Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media | January 13, 2023
On Jan 9, with the sound of African drumming in the background, Shirley Weber was sworn-in as the first-elected Black Secretary of State (SOS) of California and the 32nd person to hold the position.
The ceremony was conducted at the SOS’ auditorium in downtown Sacramento, one block south of the State Capitol.
Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) administered the oath of office in front of Weber’s grandsons Kadir and Jalil Gakunga.
“I want to thank all of those who work so hard to make this position, the Secretary of State — and all of those wonderful things that come with it — possible, and for being in my life,” Weber said. “I have been blessed beyond imagination with all of the good things California has to give.”
The daughter of a sharecropper from Hope, Ark., Weber said she is “not supposed to be here” as the state’s chief clerk, overseeing a department of 500-plus employees.
Weber grew up in a two-room, “clapboard house” in Arkansas with her parents and five other siblings before the family relocated to Los Angeles where they lived in Pueblo Del Rio, a housing project known as the “pueblos.”
Weber said the “data” projected that she would not have a bright future. Still, she went on to graduate from UCLA with a PHD, serve on the San Diego Board of Education, teach African American studies at San Diego State University, and successfully ran for California State Assembly in November 2012.
‘My father came from Hope, Arkansas, because there was no hope in Hope,” Weber said. “He came to California because he wanted his children to have a better chance and a better life.”
When Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Alex Padilla the state’s junior U.S. Senator in Jan. 2021, he nominated Weber as SOS. Padilla filled in for Sen. Kamala Harris, who was elected U.S Vice President. Weber was officially installed as SOS in April 2021.
Weber’s plan after serving in the Legislature was to move to Ghana, Africa, and “build a house up in the hills.” That all changed when Newsom called.
“It was hard for me to think about becoming Secretary of State because I was so content in the Assembly,” Weber said. “When I was asked to be Secretary of State, I thought hard and long about it. I realized that everything about the Secretary of State was central to my life. I thought to myself that I am always the one taking the hard challenges. I said who better than a kid of sharecropper, who never had a chance to vote, who could fight for the rights of voters.”
The Secretary of State is the chief elections officer of the State, responsible for overseeing and certifying elections, as well as testing and certifying voting equipment for use in California. Weber’s duties also include overseeing the state’s archives division and registry of businesses.
In her remarks, Atkins praised Weber’s “leadership” and “morality” and called her “a tireless champion of democracy,” adding that those characteristics are integral to performing the duties of Secretary of State.
Atkins told guests that she first met Weber when she was 24 years old and that Weber helped her run for state Assembly.
For the first time in its history, California has three Black constitutional officers. The others are Controller Malia M. Cohen and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.
“You know, our constitutional officers are unique, and I give credit to our Governor (Gavin Newsom) and the people of California. “There is no other list of constitutional officers like this. Where do you have a list of constitutional officers where it only has one White male in it? That is unheard of. The diversity (and) the fact that women are constitutional officers in California is historic.”
Weber’s daughter, Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D-San Diego) was the ceremony’s emcee while Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) provided the invocation. David Bauman’s African drumming and musical selections by Dr. Tecoy Porter, pastor of Genesis Church Sacramento and President of the National Action Network Sacramento Chapter and his Genesis Church choir were the entertainment. Weber’s son Akil Weber provided the closing statements.
“Words cannot express how truly proud I am of what my mother has done, what she will continue to do, the door she has opened, the legacy she is creating,” Assemblymember Akilah Weber said of her mother.
California-Hawaii NAACP Conference Sues Sec. of State Shirley Weber
Edward Henderson | California Black Media Posted: August 3, 2022
The Conference President Rick Callender and the California – Hawaii State Conference National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (“NAACP”) NAACP have taken legal action in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Sacramento against California Secretary of State Shirley Weber asking that a statement included in the Argument Against Proposition 26 in the ballot pamphlet for the November 8, 2022 Statewide General Election be removed.
Prop 26 would permit federally recognized Native American tribes to operate dice games, roulette and sports wagering on tribal lands. On-site wagering at privately operated horse-racing tracks in four specified counties for betters 21 years or older would become legal as well. The proposition also imposes a 10% tax on sports-wagering profits at horse-racing tracks and directs portion of revenues to enforcement and problem-gambling programs.
The lawsuit is challenging a statement from the “No on Prop 26” opposition using a quote from former president of the NAACP’s Los Angeles branch Minnie Hadley-Hempstead. Ms. Hadley-Hempstead’s opposition statement read as follows:
“We oppose Prop 26 to protect young people from developing lifelong gambling addictions that often lead to ruined finances, relationships, even homelessness and crime.”
Retired teacher and President Emeritus of the Los Angeles NAACP Branch
The lawsuit claims the quote gives “the false and misleading impression” that the NAACP opposes Prop 26. The NAACP endorsed Prop 26 in February 2022. In addition, the Los Branch of the NAACP has not endorsed the No on Prop 26 campaign. The NAACP Bylaws prohibits local branches from taking positions contrary to the State Branch The lawsuit also raises concern about how the quote was obtained.
“The NAACP is proud to stand with Indian Tribes in strong support of Prop 26 to help further Indian self-reliance,” Callender said in a statement given to California Black Media (CBM). “We are outraged that the card room casinos and their No on 26 campaign would deceptively use the NAACP name in its arguments despite our strong support. We are suing to have these dishonest statements removed from the ballot arguments so it does not mislead voters.”
Callender’s lawsuit points out that the position ‘President Emeritus’ does not exist within the NAACP and the only branch that can clear use of the trademarked term NAACP in support or
opposition of any legislation is the state branch of the organization.
A declaration in support of the lawsuit from Hadley-Hempstead describes how she believes she was misled or misunderstood when she was asked to give the statement by Betty Williams, former President of the Sacramento Chapter of the NAACP. Hadley-Hempstead declared that she was under the impression that Williams still worked for the state branch and believed that her statement against Prop 26 was in solidarity with Mr. Callender and state branch’s position. She says in her declaration, “If I had known that Ms. Williams wasn’t working on behalf of NAACP, I would have said no right away…… As a long-time NAACP member, I would not agree to lend my name to a public document that took a contrary position to the official NAACP position and would not knowingly violate the NAACP’s bylaws.”
“The card room casino operators responsible for the deceptive No on 26 campaign have a well-documented and deplorable track record of flouting the law,” Callender stated to CBM. “They’ve been fined millions for violating anti-money laundering laws, misleading regulators, and even illegal gambling. We are suing to prevent their misleading statements from appearing in the voter information guide sent to tens of millions of voters.”
The Elections Code provides for a 20-day period to review the ballot materials and file any legal challenges. Because all legal
challenges to ballot materials for the November 8, 2022 Statewide General Election must be completed by August 15, 2022, the lawsuit was filed on August 1.
Coverage will continue as this story develops.
Madame Secretary: Hon. Shirley N. Weber Reflects on Voting Rights, First Year in Office
In December 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Shirley N. Weber as 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 also 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 Jan. 24, California Black Media interviewed Weber at her Sacramento office.
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?
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.
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?
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.
What can ordinary Californians who care about expanding and protecting voting rights do? 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.
Do you see that movement to counteract the expansion of voting rights here in California or from other states?
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.
Do you think other Secretaries of State across the country will emulate California’s efforts to expand voting rights? 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.
You’ve been in this job for a year. Do you feel like you’ve accomplished your goals?
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.
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?
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?