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JENNY OROPEZA 2006.JPGThe state Senate convened this morning to honor the life of Democratic Sen. Jenny Oropeza, who died in October at age 53 after battling illness.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg called the Long Beach Democrat "a crusader for the rights of women and girls and a champion for all of us as consumers."

"Frankly, I walk into these chambers and I still expect Jenny Oropeza to lift her mic right over there and to give an impassioned argument about one of her many causes," he said. "For when I think of Jenny, and when we all think of Jenny, we think of her first and foremost as a fighter. She fought for the health of children, for the health of our wives and our mothers, our sisters and daughters, for all Californians."

Colleagues praised Oropeza's focus on cancer prevention and limiting exposure to cancer-causing agents, including cigarette smoke, a passion fueled by her own battle with cancer.

"She used her fight against cancer not as an excuse to work less but as an inspiration to work harder," Steinberg said.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-Sacramento, described Oropeza as "someone who cares deeply and profoundly about everything and everyone with whom she has contact." Her maternal instincts inspired a special nickname.

"I told her she was my yiddisha Latina mama," he said.

Oropeza was also known for asking tough, pointed questions to get to the bottom of contentious issues or legislation.

"If you had a bill in front of one of her committees, you certainly didn't want to get in an argument with her," said Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton, of Rancho Cucamonga.

Her probing wasn't reserved for Republicans or political foes. Leno recalled having his "feathers ruffled" when by Oropeza when both served in the Assembly, as she pushed him during a bill presentation with a question he couldn't answer. Afterward, he said, she told him, "You've got to come better prepared to the floor."

Oropeza, elected to the Senate in 2006, previously served in the state Assembly, the Long Beach City Council and on local education and transportation boards. At the time of her death, she had been recovering from a blood clot in her abdomen that had left her on sick leave since the late spring.

Today's memorial ended with a resolution honoring Oropeza's work in public service. Oropeza's family, including her husband, Tom Mullins, and her mother, Sharon, as well as staff attended the session.

PHOTO CREDIT: Assembly Member Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, smiles on the floor of the Assembly before the vote on an education and levee deal, Wednesday March 15, 2006. Sacramento Bee file photo / Brian Baer.


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