Capitol Alert

AM Alert: Latinos surge, female representation drops in California Legislature

Cecilia M. Aguiar-Curry, mayor of Winters, was one of the new Latina members elected to the California Legislature this year.
Cecilia M. Aguiar-Curry, mayor of Winters, was one of the new Latina members elected to the California Legislature this year.

The election was a mixed bag for improving the diversity of the 120-member California Legislature to better reflect the state’s changing demographics.

Though a few races have yet to be called, the California Latino Legislative Caucus is celebrating a successful year that saw its numbers rise to 27 from 22, tying the 2005-06 session for its largest membership. The jump was driven by a doubling of Latina lawmakers to 10, the most ever.

(The Democratic caucus does not include Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chávez of Oceanside, who is also Latino, in its figure.)

“This cycle is one where Latinos have been subjected to attacks of racially divisive rhetoric,” caucus chair Luis Alejo, a termed-out assemblyman from Salinas, said in a statement Friday. “In spite of that, our candidates rose to the occasion and have strengthened our state Legislature. Some of these regions will have the first ever Latino representative at the state level.”

But the number of women projected to serve next year will plunge from 31 to just 27. That’s the fewest female lawmakers at the Capitol in nearly three decades, according to data compiled by the California State Library, and a full third less than at its peak in the 2003-04 session, when there were 40 women.

It could drop even further if Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang, R-Diamond Bar, loses her lead to Democrat Josh Newman in the increasingly tight race for the 27th Senate District once the final ballots there are counted.

The contrast is stark between the two houses.

Like California, the Assembly is set to become “majority-minority” in the 2017-18 session, meaning more than half of its members will be Latino, Asian, black or mixed-race. But the Senate will be at least three-quarters white – in a state where whites have fallen to 38 percent of the population, according to the latest U.S. Census estimates, and Latinos are now the largest ethnic group.

Women, however, are terribly underrepresented in both. Female lawmakers will likely make up just a quarter of the Senate and 21 percent of the Assembly next year.

WORTH REPEATING: “I need y’all to hurry up & finish counting votes for SD29. I can’t have my mom here 24-7; she’s driving me nuts!” – Chang channeling her dog Buster in a tweet

DACA-NXIETY: President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promise to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has unnerved hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people who were exempt from deportation under the Obama policy for immigrants brought to this country illegally as children. Many of them are students in California and have begun calling on their colleges and universities to help protect them from the Trump administration.

They have the support of some powerful allies, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who last week issued open letters to the state’s public higher education systems urging them to become “sanctuary campuses.” None has gone quite that far yet, but California State University Chancellor Timothy White affirmed last week that CSU police would not cooperate with federal immigration authorities or honor any immigration hold requests. University of California President Janet Napolitano, a former head of Homeland Security, said she had formed a task force to examine how UC could support its estimated 3,700 undocumented students.

Sacramento State President Robert Nelsen also promised last week that his campus would be “safe for undocumented students.” The university is hosting a summit on the issue today which will feature a keynote address from journalist and undocumented immigrant activist Jose Antonio Vargas, 12:30 p.m. at the University Union Ballroom.

BY THE NUMBERS: The California Department of Insurance last week reported a modest and unexpected decrease in uninsured motorists in the state. The number of insured vehicles increased last year by about 200,000 more than the number of registered vehicles – a difference the department attributed to AB 60, the law granting driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally, which took effect in 2015. Proponents of AB 60 argued that the policy would help make roads safer by encouraging those drivers to get properly trained and insured.

MAJOR KEY ALERT: A change of assignment for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has thrust the veteran lawmaker into a key role on Capitol Hill. Now the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feinstein will be a central figure in what are expected to be bruising confirmation fights for Trump’s Supreme Court and attorney general nominees. While promising to “hear him out,” Feinstein said, “We simply won’t stand aside and watch the tremendous successes achieved over the past eight years be swept away or allow our nation’s most vulnerable populations to be targeted.” Perhaps the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce can get her thoughts on Trump’s recent attorney general pick Jeff Sessions – the Republican senator from Alabama whose racist comments sunk his 1986 nomination for a federal judgeship – when it hosts Feinstein for a public policy forum at noon.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff