How diverse if California government, from school board up?

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Sacramento City Councilman Eric Guerra talks on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, at his Tahoe Park home, about the struggles faced by Latino political candidates. “The importance of having a diverse electorate and even encouraging immigrants who become naturalized to run for office is that you bring a new perspective into our government,” he said.

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Happy Monday! We’ll find out today whether President Donald Trump really can be discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. In the meantime, where do you stand on Democratic candidate’s Joe Biden’s ads? Too soon to go negative? Or too close to Election Day to let up?

FIRST UP: Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to make a “special announcement” today at his regular Monday press conference, according to a press release from his office Sunday evening. We’ll be covering it here at SacBee.com.

TWO LAWS THAT CHANGED WHO HOLDS POWER IN CALIFORNIA

We have a special report today by The Sacramento Bee’s Kim Bojórquez looking at who holds power in California government, from the school board to the Governor’s Office. Her project, supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, takes a deep look at how two changes in state law empowered less-experienced and minority candidates to run for office.

You can join Kim Tuesday for a virtual panel we’re hosting on diversity in elected government and what it means for voting. She’ll be joined by Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, GOP political consultant Luis Alvarado, Laura Gómez of UCLA Law, Mindy Romero of the Center for Inclusive Democracy, civil rights attorney Robert Rubin and The Bee’s Marcos Breton. Here are the details.

Now here’s a preview of Kim’s report. The full piece is online here.

Deborah Ortiz felt like an underdog when she ran for a seat on the Sacramento City Council in 1993. She was the only Latina in a field of six vying for the seat opened by Joe Serna Jr., who’d just won a race for mayor.

Ortiz didn’t get support from prominent Democratic leaders or influential developers in the city, who helped fund most local races. Most were convinced city council candidate Jean Shaw-Conelly, the wife of former Assemblyman Lloyd Connelly, would win the race, she said.

“There was always a candidate they endorsed other than me,” Ortiz said.

But Ortiz came out ahead anyway, becoming the first Latina and woman of color to be elected to the city council.

Nearly three decades later, the landscape for Latino candidates is very different. Latino lawmakers represent 27 seats in the Legislature, making up about a fifth of its 120 officeholders. That’s up from six in 1990.

They’ve made gains in local offices, too, especially on school boards. A Sacramento Bee analysis shows the county’s elected school boards are increasingly diverse, with Latino trustees accounting for 22% of seats and Blacks holding 11% of seats. Those numbers are proportional to the county’s population.

Those achievements were no accident.

They followed two major changes to California law that opened opportunities to less experienced candidates from diverse backgrounds.

First, voters in 1990 set term limits for the California Legislature, forcing turnover among elected leaders and creating open races for Assembly and Senate districts.

Later, Gov. Gray Davis in 2002 signed the California Voting Rights Act, which allowed minorities to press for changes in election formats to give them a better shot at winning office. The law’s remedy called for local governments to adopt district elections instead of at-large races, a change that effectively means candidates have to persuade fewer voters to cast ballots for them.

Neither law guarantees representation for minority candidates.

Term limits shorten careers for politicians today just as they did 30 years ago. Some of the first leaders to leave the Legislature because of term limits were influential Black lawmakers like former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, for instance.

And, although studies show a shift in district elections has increased minority representation in local government, the gains are not uniform.

Modesto, for instance, in 2008 became the test case for the California Voting Rights Act when its city council fought and lost a lawsuit from Latino residents demanding district elections. The city adopted district elections and paid $3 million to settle the case.

Today, its seven-member council has the same number of Latino leaders as it had when it was sued: One.

Those numbers show that changes to election format alone won’t lead to greater diversity among representatives. Parties still must cultivate candidates if they want diverse officeholders.

Ortiz, now a member of the Los Rios Community College District Board of Trustees, said it’s far from certain that parties have the structure to continue diversifying local elected offices.

“I hope there’s a pipeline, but I don’t see it in any of the Latino organizations in town,” she said.

ARRESTS AT THE CAPITOL

Animal rights activist group Direct Action Everywhere made an appearance at the Capitol on Friday, in a protest leading to the arrest of several demonstrators.

Three activists chained themselves to the second-story balcony at the Capitol, where they hung a sign calling for an animal bill of rights and set of smoke flares, according to a press release from the group. Direct Action Everywhere said that the plan was for those three to be arrested, and they were. So were 16 other protesters.

The California Highway Patrol said in a statement that the protesters who were arrested face charges of protesting without a permit, hanging unauthorized objects on state property and conspiracy.

The CHP SWAT team was deployed to disentangle the protesters chained to the doors.

Friday’s protest was characteristic of Direct Action Everywhere’s penchant for eye-catching stunts that often end in police intervention. Earlier last week, more than two dozen such activists were arrested for blocking access to a slaughterhouse outside Los Angeles, the same slaughterhouse where seven such activists previously were arrested for attempting to take a pig from inside the facility.

The group said in a statement that it wants Gov. Newsom to sign an executive order issuing a moratorium on new factory farms and slaughterhouses in the state.

EARTHQUAKE WARNING SYSTEM ANNOUNCED

The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services has launched a campaign to spread awareness of the state’s new Earthquake Warning California system.

The state will launch an advertising campaign titled “Don’t Get Caught Off Guard,” which will advertise on digital, social and broadcast media through 2022, with an optional one-year extension.

“California is proud to have the first statewide earthquake warning system and now to spread the word broadly about this new innovative, life-saving system,” Cal OES Director Mark Ghilarducci said in a statement. “Cal OES’s leadership facilitated making warnings publicly available. The public can now have moments of warning before previously unexpected natural disasters. It is changing the world of mitigation and emergency management.”

Earthquake Warning California received $16.3 million in last year’s budget, with that money going toward “finishing seismic station installation, adding GPS stations to the network, and improving telemetry,” according to Cal OES. The program also received $17.3 million from the state in this year’s budget to fund operation and maintenance of the system.

Earthquake Warning California is part of a partnership between Cal OES, United States Geological Survey, UC Berkeley, the California Institute of Technology, and the California Geological Survey.

“The system uses ground-motion sensors to detect earthquakes that have already started and estimates their size, location, and impact,” according to a Cal OES statement.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Not since OJ’s white Ford Bronco has America been riveted by a vehicle the way we are watching Marine One on the White House lawn.”

– Doug Sovern, KCBS Radio political reporter, via Twitter.

Best of the Bee:

Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for the Sacramento Bee. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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