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California Assembly Re-elects Wesson as Speaker

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By Marcus E. Walton
Special to the NNPA from the Sacramento Observer

(NNPA)—The second Black speaker of the assembly in California’s history was unanimously re-elected to the lower house’s top post last week beneath the cloud of a $20 billion-plus deficit that threatens every program and taxpayer in the state.

With his colleagues and family as witnesses, Herb J. Wesson Jr. (D-Culver City) took control of the assembly after being sworn in
by one of the most powerful speakers in state history, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.

“I am honored by the assembly’s faith and confidence in my ability to lead this legislative body in the next session,” Wesson said. “Together, we have an enormous responsibility to our state—even in the best of times. And I don’t need to point out—these are not the best of times.”

Despite the daunting task in front of him, Wesson had plenty of optimism, telling his colleagues to “aim high and have faith.”
As he spoke to the chamber filled with elected politicians, their families and assorted guests, Wesson told a story of a hunter who needed food for his family.

The hunter wanted to shoot a turkey; however, each time he tried to shoot the turkey, a different danger appeared—a bear, a boar, a snake. And as the hunter changed his aim to take care of the immediate threat a voice spoke to him, saying, “Aim high. Have faith.”

Finally the hunter shot the turkey, which fell, breaking the branch and killing all of the animals beneath him, giving the hunter’s family food for the entire winter.
“If California aims high and has faith, we aren’t going to leave anybody behind,” the Speaker said.

Wesson leads a legislature that more resembles the state’s diversity than at any time in history.

There are 30 new legislators in the chamber. Two members, including Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Los Angeles), are returning after leaving the assembly and being re-elected this year.

There are six African-Americans in the legislature who comprise the 2003-04 California Legislative Black Caucus: Wesson, Dymally, Jerome Horton (D-Inglewood), Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles); senators Kevin Murray (D-Culver City), Edward Vincent (D-Inglewood).
Democrats have 48 seats to the Republicans’ 32 in the lower house. There are six Asians, five openly gay men and women, 27 Hispanics and 36 women in the 2003-04 Legislature.

While the Democrats have the majority in both houses, Wesson will need to find at least six votes on the Republican side in the best case scenario to get any appropriations bills passed in the Assembly, assuming that he can keep all 48 Democrats unified when the difficult task of eliminating the deficit starts eating away at politicians’ special issues such as education and health care.
But his colleagues believe that he is the leader who can guide them through the rough economic waters.

“From the moment Herb Wesson arrived in the assembly, he has been someone who reached out to the other side and someone who believed in compromise,” Sarah L. Reyes (D-Fresno) said as she nominated the speaker. “Herb Wesson doesn’t lead from the front of the line—he waits in back to make sure everyone comes along and that’s what we need because we’re in tough waters.”

“We will do well,” she said. “California will do well because we have Herb. J. Wesson as our speaker.”

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