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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.”

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Simonsen still fits into that Navy uniform

Antioch Councilman Arne Simonsen sent over this picture of him walking in the Antioch Veteran’s Day Parade.

He wanted me to see that he was wearing his Navy chief’s uniform, a feat many veterans — and the rest of us — may not be able to replicate due to advancing girth in their golden years. Simonsen lost his re-election bid earlier this month but he is lobbying heavily to win an appointment to a vacant seat on the council.

Antioch Councilman Arne Simonsen, and retired Navy chief, walks in the Nov. 11 Antioch Veterans Day parade.

Antioch Councilman Arne Simonsen, and retired Navy chief, walks in the Nov. 11 Antioch Veteran's Day parade.

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Medical marijuana backers sue DMV

Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, sued the California Department of Motor Vehicles today on behalf of Rose Johnson, 53, of Atwater. The Merced County Superior Court lawsuit claims that despite Johnson’s clean driving record — not having caused an accident in 37 years of driving — the DMV refused to renew her license in July after finding she’s a medical-marijuana user and deeming that she had an “addiction to, or habitual use of, [a] drug” that renders her unable to safely operate a car.

“The only evidence introduced by the DMV to support this conclusion is the fact of Johnson’s medical marijuana use pursuant to state law,” the lawsuit says. “The DMV abused its discretion by suspending Johnson’s license on this basis.”

ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford issued a statement this afternoon saying when California voters passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, “they never intended to authorize the DMV to strip medical marijuana patients of their drivers’ licenses. The DMV should not be in the business of revoking the licenses of drivers like Ms. Johnson simply because she is a medical marijuana patient.”

And ASA says this isn’t an isolated case: DMV has suspended or revoking licenses of medical-marijuana patients in other counties including Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, Glenn, Merced, Placer, Sacramento, and Sonoma.

Johnson’s case seems particularly ironic because Merced County, where she lives, last year instructed its sheriff’s deputies to respect state law and not cite medical marijuana patients or seize their medicine. Yet Johnson, never accused of driving while under the influence of marijuana or anything else, was denied her license renewal by a state agency for an activity allowed by state law.

And as I write this item, having just finished an article on the state Supreme Court’s impending review of Proposition 8, I’m wonder how much longer we’ll have to keep litigating and re-litigating the effects of a medical-marijuana initiative approved by voters 12 years ago. It seems California just can’t find a way to stop stepping on its own toes.

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Need a pirate expert?

That’s a subject line you don’t read every day: “Pirate expert available.”

It showed up on a press release I received in my email today, where a PR firm offered me an interview with a person who has expertise in modern piracy in the wake of another ship takeover off the coast of Somali. I doubt this guy talks like pirate, though. Continue Reading

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Wilson will run for Assembly again in 2010

Abram Wilson

Abram Wilson

Prepare for Act 2: San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson says he will run for the state Assembly again in 2010.

Wilson, the GOP nominee in District 15, lost on Nov. 4 to his Democratic opponent, Joan Buchanan, by 4 percentage points.

“Am I interested in running against in 2010?” Wilson said. “No. But will I? Yes. I believe I will run again in 2010. I ran to make a difference and when you are out there always trying to make a difference, you keep going.”

The 2008 election was among the most competitive Assembly contests in the state and most expect it will set spending records after all the financial reports have been calculated. Wilson and Buchanan, and their supporters, spent millions on mailers and TV ads.

Prior to Buchanan’s victory, it was the sole Republican-held partisan seat in the Bay Area.