By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
Eight months ago, Dr. Shirley N. Weber swore to lift up and defend “democratic values of inclusivity and participation” as the California Secretary of State.
With this week’s recall election, Dr. Weber upholds voters’ right to call their leaders to task.
Sept. 14 marked the first major election under Dr. Weber’s watch. As the state’s chief elections officer — and the first African American ever to hold the post in California’s history — Dr. Weber is overseeing the Republican effort to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom, the person who appointed her and presided over her swearing in Jan. 29.
Recall proponents list Gov. Newsom’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, homelessness, high taxes, a lack of transparency on state spending, and assistance for undocumented immigrants among their reasons for demanding his removal from office.
While Dr. Weber cannot come out in favor of Gov. Newsom, the state reportedly spent $16 million on a voter education campaign that critics say favors Newsom and offers a counter to ads being run by opponents such as frontrunner Larry Elder.
The Secretary of State’s office says they’re simply making sure the election result reflects the “will of the people,” regardless of political or party affiliation.
The right to vote isn’t one Dr. Weber takes lightly. She often speaks reverently about her family’s history in the Jim Crow South. Her father, a sharecropper from Arkansas, didn’t vote until he was well into his 30s and before him, his parents didn’t have the opportunity because they died before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Dr. Weber has spent her political career championing issues from reparations and reform to police use-of-force policies, education equity and ending hate crimes on college campuses. She also has worked to restore voting rights for former inmates. During her time in the Assembly, Dr. Weber provided leadership as chair of the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee, Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety, and Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health. She was the first African American to serve as the chair of the Assembly Budget Committee and also served as a member of the standing committees on education, higher education, elections, budget, banking and finance.
While she was chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, The Sacramento OBSERVER named Dr. Weber its Person of the Year in 2019.
Upon swearing her in, Gov. Newsom said, “There were no votes against Dr. Weber’s confirmation. That’s a real testament to her character and her faith and devotion to so many causes.”
Dr. Weber is California’s first Black Secretary of State and only the fifth African American to serve as a state constitutional officer in California’s 170-year history. Others in that elite group include the late Wilson Riles, who was California’s first African American state superintendent of schools; the current superintendent, Tony Thurmond; Mervyn Dymally, the state’s first lieutenant governor; and Vice President Kamala Harris, who served as attorney general.
There has been only one successful attempt to recall a California governor. Voters ousted Democrat Gray Davis in 2003 and replaced him with a Republican, “Terminator” actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Dr. Weber says it is her duty to ensure that the Secretary of State’s Office is “a voice for the voiceless.”
“I will make sure that those who have been locked out and left out will forever be included,” she said in January.
Dr. Weber recently partnered with Snapchat to reach young, social-media-minded voters.
“We are constantly looking for new ways to get young voters aware, engaged, and activated so they have an active say in the future we’re creating here in California,” she said.
Dr. Weber and other leaders have been encouraging residents to use their voices and vote. Since the pandemic, all registered voters in California have received mail-in ballots, another bone of contention for recall supporters.
A group that included election technology experts recently urged Dr. Weber to audit the election. Their argument seemed to be that an election management system could be compromised by Newsom allies. Dr. Weber declined.
Republicans are poised to cry foul if the recall doesn’t go their way. Former President Donald Trump made similar claims upon losing the presidential race to former Vice President Joe Biden. Dr. Weber and her office have been accused of being partial to Gov. Newsom. Elder already accused Dr. Weber of “shenanigans” back in July when his name was initially left off the recall ballot. He sued and won the right to be listed as an official candidate.
Whether facing the wrath of COVID-19 or that of conservatives, Dr. Weber remains undaunted.
“It is my responsibility as secretary of state to ensure that more Californians are able to exercise that power through the electoral process, and that our elections remain secure, accessible and fair even under the most adverse conditions,” she said.
Should Gov. Newsom be recalled, his successor’s term would end in 2022, with the regularly scheduled primary election June 7 and the general election, where the top two gubernatorial candidates will face off, set for Nov. 8.