OPINION – Government politics can be very confusing to the general public. At its simplest level of hierarchy, we are governed by the Federal, State and Local administrations. The state of California recently swore-in its newly elected legislative members (Senate and Assembly) to begin a two-year session for 2015-16.
Among those 120 Members of the California legislator, 12 of them are African American. Never in the history of the state has the California Legislative Black Caucus held so many members. The previous high was 9. And for the first time in the state’s history, the capital city, Sacramento, has elected two African American men to represent the region in the State Assembly.
Assembly Members Kevin McCarty and Jim Cooper elevated from local politics—McCarty was formerly a member of the Sacramento City Council and Cooper was once Mayor of Elk Grove and a law enforcement leader in the Sacramento Sheriff’s department. Both have long histories in government politics and are joined by three new Black Caucus colleagues to the state capitol. Assembly Members Autumn Burke and Mike Gipson both represent parts of Los Angeles and Assembly Member Tony Thurmond represents Richmond and most of Alameda County.
The remaining members of the Black Caucus all served in previous legislative sessions at the state level.
Assembly Member Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Jr., a Los Angeles Democrat was crowned chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. He has held numerous positions in the Democratic party leadership and has focused on housing and employment issues for disenfranchised citizens.
He receives the Black Caucus chair’s gavel from Senator Holly Mitchell, also representing Los Angeles. Senator Mitchell is the only African American woman in the State Senate, also known as the “upper house”. She has been a champion on social service issues, developing opportunities for disenfranchised people reentering society and encouraged the legislator and the Governor to pass a bill equalizing the penalties for crack cocaine and powder cocaine. She is currently the chair of Budget subcommittee #3 which oversees spending for California’s Health and Human Services.
Senator Isadore Hall was a State Assemblyman just last year. After a not-so-brutal campaign for the State Senate, he replaces former Senator Rodrick Wright who resigned due to a criminal indictment for not living in the district he represented. Senator Hall represents a large swath of Los Angeles County. Among his legislative accomplishments as a State Assemblyman, Senator Hall authored legislation that named the western span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge after former Assembly Speaker Willie L. Brown, Jr.
Assembly Member Shirley Weber, Ph.D. was appointed chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, putting her in control of the 80-member Assembly’s recommendations on how to spend California’s $156 billion pocket book. Dr. Weber represents San Diego in the State Capitol and traditionally focuses on improving education outcomes for youth and young adults.
Landing a position on the Assembly Speaker’s leadership team is a plumb position as well. As the newly appointed Majority Floor Leader, Assembly Member Chris Holden from Pasadena oversees the legislative process in the Assembly and now has significant input in the Assembly’s overall policy strategy. The caucus also has substantial assistance from the moderate, business friendly San Bernardino Assembly Member Cheryl Brown and the millennial world view, youthful perspective of Los Angeles Assembly Member Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, whose father Mark Ridley-Thomas occupied a state Senate and Assembly district seat from 2002-2008.
With 12 strong members within a designated caucus of the state’s primary governing body, the question remains–will they or how will they address policy that directly effects African Americans such as police brutality, unemployment, education, recidivism, health and environmental justice? It is wonderful that African Americans have accomplished a numerical feat. It is also imperative for this milestone to be utilized for the purpose of their election—to improve overall conditions of their constituency.
By Simeon Gant