For the last eight years, Dr. Shirley Weber has represented the people of San Diego in the state Assembly. This year, she’ll become the first Black person to take on the role of Secretary of State in California.
Gov. Gavin Newsom named her to the open position after it was announced that Alex Padilla would be leaving office to fill Kamala Harris’ seat in the U.S. Senate.
“I never thought I would be Secretary of State, I never thought I would be in charge of securing the vote of Californians, especially coming out of Arkansas where nobody would let my family vote,” Weber said.
She was born in Hope, Arkansas and raised in the projects of Los Angeles. From a young age, she said her parents taught her the importance of having her voice heard.
“My father had been denied education and denied opportunity. He owned land but he had to be a sharecropper and he was being cheated at the way station. He talked back, he fought back and as a result, he became a liability in Arkansas and they were going to kill him,” Weber said.
Weber explained that she moved to the Golden State because her father’s life was in danger.
She adds that it was his courage to stand up for what was right that inspired her to have a career as a professor and now legislator.
Weber taught Africana Studies for 40 years at San Diego State University before becoming President of the San Diego Board of Education. In 2012, she became an Assemblymember in the California Legislature.
Weber said she’s honored to be named for the position and believes her four decades as an educator and eight years at the state Capitol will make her a strong leader in the role.
“Given my long history of working on the behalf of Californians to ensure their right to vote, this is quite a challenge but it’s one that I welcome,” Weber added.
She looks forward to expanding voting rights throughout the state and working with school districts to increase civic education.
“I’ve already been approached by some school districts about what we’re going to teach our young people because we see the attacks on our democracy. Attacks on our voting rights. All those kinds of things. Our young people need to understand what this country is made of,” Weber explained.
During her time in the Legislature, Weber championed numerous bills focused on social justice. She’s widely credited for the Stephon Clark bill, which heavily limits police use-of-force in California, and for establishing a task force to study reparations for African Americans. She also authored Proposition 16, which would have repealed the ban on affirmative action if it had passed in November.
However, Weber notes that it’s not her legislation that she’s most proud of during her time as an Assemblywoman. Instead, her greatest accomplishment was being described by her colleagues as the moral conscience of the Assembly.
“I’m honored by that because the one thing my mother taught me, my father taught me was to always stand up, to hold fast to your beliefs, to not give in and to not strive for popularity,” Weber said.
While Weber admits she’ll miss working at the state Capitol, she’s excited for her new chapter as Secretary of State and to see her daughter, Akilah Weber, run for her vacant seat in the 79th Assembly District.
Weber’s daughter is a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist, and a La Mesa City councilmember.
“This position will allow her to not only continue the work that I’ve done,” she said, “but also to expand it into the areas of healthcare for poor people and the system that should be meeting the needs of all of us.”
As Weber prepares to make history as the first Black woman to serve in her new position, she said she’s grateful for people like her father who invested in her and her right to vote.
Her nomination to the office of Secretary of State must be confirmed by the Assembly and the Senate. If confirmed, she’ll be in the role until 2022, at which point, Weber said she intends to run for re-election.