In this slow meander to California’s winter, with the bustle and boom of the last election season behind us, the business of governing California now takes a bolder stance. Within that context, African Americans in the California State Legislature have again achieved their highest number–nine–for the second time. This increases by one last year’s number, with two state senators (out of 40) and seven Assembly members (out of 80). They are all a part of the heavily Democratic Party-dominated status of the current state Legislature.
By comparison, the California Latino/a Legislative Caucus claims 15 Assembly members and eight state senators, as more and more they are learning how to organize the increasing numbers they have to gain political muscle. The Latino caucus even has a distinct political agenda from which its members try to legislate.
Our Black caucus, however, even though it has a straightforward-sounding set of principles, does not currently operate from a discernible Black Agenda. Instead, most members of the Black caucus operate from their own individual or community concerns, since an organized Black community rarely relays any legislative issues to the caucus unless it is in response to one crisis or another. At least, that has been the recent history of the California Black Legislative Caucus.
Perhaps with its newest members, including Dr. Shirley Weber (79th District), former chair of the Africana Studies Department at California State University, San Diego; Cheryl Brown, a longtime community activist and media maven in the San Bernardino area; Reginald Sawyer-Jones, the political wheeler-dealer who finally got himself elected to make public policy, and Chris Holden, a very good community organizer, the mixture of new, let’s-get-it-done zeal with the older, smoother wisdom of the veterans, will launch a new political attitude within the Black caucus.
Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, the newly elected chair of the Black caucus, should be an excellent straw-stirrer for the new mix. She’s cut from the same cloth as former Assemblywoman and Assembly Speaker Congresswoman Karen Bass, and knows how to fire up the troops. There will be plenty of opportunities to promote and advocate positive legislation for California’s African American community during this upcoming session.
We, the community, should not simply leave the legislative agenda in the hands of our Black elected officials, though, and assume they’ll know what to do and which issues to fight for or against. Part of the ongoing political problem we still have within our community is not regularly communicating a coherent, logical set of agenda issues we think are important to our elected representatives.
All of the members of this current class of Black elected state legislators are very bright and well-skilled. That does not mean they automatically know what we need. It is up to us to make sure a regular relation of communications is opened and maintained with the Black caucus, starting with knowing who they are and what areas they represent. They can only well-represent us when we have informed them of what we need. And they need to know we’ll support them in the trenches if necessary.
The political umbilical cord which should exist between our Black elected officials and the Black community must be built and maintained. We otherwise should not complain when little or nothing that we think should be done, is done.
Congratulations Assemblywoman Mitchell. You’ve got a nice set of legislative troops for the upcoming political battles. Hopefully, we will not leave you and yours stranded when the political chips are down. Let’s have a great and prosperous new political season!
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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