One of Governor Gavin Newsom’s primary responsibilities is to appoint people to fill vacancies on state boards and commissions. However, his office lacks a public system to verify whether these appointees reflect the communities they are meant to serve.
Unfortunately, these seats often don’t reflect California’s inherent diversity, especially when it comes to the underrepresentation of Latinos. Despite making up 39% of the population, Latinos remain marginalized in these appointments, and the lack of transparency around gubernatorial appointment data obscures the true extent of this underrepresentation.
We have before us a promising solution. Senate Bill 702, authored by Senator Monique Limón (Democrat of Santa Barbara), would require the governor’s office to create and publish an annual report on the demographic makeup of all appointees that year to boards and commissions of the state. This report would provide the transparency needed for targeted advocacy aimed at diversifying boards and commissions that wield significant influence across the state.
From overseeing retirement access for public educators through the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, to cleaning up contaminated land in vulnerable communities through the Board of Environmental Safety , or the review authority of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, these bodies sit at the crossroads of the Governor’s administrative powers and his broad oversight of matters affecting our communities.
Last year, the Latino Policy and Politics Institute at UCLA, where I work, published an analysis of Latin American representation in gubernatorial appointments to 45 critical commissions within state agencies and departments. The report finds that Latinos have the largest representation gap of any racial group, holding just 18.4% of executive appointments — it would take more than twice as many to accurately reflect the number of Latinos in the state. Among women, Latinas remain the most underrepresented.
In practical terms, this means that these commissions do not accurately represent the communities they are supposed to serve. Latino students make up the majority of California’s K-12 education system, but the community is underrepresented on school boards. Similarly, Latin American communities bear many state-imposed environmental burdens, but their voice is sorely absent in state environmental commissions. Additionally, despite being a driving force in the growth of the state’s workforce and job creation, Latinos lack substantial representation on workforce development councils. .
SB 702 is at a critical juncture as another legislative session draws to a close. Last year, Newsom vetoed the bill, which cited budget constraints. The governor has a laudable track record of historic gubernatorial appointments, including installing the state’s first black secretary of state, its first Filipino-born attorney general, and the first Latin American senator to represent California. But the public deserves to know what progress is being made in all nominations, including the more obscure ones. If the bill does not pass, it will limit our ability to understand which groups are missing from the decision-making process.
As a state whose economic progress and success is closely tied to the Latino community, we must undertake rigorous efforts to monitor, understand, and rectify the pattern that confines Latinos to the periphery of meaningful decision-making bodies. Whether it’s the boards of tech companies, the boards of nonprofits, Hollywood, or the medical profession, the lack of Latin American representation persists. Newsom can help write a new chapter for state boards and commissions. Additionally, this legislation can provide data and resources to organizations like ours that advocate for the short- and long-term empowerment of Latinos and other underrepresented groups across the state.
Effective governance requires the presence of women, diverse populations and the inclusion of lived experiences as forms of expertise. Illinois has already implemented a similar law, which will provide a tool for community leaders advocating for greater representation in their state. Today, California is ready for that moment.
An annual report that tracks the composition of state commissions and councils will help us direct these resources to where they are needed most, so that those doing the work that most affects our communities are indeed a reflection of those we they are supposed to serve.
Cesar Montoya is the senior policy analyst at UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute.