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Madame Secretary: Hon. Shirley N. Weber Reflects on Voting Rights, First Year in Office

Shirley Weber, California’s 31st Secretary of State (SOS),introduced AB 3121, a bill that set up a committee called the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans. The group is charged with examining California’s involvement in slavery – and how California should compensate the descendants of enslaved Black Americans.

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Shirley Weber California’s 31st Secretary of State
Shirley Weber California’s 31st Secretary of State

By Tanu Henry | California Black Media

In December 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Shirley Weber California’s 31st Secretary of State (SOS), the state’s chief election official.

The first African American to serve in the role – and the fifth Black person to become a constitutional officer in California – Weber took office on Jan. 29, 2021.

Weber has been a central and influential figure in California politics for years. She was an Assemblymember representing the 79th District in San Diego County and chaired the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC).

In the Legislature, she introduced groundbreaking bills, including one of the strictest laws governing police use of deadly force in the country. It will protect Californians on “both sides of the badge,” she said, celebrating that legislation, which was supported by the California Police Chiefs Association.

Weber introduced AB 3121, a bill that set up a committee called the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans. The group is charged with examining California’s involvement in slavery – and how California should compensate the descendants of enslaved Black Americans.

As SOS, Weber is responsible for conducting elections in all 58 counties, managing the operations of the State Archives, and keeping a registry of businesses and nonprofits statewide.

“We passed legislation that gives everybody a vote-by-mail ballot, and we’ve seen that it works” says Weber, sharing details about a major electoral policy change she has implemented as SOS. “We have to make sure that every eligible Californian not only gets the right to vote, but that they are registered to vote and that they show up.”

On January 24, California Black Media interviewed Weber at her Sacramento office.

CBM: As an Assemblymember, you introduced groundbreaking legislation. What has the transition been like, moving from actively creating policy to settling into the administrative role of Secretary of State?

SOS: It’s been interesting, to go from being a legislator where you share the responsibility of representing all Californians with 80 others in the Assembly and another 40 in the Senate.

There, I wasn’t responsible for all registered voters and the protection of those who work at the polls and those who work to register voters.

Over here, you have an administrative role, and we support legislation like the Voting Rights Act.

It’s been somewhat difficult to let go of my District. Fortunately, my daughter is the Assemblymember there now.

CBM: The U.S. Senate did not pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Why is that significant and why are voting rights so important in America right now?

SOS: When Gov. Newsom asked me to be Secretary of State, the first thing that popped in my mind was voting rights. This wasn’t a position that I had lobbied for. We had made some tremendous changes in the Assembly and passed some groundbreaking legislation.

Speaking to a reporter last December 22nd, I said, ‘This is a critical time because our nation is in peril.’ And he goes, ‘what do you mean?’ I said, ‘Our democracy is in crisis.’ He didn’t understand. When January 6 hit (the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol), people understood.

I recognize this is a difficult and unique time for people in the nation, extremely difficult for African Americans, because most of us who have parents or we ourselves have lived through this struggle for voting rights.

My family understood the power of voting. My parents came out of Arkansas where they never got a chance to vote. My dad was an adult with six kids before he actually got a chance to register to vote in California.

CBM: What can ordinary Californians who care about expanding and protecting voting rights do?

SOS: We need to pay attention. We must fight laws that make it difficult for people to vote. Even though we don’t have that legislation coming out of our Legislature, we have people putting initiatives on the ballot.

California has expanded voting rights so much that people want to limit it. There’s only one group that can’t vote in this state: those who are physically in prison. Everyone else who meets the eligibility requirements in California can vote. And that frightens some people.

CBM: Do you see that movement to counteract the expansion of voting rights here in California or from other states?

SOS: It is coming from within and without. We have to be careful of the deceptive methods used. Take the campaign against bail reform. It had been signed into law. And a group of bail bondsmen took a whole bunch of money, manipulated African Americans and put their faces on television. It confused voters and wiped out this whole effort we had been working on for five or six years.

CBM: Do you think other Secretaries of State across the country will emulate California’s efforts to expand voting rights?

SOS: We are seeing that, especially in states with Democratic leadership. But in other places, we see also them fighting the Voting Rights Act.

