The Democratic parties of Fresno, Tulare and Kings counties criticized incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom in a joint letter Monday for what they say is a lack of representation – particularly among the Latino and Hispanic communities – on a recently announced advisory group.
The Bee reported Friday that former Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin would be the central San Joaquin Valley’s lone representative on the All in California Ambassador Program, which includes a variety of elected officials and community leaders.
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Swearengin “does not represent the Valley and our interests,” Fresno County Democratic Party Chair Michael Evans said Monday. “We’d like to see the new governor put people in place who are actually representative, particularly of the Latino community.”
The letter criticized Newsom for not soliciting input from the local parties before making his decision.
Evans suggested several possible options, including California Latino Leadership Network chair Joel Murillo and Venancio Gaona, an activist, retired professor and member of the county’s Democratic Central Committee.
Hold on, says Newsom’s team
After The Bee contacted Newsom’s campaign for comment, Evans received a phone call in which staff assured him that the ambassadors were only a first step and that additional Valley outreach was planned.
“We’ll certainly hold them to that,” Evans said. “There are diverse interests and needs” in the Valley.
Nathan Click, spokesman for Newsom’s transition team, echoed this in a statement to The Bee.
“The Governor-elect has a deep appreciation and respect for the Central Valley and its many diverse communities,” Click said. “He held more than a dozen public events in the Valley this year alone – listening to the concerns of leaders and residents alike, and he will be returning to the region before taking office. “
Click said the team will continue having a variety of conversations on various Valley issues, as Newsom has since election day.
The advisers will begin meeting with Newsom’s transition team via teleconferences on Tuesday.
Swearengin, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for state controller in 2014 and is currently the CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation, said Friday she was proud to represent the Valley and would advocate for better education funding as her top priority.
The former mayor said the Valley needs more representation in statewide affairs.
Samuel Molina is the California state director for Mi Familia Vota, a nationwide Latino civic engagement organization with a heavy presence in Fresno and the surrounding Valley.
“While we appreciate our new governor-elect’s eye for diversity, we would encourage more representatives from the Central Valley in this advisory committee,” Molina said.
Molina added that while Latino representation was important, racial demographics should not necessarily be the guiding force behind such advisory choices.
“It’s about having leaders who know the unique intricacies of the people whom they serve,” Molina said. “We look forward to this advisory committee being expanded to include our voices.”
It is not clear if other Valley residents were asked to participate as ambassadors or whether the makeup of the board is final.
Fresno County Supervisor Sal Quintero, who also served as a Fresno City councilman during Swearengin’s mayoral terms, said he was surprised at a lack of expertise in key issues such as water on the advisory group.
Quintero suggested Fresno Irrigation District General Manager Gary Serrato, whom he said is Latino and knowledgeable on water, farming and local politics.
He also recommended Dora Westerlund, CEO of the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation, as someone who could speak to the needs of Latino businesses in the Valley.
Quintero said he wondered if the ambassador selections were politically motivated. Were Newsom and his team looking to hear more from communities who gave him more votes?
Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, a Fresno Democrat whose family has been involved in local and state politics for decades, said he always pushes for more Valley representation on boards and commissions.
“I welcome the opportunity for our new governor to learn about the rich culture, diversity and innovation that our Valley has to offer,” Arambula said.