Meet Corey Jackson, one of the new class of California lawmakers
As CalMatters’ new newsletter writer, I’m embarking on a periodic series of interviews with fellow newcomers — first-term California legislators. With resignations and redistricting, there are 31 brand new lawmakers who are also making this the most diverse Legislature ever.
First up: Assemblymember Corey Jackson, who embodies this change. He’s a Moreno Valley Democrat, chairperson of the Assembly Human Services committee and the first Black openly LGBTQ+ person in the Legislature. After founding a nonprofit organization focused on child development, Jackson pursued a doctorate in social work and was elected last November.
I sat down with him last week to discuss his series of bills to create “a more equitable California,” his role in the LGBTQ caucus and more. Here are some highlights of our half-hour conversation, condensed for clarity and length.
What was your childhood like?
There was a group of us who all basically were raised by single mothers. We roamed the streets together. My mother was a single mother, so when we got home from school, she wasn’t there because she was taking care of business. But of course, she also went back to school to finish her nursing at a community college. And seeing how she brought us out of poverty is something that I continue to mimic in my own life.
What made you pursue studying social work?
I was looking for an advanced degree that would help me greater understand how to make communities healthier, safer. I began with my master’s of social work, and I had no clue how strong of a social justice mission that social work is also. It was a dream come true for me. I finished my master’s and I was always being encouraged by my professors about the doctoral program. From a kid growing up in Rialto, you don’t think those things are possible. I even had to overcome the fear of: “Am I smart enough to actually do this?”
You’ve introduced a series of bills that you say create a more equitable California. Can you talk about this?
Even through the darkest times of African Americans, we’ve always had people who found a way to shine. I think it’s now our generation’s time to continue to move our society forward and to address the hard parts now of how to make California more equitable.
My bills are really about showing people that there’s now the new frontier of anti-racism. Racism began as a systemic strategy for economic advantage. So, we have to now create systemic solutions. A lot of the time we focus on, “Well, speak up! Talk to your friends, talk to your families. Tell your story!” But we miss the systemic part. And my bills are designed for us to make sure that California is not always playing defense, but we’re actually going on the offense when it comes to anti-racism, anti-hate and anti-xenophobia.
You’re part of the LGBTQ caucus. What kind of work do you see yourself doing there and with your fellow colleagues?
There’s been a big disconnect when it comes to the African-American community and the LGBTQ community. Both communities marginalize each other. I see my role in making sure that no matter which space I’m in, that the other story is told. If I’m in African American spaces, how is it okay for another group to be marginalized when we ourselves have been marginalized? And vice versa.
What’s one small thing that has surprised you about being in office?
The most surprising thing is how much we convinced ourselves that it’s okay not to solve a problem that we know is hurting people, and how easy we’re okay with that. And it’s usually based upon someone’s own sense of self-preservation. I’m sure it applies to every legislative body, but of course it applies here to our colleagues.
For the record: A previous version of this item had an incorrect number of first-term legislators.
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Other Stories You Should Know
1 A boatload of 2024 ballot measures
From CalMatters’ state Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal:
The presidential primary is now less than a year away. That’s also when Californians will be asked to vote on the first of seven referendums and initiatives that have qualified for 2024.
That’s already as many as last November — and advocates for assorted issues aren’t done yet. Voters are likely to also see some of the regulars on their ballots — measures on dialysis regulation, gambling and homelessness — but also some new ones, such as a constitutional amendment to eliminate the elected Board of Equalization, consultants from Swing Strategies said at an informational seminar last week.
Voters can also expect a high number of local measures. Last November, nearly 70% of 302 local tax and bond measures passed.
- Tom Ross, president of Swing Strategies: “The 10 to 12 that happen at the state level get all the attention. But there are 470 local ballot measures that are happening every year. That’s significant.”
Longtime Democratic political consultant Bill Wong told CalMatters that on statewide measures, he expects the “same old trainwreck.” “It’s onerous to figure out what the ballot measure is doing versus what they’re selling on television,” he said.
There’s one effort in the Legislature to address that: a bill introduced by state Sen. Roger Niello, a Sacramento Republican, to shift the job of reviewing ballot measure titles and summaries from the elected attorney general’s office to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.
Another potential ballot measure in November 2024 would be an even bigger political game-changer: It would amend the state constitution to allow public financing in state elections, as well as counties and non-charter cities.
Companion bills introduced last week by state Sens. Tom Umberg, a Santa Ana Democrat, and Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat, and by Assemblymember Alex Lee, a San Jose Democrat, would ask voters to amend the Political Reform Act of 1974, which bans candidates from using public funds for elections. The legislation would allow candidates to accept public money from a dedicated fund, but says that the money can’t be taken from funds earmarked for education, public safety or transportation.
In 2016, the Legislature passed and then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill to do that, but the courts ruled that voters have to make that change. Five charter cities have been experimenting with public financing, matching at least some voter donations with taxpayer money.