Secretaries of State are a unique breed. Many are appointed by governors. Across the nation, people on the Far Right are organizing to get candidates to run for Secretary of State, where before it was seen more as an administrative job with a few other responsibilities. Now, it is seen as a highly political job, especially given the legislation that’s coming out in some places that would empower Legislatures to overturn votes.

CBM: You’ve been in this job for a year. Do you feel like you’ve accomplished your goals?

SOS: I didn’t take this position because I needed to be a constitutional officer, or one day become governor. The question for me was: ‘What does the Secretary of State have to offer in these critical times?’ And obviously it is the defense of our democracy. I was coming in with the idea that we are going to expand our voting base. We have done that.

We’ve also expanded the California Voter Choice Act counties. Half of our counties are Voter Choice Act counties, which gives us additional resources to go into those counties. They are now outvoting the rest of the counties.

Statewide, 88% of eligible Californians are registered right now to vote. My goal is to get it to 100 %.

Is California implementing additional safeguards to make sure irregularities are minimal?

Yes, we are. We have a system that verifies votes. We test every machine in California before every election. We make it possible for people to observe the process. They can’t come and start counting themselves. But they can observe. We do all this with transparency.

CBM: How does it feel to look at that long wall of portraits of past Secretaries of State, and know that your legacy will be enshrined in California history?

SOS: I’m very grateful. When I was sworn in, somebody says you’re the first African American after some 170 years. How does that feel? I said, well – what took so long?

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Bay Area

Schaaf Seeks Retraction from Post Over School Closing Remarks

In a KQED interview, Mayor Libby Schaaf supported the proposed closing of 15 schools as an “opportunity” and even went father. “This is not just some painful but necessary budget cut,” she said. “I really feel for parents, students, teachers. We have been through so much trauma, and they have every right to feel distrustful and fearful about this decision. But I believe that it is different this time.

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Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. Oakland.ca.org photo.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. Oakland.ca.org photo.

By Ken Epstein

The Office of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has demanded a retraction from Oakland Post, saying the newspaper was incorrect to characterize Schaaf as a supporter of permanently closing up to half of the public schools in Oakland.

“She’s never held that position,” said Justin Berton, the mayor’s spokesperson, in an email to the Post.  “As you know, knowingly publishing false information is not only unethical, it’s potentially actionable,” he wrote.

Berton was responding to a sentence in an article in last week’s Post that said, “Schaaf, a longtime supporter of charter schools, has spoken forcefully in the media in favor of closing as many as half of the city’s public schools.”

The Post’s comments on the mayor’s position was based on a Feb. 4, 2022, interview with KQED. At the time, the school district had just announced that it was closing 15 schools this year and next and was planning to close more in future years.

The City Council took a strong position opposing the school closings not Mayor Schaaf.

In the KQED interview, Schaaf supported the proposed closing of 15 schools as an “opportunity” and even went farther.

“This is not just some painful but necessary budget cut,” she said. “I really feel for parents, students, teachers. We have been through so much trauma, and they have every right to feel distrustful and fearful about this decision. But I believe that it is different this time.

“When you look at districts like Stockton, Fremont, San Jose, they serve roughly the same number of students, about (33,000). But they do it in almost half the campuses, between 41 and 48 campuses in those three districts, whereas Oakland has EIGHTY CAMPUSES (Schaaf’s emphasis).

“This is an opportunity to do better for our students, our educators, our families, and I trust this leader to deliver on that promise in a way that has never happened before.”

To review Mayor Schaaf’s remarks, go to the original interview at https://archive.org/details/KQED_20220205_030000_KQED_Newsroom/start/360/end/420

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Bay Area

Residents Demand Right to Vote on Use of Public Funds for A’s Stadium Project

“We’re here to commit to the residents of Oakland that they must have a right to vote on whether to spend over a billion public dollars (on the proposal) for the Oakland A’s to build a stadium and real estate development at Howard Terminal,” said City Council member Noel Gallo, speaking at the media event Wednesday morning.

