By SEAN QUINTAL
Newly appointed California Secretary of State, Dr. Shirley Weber was gracious enough to spend some time with the La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club (LMFDC) at our March meeting. She pointed out that 71% of registered California voters turned out to vote in November 2020, making the election an unprecedented event, since the voting age was lowered to 18. She observed that the evidence is clear that when voting is made more convenient, voting participation increases. But Dr. Weber just as clearly sounded the alarm about the current onslaught against voting rights being waged by the Republican Party.
There are currently hundreds of bills under consideration in some 35 states, all of which are designed to limit Americans’ access to the ballot, and to erect barriers to the free exercise of their foundational, democratic right. The Secretary of State reminded us that the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was enacted not to grant us the right to vote, but to protect our right to vote. But just as the VRA arose in response to poll taxes, literacy tests and other vile elements of the Jim Crow era, so must Americans today mobilize to protect their franchise in the face of the shameless attempts by the GOP to make it harder for Americans to vote. Dr. Weber plans a series of town hall meetings in the short term, to more fully elucidate Californians on the threat facing the legitimacy of our democracy.
Residents of California State Assembly District 79 will in April have another opportunity to exercise that right on April 6. That is the date of the primary election to fill the seat vacated by Dr. Weber’s appointment; ballots will be distributed by mail beginning March 8. Four Democrats are running for the seat, and all four appeared at the LMFDC meeting for a candidate forum. The candidates are Aeiramique Glass Blake, a community advocate for racial justice; Leticia Munguia, an attorney and labor organizer; Shane Parmley, a classroom teacher and union representative; and Dr. Akilah Weber, a physician and current Vice Mayor of La Mesa.
Each candidate offered essential priorities that animate their pursuit of the office. Ms. Glass Blake cited criminal justice reform, public safety, economic development and education policy. Ms. Munguia wishes to improve public education, reduce inequities in health care, and create jobs. Ms. Parmley identified the need to address educational inequities that lead to disparate outcomes, to promote a green economy and to close the opportunity gap. If elected, Dr. Weber said she would work to improve health care access, to close the educational achievement gap, to improve economic opportunity, and to champion equity for all.
On issues regarding policing, all candidates agreed reform is needed. Specifically, Ms. Parmley called for an end to qualified immunity, with Dr. Weber endorsing SB2, which would make it possible to decertify police officers who act contrary to the public interest.
Regarding education policy, all four candidates stressed the importance of equity in education, not just simply equality. Ms. Glass Blake, citing a study that indicated black students were on average a year behind other groups of students, spoke of the necessity to close the achievement gap. Ms. Munguia stressed the importance of local control over school funds, and the need to invest in free community college and trade or vocational schools.
On the topic of economic factors leading to business and population flight from California, each of the candidates emphasized the importance of small business to the state’s economy, and the necessity of the state government to protect and incentivize those businesses. When discussing affordable housing, the candidates were also all in agreement that the state need do a better job of making it possible for more Californians to buy their first home.
Finally, all four candidates were clear in their support for the creation of a single-payer healthcare system in California. Ms. Munguia called for community investment from large pharmaceutical companies. Ms. Parmley, observed that it is “expensive to be poor” and that healthcare should not be dependent on employment. Just as Ms. Glass Blake asserted healthcare is not a privilege, Dr. Weber declaimed healthcare is a human right, and that California could lead the nation by adopting a single-payer system.
All four candidates acquitted themselves impressively in the forum. It was abundantly clear to the LMFDC members in attendance that whichever Democrat is ultimately elected, AD79 is sure to be well-represented.
Monthly meetings of the La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club typically feature office holders, candidates for office, community leaders and subject matter experts. The next LMFDC meeting will be on Wednesday, April 7. Because Democrats care about public health and the well-being of all Californians, we will continue to host our meetings on Zoom, until gathering in person may be done so safely. Please join us by following the invite link on our club’s website, www.lmfdems.com.
— Sean Quintal writes on behalf of the La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club.