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A discussion on the electoral college and voting rights


This week, the Electoral College voted, officially making Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Kamala Harris the next President and Vice President of the United States.

If you watched the news, you might have caught California voters applauding the green carpet in the Assembly as they cast the 55 votes that took the Biden-Harris ticket above the 270 vote threshold. Or you might have noticed the red clad lawmaker leading the debates.

It was Shirley Weber, a retired professor from San Diego State University who is now a Democratic congressman and head of the California black legislative caucus.

Shawn Hubler met her on Tuesday and asked her about the experience. His response, slightly edited here, was a surprise:

It‘s not every day that the Electoral College receives hammer-to-hammer television coverage. Looking at you after the events of the past year, just like a Californian, I wondered what must be going through your mind.

It was an amazing experience. I’ve been to the Electoral College once before, and it doesn’t seem like much. But once you’re in this room, you realize what we were doing. And how important it was. I continue to be amazed that I can participate in the process at this level.

I come from a dad and grandfather who were sharecroppers in Arkansas, and my dad never had a chance to vote until he was in his mid to late 30s because he lived in Arkansas. And my grandfather was never allowed to vote because he died before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Sensational. I had no idea. So the story for you was much deeper than California and its role in resisting Trump.

My father barely knew how to read. He was never allowed to go to school much in Arkansas, because they were sharecroppers and he was a man, so he had to work.

Well, they were trying to get him out of his working years, and one day he hit back. And they were going to make an example of him – we knew in the community that they were going to kill him. My mother’s mother had come to California years before, so he came here, fleeing for his life.

My God.

They put him in the back of a wagon, in the middle of the night like in a movie, and took him to Texarkana and he got on the train and came to my mom’s mom in California.

When the men came to our house that night, my father was gone. We stayed in Arkansas for three months, until my father made enough money to take his wife and six children by train to California. Two more were later born in California.

Where was it in Arkansas?

We lived in Hope, Ark. Bill Clinton’s grandfather lived just down the road from my grandparents. They all knew his grandfather and knew him.

And your family moved to Los Angeles then?

Yes. We lived in the projects. Eventually my dad on a stroke of luck was able to buy a house on 45th and Broadway. His business had changed owners and when they changed the pension system they had to pay the employees what was in it, so he got $ 2,000 and put it in a house.

I studied in schools in the center-south. I graduated from high school of manual arts. We all graduated from there, but for a brother, who graduated from Jefferson High.

What a story.

Our living room was a polling station in Los Angeles. My mother was working at the polls when they moved here. And my dad was also involved – setting up the house, moving all the furniture. Every election, whether it’s a runoff, primary or general election, for many, many years. As children, we knew how important it was to vote and how important it was that my mom and dad were denied the right to vote.

[Read about this year’s record voter turnout in California.]

Monday’s vote must therefore have been extremely moving for you.

When I think about it, when you put that in context for a kid who grew up in the Los Angeles projects, you realize how blessed you really are to be there. And what a meaningful moment it was, not only for me but also for my brothers and sisters, who were crying, watching him on TV. Be not only one of the voters, but the president.

I have heard from students from across the country. I was a teacher for 40 years and they know all of my passions – and they know my voice. Some of them said they walked into the room and thought I was home and they turned around and I was there.

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[Track coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across the state.]

In Los Angeles County, public health officials said that on average, two people die from the virus every hour. The average of new cases per day in the state continued to rise. And the intensive care units continued to fill up.

And in another worrying sign, the capacity of the Bay Area ICU has dropped to 12.6%, leading to a regional home support order, which goes into effect Thursday night. (As The San Francisco Chronicle reported, this includes five counties that were not already under the Bay Area’s preemptive order.)

Still, the vaccine is making its way to healthcare workers statewide. And as my colleague reported, pharmacists found extra (usable) doses in some of the vials – a little Hanukkah miracle.

[Read about how the vaccines will be distributed in California.]

  • Fast-moving storm likely to sweep through Bay Area, bringing some rain to the area, before heading towards the Sierra. [The Mercury News]

  • Investors can now trade and enjoy California water. What could possibly go wrong? [The San Francisco Chronicle]

  • Jim Cooper, a member of the State Assembly, is considering a run for the Sacramento County Sheriff. But his past is plagued by allegations of harassment and other scandals. [The Appeal]

  • Take a visual Downey visitand find out how he became “the Mexican Beverly Hills”. [The New York Times]

California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. PT on weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: Have you been forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read each edition online here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from UC Berkeley, and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles – but she always wants to see more. Follow us here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from UC Berkeley.