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Historic moment for Black, Asian caucuses

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, second from right, former chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, speaks at a 2013 Capitol ceremony. Others include Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, the new caucus chair, left; Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, right. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

California’s Legislature has reached a historic moment for diversity.

Latino elected officials are still winning seats in the Assembly and Senate as demographics shift favorably in their direction, but this election year brought a surge in California’s other ethnic caucuses.

The number of members in the Black Legislative Caucus has reached a historic high, as has the Asian and Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus. The Latino Legislative Caucus fell by two members.

“Both the Latinos and African Americans — and Asians as well — have begun, in the last 15 or 20 years or so, to be able to get elected in sort of nontraditional communities.”

“There was a time that the only African American members elected were from the historically black communities, like Oakland and South L.A., and the only Latinos elected were from urban Latino communities,” said Paul Mitchell of Political Data, Inc., a company that tracks and markets campaign information.

“And in a way, both the Latinos and African Americans — and Asians as well — have begun, in the last 15 or 20 years or so, to be able to get elected in sort of nontraditional communities,” he said.

Until now, the number of black members in the Legislature peaked at nine and the Asian and Pacific Islander members reached a record high last session with 11.

 “We’ve reached an era in our politics where Latinos, African Americans and Asians are getting elected and they’re not doing it relying on a specific minority population.” — Paul Mitchell

There are now 12 lawmakers who have Asian or Pacific Islander descent – a new high that will likely soon be match by their Black Legislative Caucus colleagues. The Black Legislative Caucus currently has 11 members, but the anticipated election Tuesday of Isadore Hall would bring the Black Caucus to 12 members, too.

This year the Black Legislative Caucus gained uncharted Assembly seats in Northern California, with the election of Tony Thurmond in the Bay Area and with Kevin McCarty and Jim Cooper in the Sacramento region. They also held Southern California seats in the Assembly previously occupied by Steven Bradford and Hall.

And Hall is the favorite to win a vacant Senate seat in the 35th District to replace former Sen. Roderick Wright, who resigned in September after being convicted on eight counts of voter fraud.

A special election is being held on Tuesday for that seat and Hall is the only candidate currently moving money in the race. His two state Senate committees (one collecting money for this year and another coasting for 2016) have spent roughly half a million dollars on the race since Gov. Brown set the voting date in late September.

“We’ve reached an era in our politics where Latinos, African Americans and Asians are getting elected and they’re not doing it relying on a specific minority population,” Mitchell said.

California’s relatively new independent commission on redistricting and the phasing out of old term limits have a role in the changing face of the Legislature. But Mitchell says voters’ willingness to elect people that don’t look like them racially is the biggest factor.

“Racially polarized voting still exists in this state, however it’s become dilute,” he said. “It’s particularly white voters who are not voting against candidates of color, and candidates of color have been able to get elected in districts that were not drawn specifically based on Voting Rights Act protection for their communities.”

 


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