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Swanson to chair state black legislative caucus

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, isn’t the only one taking the chair of a black caucus. Her former chief of staff, Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland, will lead the California Legislative Black Caucus, the first Northern California lawmaker to hold that post in more than a decade. His chairmanship of the eight-member caucus — six Assembly members, two state Senators — for the 2009-2010 term takes effect Dec. 1.

“I am honored that my colleagues have entrusted me with this incredible responsibility,” he said in a statement issued yesterday. “We face enormous challenges in this state, and I look forward to addressing them with my colleagues in the coming months.”

Assemblyman Curren Price, D-Inglewood, will be the caucus’ vice-chair.

Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, D-Compton, California’s longest-serving African-American lawmaker, said he was “very pleased” with Swanson’s election. “With his leadership, I am sure that the Caucus will lead the way in crafting a proactive agenda that will benefit all citizens in our State.”

Swanson intends to hold a strategic planning session to set the caucus’ statewide agenda, which will include getting more African-Americans elected to the Legislature, setting legislative priorities, and addressing the coming term’s weighty economic issues — first and foremost, California’s $28 billion deficit in this and the next budget years.

“This is a crisis that affects the entire state,” Swanson said. “Yet, as difficult as this task is, it is an opportunity to recast our priorities to ensure that government plays a prominent role in mitigating the impact of this serious economic downturn on our working families. The Legislative Black Caucus will be actively engaged in setting those priorities and shaping the economic stimulus package that must come out of our budget negotiations.”

That package is still taking shape, but Swanson said education and job creation are the most important issues. He also wants to reign in California’s prison spending, as we’ll soon be spending more on prisons than on higher education; reducing this cost will involve lowering recidivism rates through better rehabilitation, he believes.

Swanson said he intends to work closely with the Latino and Asian Pacific Islander caucuses on these issues. “Given these economic conditions, it is now more important than ever that we develop a tri-caucus strategy to address the needs of communities most severely impacted by this economic downturn and budget deficit,” he said.

We’re going to need some federal help, Swanson said. “Right now, we send $50 billion more to Washington than we get back in federal programs and aid. I am optimistic that President-Elect Obama will be more responsive to our needs than the previous administration, and I look forward to working with the new administration and our leaders in Congress on an economic strategy that benefits the state.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.