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Councilmember Noel Gallo speaks at a press conference Wednesday, June 29, calling on the City Council to put public funding for the Oakland A's real estate development on the November ballot. Photo by Ken Epstein
Councilmember Noel Gallo speaks at a press conference Wednesday, June 29, calling on the City Council to put public funding for the Oakland A's real estate development on the November ballot. Photo by Ken Epstein

Oakland City Council may decide July 5 whether to place measure on November ballot

By Post Staff

Oakland community leaders and activists, port workers and environmental advocates joined City Councilmember Noel Gallo on the steps of City Hall this week to urge the City Council to allow the public to vote on the use of public funds for the A’s stadium and private real estate development at Howard Terminal.

“We’re here to commit to the residents of Oakland that they must have a right to vote on whether to spend over a billion public dollars (on the proposal) for the Oakland A’s to build a stadium and real estate development at Howard Terminal,” said Gallo, speaking at the media event Wednesday morning.

“This is an unprecedented grab of public funds,” which could grow considerably because there seems to be no limit on the city’s liability for potential cost overruns, Gallo said.

“We have to learn from our past experiences (with the Raiders) to not make the same mistake again,” he said.

The rally comes in anticipation of a July 5 City Council meeting that will consider a resolution to put an advisory vote on the November ballot on the use of public funds to support a privately owned stadium and real estate development at Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland.

At the Tuesday, July 5 meeting, the Council will discuss the measure and may ultimately take a final vote on placing it on the ballot. Public comment for this item will be taken at the beginning of the meeting.

In recent weeks, more than 4,000 Oakland residents have signed a petition in support of putting the measure on the November ballot.

Other speakers at the City Hall media event included James Vann, an advocate for affordable and homeless services.

“This is the people’s money, and the people should get to decide,” said Vann.

Civil rights attorney and activist Walter Riley said that Oakland A’s owner John Fisher is acting like a “corporate raider” who takes money out of the A’s instead of investing in his team.

Instead of giving a billion dollars to Fisher’s private development, the city should be investing in building and maintaining public parks and other infrastructure needs, he said.

Naomi Schiff, a housing activist, said, “The Howard Terminal deal keeps getting more expensive” for taxpayers. adding that the stadium at Howard Terminal would be built on a “inundation zone and liquification zone.”

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Activism

Juneteenth Father’s Day for the Formerly Incarcerated

The giveaway was a testament of the Formerly Incarcerated Giving Back to the community in the best way they could. Participants received an array of gifts including clothing, work pants, jeans, socks, toiletries and gift cards. The event gave them a place to identify with other men who have overcome many hardships and now live independently of the direct supervision of the criminal justice system.

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From left to right: Dora Parlor, Richard Johnson and Ayanna Weathers. Photo by Jonathan ‘fitness’ Jones.
From left to right: Dora Parlor, Richard Johnson and Ayanna Weathers. Photo by Jonathan ‘fitness’ Jones.

By Richard Johnson

The founders of The Formerly Incarcerated Giving Back organization sponsored a Father’s Day celebration event that highlighted a “just serve spirit” which recognized dads who want to “give and serve” their families and communities, that reached over 150 men in deep East Oakland. Fathers from all walks of life, languages and nationalities were in attendance.

The giveaway was a testament of the Formerly Incarcerated Giving Back to the community in the best way they could. Participants received an array of gifts including clothing, work pants, jeans, socks, toiletries and gift cards. The event gave them a place to identify with other men who have overcome many hardships and now live independently of the direct supervision of the criminal justice system.

The celebration was co-sponsored by several organizations, including the African American Sports and Entertainment Group, (AASEG) headed by Ray Bobbitt, B.O.S.S. Reentry program, and the Reentry, The Post News Group and Violence Prevention programs directed by John Jones III.

The participating fathers were offered counseling and services to cover back rent, rental deposit, utility bills, credit repair and much more.

As fate would have it, one of the Founders of Formerly Incarcerated Giving Back, Mr. Paul Redd, was called home by the Lord. His passing came on Father’s Day. We could never question God’s work when He calls His flock home. Paul will be greatly missed by many who loved, appreciated and respected him greatly. We, the Formerly Incarcerated Giving Back, gave back in our experience our profound condolences to the family. We will certainly continue the work that he helped to establish. Rest in Peace my brother.

To utilize the services of BOSS (Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency), please contact John Jones at 510-459-9014. For more information on this activity and future activities, please contact Richard Johnson at fatijohns28@gmail.com.

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