Latinos, governor seek understanding

FRESNO -- Latinos, who showered Jerry Brown with 63 percent of their vote last fall in his successful gubernatorial campaign, appear to have cooled their support after the governor left the California Supreme Court without a Latino, vetoed a farmworker bill strongly pushed by the United Farm Workers, and, took away an appointment to a state panel from a popular Latina educator.

"When you look at the issues the state Supreme Court deals with, many of them are some we are involved and engaged with and they heavily impact the Latino community. We should have someone there voicing and representing the needs of Latinos at that level in the legal system," said UFW president Arturo S. Rodríguez.

"To not have representation on that level means that our voice is not going to be heard at the highest level of our legal system within the state."

Brown was expected to name a Latino to the state Supreme Court when Carlos Moreno, the third-ever Latino to hold that post, retired earlier this year. Instead, Brown appointed UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu, giving the seven-member court four Asians.

Brown, during an editorial board meeting with The Fresno Bee last Wednesday during a visit to Fresno, indicated he had "six qualified Latino candidates" for the court.

"There was one individual I really wanted to appoint, but she was not a member of the state bar. So, I contacted others who were leaders in their law schools across the state and they were not interested," said Brown. "I had three highly qualified Latino leaders tell me no, including a court of appeals judge," said Brown.

The governor, who also met with Latino leaders at Assemblymember Henry T. Perea's office, said he is considering Latinos for the state Court of Appeals.

Rodríguez, during a telephone interview, said he was not pleased.

"I don't think that because he is considering on appointing a Latino to the Court of Appeals, it gives him a free pass to not have someone at the state Supreme Court level," said Rodríguez. "In the past, Republican governors have always supported Latinos in that position and his government should have been more consistent with what the needs are in the community and recognized the large portion of the state's population we represent."

The UFW has been critical of Brown ever since he vetoed SB 104, legislation that would have made it easier for the union to organize workers by collecting signatures from a majority of workers. Brown, in his veto message, said the Agricultural Labor Relations Board he established three decades ago, should be allowed to do its work.

"It was a tough bill," said Joel Murillo, former president of La Raza Lawyers Association in Fresno. "It needed to be more clear. It was much too formal. I suspect he will sign it if it meets the criteria he is looking for."

Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea, who was among a dozen Latino leaders who met with Brown, said the governor's decisions reflect an effort to look at the issues from a bipartisan view.

"He is definitely showing he is a governor that is going to approach issues right down the middle. There are bills that have or have not been passed where people on either political party has been upset," said Perea. "I think the real message he sent today was for all elected officials to try and get out of the partisan extremes in order to come together and start making good decisions and I support him 100 percent on that."

"It would have been a great thing if he would have appointed a Latino to the court, but I think he will appoint more Latinos when the opportunity to do so comes up again," he said.

Others said they would like to see Latinos appointed in other areas.

"Historically, there has been a lack of Latino representation in water boards or in the governor's administration that deals with water. I gave the reinforcement that he needs to continue to appoint Latinos at policy levels dealing with water," said Mario Santoyo, president of the Latino Water Coalition.

Santoyo, who spearheaded marches and rallies in support of greater water access for farmers in 2008, blamed the water crisis for long food lines and 40 percent unemployment rates.

"Unfortunately, Latinos have accepted collateral damage because decisions that are made in Sacramento impact our community the most," said Santoyo.

At a luncheon with about 200 guests at the Downtown Club, Brown Brown stressed the importance of a democracy saying it should be about "taking in minority interests too, not just listening to the wants of the majority."

Brown's tough approach to the state budget included $12.5 billion in cuts that will impact health, education and social services.

The governor said California will get back on its' feet.

"I didn't come back to this job to fail," he told luncheon guests.

Brown blamed partisan bickering for the state's inability to solve its budget mess. The political wars "get convoluted to such a degree that they distort common sense, good judgment and a careful discussion of the issues being presented," he said.

"There are plenty of bipartisan bills that get introduced, but for the sake of sticking to partisan colors, some members of the Legislature refuse to agree on anything. It's a very unproductive way of doing things," said Brown.

The Latino meeting with Brown, which was closed to the media, allowed elected officials the chance to talk to the governor about how state budget cuts are affecting their communities.

"Everyone wanted to know about future funding for their particular issues or services and wanted to know what the governors plan was in assisting them in trying to avoid more future cuts," said Parlier Mayor Armando López.

López was critical of Brown's efforts to eliminate redevelopment agencies. "It was the only carrot we had to attract businesses to our community," he said.

López applauded Brown's discussion how how state cuts affect "the poorest of the poor."

"But, what he may not realize is that these people are in our communities, they are the ones we represent. Unfortunately, when the state is facing deficits, the poor always have to pay and that is upsetting those of us in local government in rural areas," said López.

State cuts will create more poverty in those communities, said Brian Angus, executive director of the Fresno County Equal Opportunities Commission.

"We live in areas where the unemployment rate is substantially higher than anywhere else in the state. The poor will be hurt more in the days ahead if this country doesn't turn around," said Angus.

Educators were curious to learn whether Brown would increase further budget cuts to schools.

"As funding becomes more and more scarce, our ability to provide a quality education to our students at the city college level becomes ever more difficult. I am glad the governor acknowledged my concern even though no promises were made on anything," said Tony Cantú, Fresno City College interim president.

Madera Unified School District superintendent Gustavo Balderas said the meeting with Brown was a great opportunity to hear and learn about the issues affecting the Valley.

"I am a newbie to the area. I come from Oregon and have only been here a month and a half. Because of the dialogue that took place, I was able to better understand what was going on with budget cuts and how we can keep them as far away from the classroom as possible," said Balderas.

Assemblymember Perea expressed a need for continuing the high speed rail project because it would create jobs for the valley.

"The governor's trip was all about opening doors and making sure that he had a chance to meet with his constituents so they could discuss issues that are important to them. It was a very successful meeting and he promised to come back to continue the conversation," said Perea.

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