An Interview with Mona Pasquil
EMPOWERING WOMEN TO BE LEADERS ON CALIFORNIA’S BOARDS AND COMMISSIONS
When you first meet Mona Pasquil, Appointments Secretary for California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., you may not realize at first that she is one of the most powerful women in state government. As Appointments Secretary, Mona recruits, screens and advises the governor on applicants for top key paid staff positions, high level boards such at the California Public Utilities Commission or High Speed Rail Commission or to the hundreds of volunteer boards that keep our government moving. Mona is the key to making that happen.
Sitting in her office just a few steps from the governor, we talked about what inspired her to get involved, what path led her to her current position and what she still wants to accomplish.
How did you get started? Did you always know you wanted a career in politics?
I remember visiting the State Capitol with my fifth grade class and saying to myself, “I am going to work here one day.” From there I went on to major in English Lit , but the “bug” never left. My mother told me if I was still interested in working in the Capitol I should go and find a job, so I did. I started working for my State Assembly member who was John Garamendi (now a member of Congress) as his receptionist. The key to being the receptionist is everyone has to go through you, so I was able to start meeting key people who went on to help mentor me in the future.
After working as a receptionist, I was given the opportunity to work in other aspects of the Assembly Member’s office – press, legislation, local public policy issues. I was very fortunate to have a boss who believed in mentoring and help teach me the skills to be an effective leader. It was because of my work in his office and the mentoring I received that changed my career path.
What other experience helped lead to you the position you are in today?
After working in the State Capitol I had the opportunity to move to the State Treasurer’s office and work for Kathleen Brown as her Legislative Director. It was in her office that I was surrounded by strong, powerful women who helped further develop my leadership skills. It was in her office that I had the opportunity to testify in front of the State Legislature and develop a network that would help in in my future career path.
At one point, you served as Lieutenant Governor of California (the first woman!) – how did that happen and what was it like?
When my former boss, John Garamendi was elected Lieutenant Governor in 2008, I went to work for him as his deputy. He was then elected to Congress and I had the opportunity to fill in as Lieutenant Governor until then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed a replacement. My most vivid memory of serving during that time was a young girl who came through the office as part of her school tour. She was with her mom and I invited them both into my private office. As she looked around her eyes got bigger and she said “Mom, I didn’t know girls could have offices like this.” I was proud and heartbroken at the same time. Proud that I was able to inspire her and show girls could have an office like the Lieutenant Governor and sad that she never thought a girl could. That moment inspired me to remember the importance of mentoring young people, especially girls, and helping them realize girls can have a career in politics.
What are challenges you have faced along the way?
I think the greatest challenge that I, and most women, face is the notion that we can “have it all.” Yes, I do believe women can have it all, but not all at the same time. I have had to make choices and sacrifices to get to where I am today – some easier than others. I also believe that, as women, we need to do more to support each other. I was fortunate to have powerful women (and men) who mentored me from the first day I walked into the State Capitol, but I don’t know if that is still happening, especially in the political arena. I think, we women, need to realize there is still a lot of work to do and we need women willing to take leadership roles, whether applying for an appointment at the state or local level or running for office, so that our voices are heard in the decision making process. We need more women willing to mentor and support young women and empower them to be leaders.
What do you like most about serving the Governor as his Appointments Secretary?
I really enjoy working for Governor Brown and working as his Appointments Secretary. It has given me the opportunity to be the mentor I always wanted to be. Our office spends a lot of time reaching out to different groups looking for applicants and I have the opportunity to meet incredible Californians who want to serve in an appointed position. I have a great team, mostly women, who help recruit folks who can potentially serve. It is a fast pace job and I never know what issues I will deal with when I walk into the Capitol each morning. More importantly, I have the opportunity to travel throughout the state and share with women and young girls that they too can a career in public service.
What do you still want to accomplish? Would you ever consider running for political office?
I never say never – just like the opportunity to serve on the Governor’s Cabinet, you never know what is around the bend. What I do know is I would like to finish a children’s book I started about my time as acting Lieutenant Governor as well as a collection of funny stories about my time working in the political arena.
Finally, what is your advice to women – young, old and in between?
Ask other women to mentor you and be willing to mentor other women. No matter how old or young you are always be educating yourself. And remember – it always comes down to hard work!