking about things in smaller pieces.
InMenlo: What DVDs/CDs would you want with you on a deserted island?
Gordon: Casablanca. Season one of Mad Men. Any recording of Dvork’s Ninth New World Symphony. Something from Simon and Garfunkel — and Lady Gaga.
Photo by Scott R. Kline