Common Cause and other supporters of small-donor public financing say it would ward off the influence of big donations from special interests, including independent expenditure committees.
- Lee, in a statement: “Public financing of campaigns is the best way to empower voters, increase diversity of candidates running for office, and give voters confidence that Big Money can’t just buy their elections.”
2 CA dairy farmers on red alert
After months of pummeling storms, California’s record-breaking rainfall has caused major flooding and overflowing reservoirs. The high water level of the long-dry Tulare Lake has already displaced nearby farmers, migrant workers and dairy owners, as Nicole Foy of CalMatter’s California Divide team reports.
And as the Sierra Nevada’s historic snowpack melts, the situation may grow even worse for these same residents of the Tulare Basin, who say that emergency aid has been inadequate in helping with their lost homes, jobs and incomes.
Currently, thousands of San Joaquin Valley residents are struggling with flood damage, including dairy farmers. Dairy is California’s top agricultural industry, generating $7 billion a year in statewide revenue. Tulare, Kern and Kings counties are the top-producing dairy counties.
Residents say it took weeks for the state to get federal aid, and even then, state and local emergency responses had mixed results. This is particularly true in the southern San Joaquin Valley, where several communities opted out of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan.
As a result, the authority over where flood water goes rests with various parties, such as county officials, small flood districts and property owners. Because state officials have no clear oversight, local agencies struggle to mediate conflicts about handling of floodwaters and disputes devolve into local tugs-of-war.
Newsom’s office estimated $132 million in agricultural losses in Tulare and Kern Counties. But when accounting for long-term supply chain disruptions, evacuation costs, property damage and loss of stored crops, dairy industry leaders say the total cost is more staggering — as much as $20 billion, according to one industry official.
- Anja Raudabaugh, Western United Dairies CEO: “There’s not a single dairy that could have envisioned this type of catastrophe. This was an unmitigated disaster. I don’t know how to plan for a river. It’s a nightmare.”
3 Legislators want answers on money for homelessness
Since the 2018-19 budget year, Gov. Gavin Newsom set aside $20.6 billion toward housing and homelessness, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. But during that time, the number of unhoused people in California increased by nearly a third.
Frustrated legislators of both parties, as well as their voters, are demanding to know where the money went. Democratic Sen. Dave Cortese of Santa Clara County- and Republican Assemblymember Josh Hoover of Folsom have called for a sweeping state audit. As CalMatters’ homelessness reporter Marisa Kendall explains, the main takeaways of the upcoming audit will include:
- As many as five state homelessness programs will be analyzed.
- Exactly which programs will be scrutinized hasn’t been revealed yet, but Project Homekey will likely be one. (Homekey gives cities and counties funds to turn some hotels and other buildings into longer-term homeless housing.)
- Spending in two cities will be reviewed: San Jose and another yet to be determined.
- The focus will be on how many people received services between 2020 and 2023; how much funding San Jose and the other city received; and how the money was spent (for example, how much of it went toward administrative costs instead of services).
Legislators also hope the audit will make specific recommendations on how to either cut or improve ineffective programs — something a previous analysis on homelessness spending didn’t do. The audit is set to cost $743,400, will take about 5,000 hours of staff time and is likely to be done by October.
While Republicans have long criticized Newsom’s uses of state funds, the bipartisan call for the audit signals a shift in politics, Marisa writes. In his quest for more accountability, Newsom, for example, began requiring cities and counties to submit “homeless action plans.”
Assemblymember Luz Rivas, a Democrat from the San Fernando Valley, introduced her own bill that would reallocate funds from local agencies that failed to meet homelessness goals.
- Rivas to CalMatters: “We get asked by our constituents. They ask ‘Where is this funding going to? Is it really being used effectively?’”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California tax revenues are continuing to fall below expectations, growing the budget deficit and posing a political dilemma for Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislators.
Other things worth your time
Newsom faces political minefield with calls for Feinstein to resign // The Hill
State Capitol has history of shutdowns and evacuations // The Sacramento Bee
California poised to cut foster care program in state budget // Los Angeles Times
Rogue COVID testing sites have returned to San Francisco sidewalks // San Francisco Chronicle
$30-an-hour wage proposed for hotel and LAX workers by 2028 // Los Angeles Times
SF needs $600M to cut street homelessness in half by 2028 // The San Francisco Standard
Kings County, facing $1B in flood damage, scrambles for federal aid // The Fresno Bee
Even with 988 hotline, L.A. mental health crisis system depends on police // Los Angeles Times
California is changing how it goes after illegal cannabis farms // The Orange County Register
Why Oakland schools chief Marcus Foster is relevant 50 years after assassination // EdSource
Cambodian Americans debate Long Beach’s Sankranta festival // Los Angeles Times
El Niño in the summer? What it could mean for California // San Francisco Chronicle
72 hours: Inside San Diego County’s mental health crisis // The San Diego Union-Tribune
Benefit miscalculations have plunged teachers into debt, years battling CalSTRS // The Mercury News