As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The New Face Of California

Something really special happened today in California and I thought I'd mention it.

Today, Karen Bass became the new Speaker of the California State Assembly, the first African-American woman to attain that office, and the highest-ranking woman of color in any state in the union. She's a capable progressive leader, and her ascension to the top of the Legislature power structure is laudable. We have a lot of problems in this state and she's going to have to get right to work. Fortunately, her goals are narrow but focused; to balance the state budget, nearing a $20 billion dollar hole, and to restructure the structural revenue deficit that makes every state budget here an adventure. She wants to do it in a progressive way, making sure everybody shares in the sacrifice and the benefits, and letting all the stakeholders know that California's future is worth paying for.

But beyond what this means for the rising progressive movement here, and it means plenty, the optics of an African-American woman becoming one of the two highest-ranking Democrats in the nation's largest state is undeniably powerful. We talk about what it means to see a Barack Obama or a Hillary Clinton running for President but those historical barriers are being broken every day in offices large and small.

Chris Bowers had a great post the other day looking at how under-represented groups are starting to take leadership roles in the party with which they have increasingly identified, and the implications.

Whatever its flaws, the Democratic Party really is the party for "everyone else" in America. Virtually every ethnic, religious and sexual minority votes for Democrats by overwhelming margins. Vulnerable economic groups, such as single women, union members, and low-income voters also break for Democrats by overwhelming margins. Fewer than 50% of the Democrats in the United States House and United States Senate combined are white, male, straight and Christian. Even the elites of the Democratic Party are very different, on demographic level, from the elites in the media and business community in America.

For quite some time, the Democratic Party struggled with a "loser" image nationally. Given its minority heavy, downtrodden heavy, freaks and geeks membership, it isn't a huge secret how it developed that negative brand. However, over the last few years, something unusual is starting to happen: traditionally under-represented groups are starting to occupy leadership roles in the party, and the party is starting to win a lot of elections. Now, with Nancy Pelosi as Speaker, Democrats hold 235 seats in the House (a number that is soon to rise quite a bit), even though the highest Republicans ever reached was 232. In addition to holding the majority of Governors, state legislatures, and members of the U.S. Senate, all of those majorities are expected to expand significantly in 2008. To top it all off, the Democratic presumptive nominee for President, Barack Obama, is expected to become the next President of the United States.

On this great day for the state of California, I'm pleased to see the party live up to mirroring the face of the electorate. I'm happy to see those decisions go rewarded. And I'm proud of Karen Bass.

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