For the first time in California history, Black women are at the helm of two important government offices: Shirley Weber is the secretary of state and Malia Cohen is California’s new controller, the Oakland Post reports.
“I thought long and hard about it. I realized that everything about the secretary of state was central to my life,” she said.
Her responsibilities include chief elections officer, overseeing all of California’s elections, including testing and certifying voting equipment.
Weber grew up in a small house in Arkansas, with her parents and five siblings. They eventually relocated to Los Angeles, where she lived in the Pueblos housing projects. Her father moved the family to California so they could have a better life, the Post reported.
“My father came from Hope, Ark. because there was no hope in Hope,” Weber said. “He came to California because he wanted his children to have a better chance and a better life.”
And Weber has found success in her life. She went on to graduate from the University of California Los Angeles with a Ph.D. She worked in San Diego State University’s Education Department, and taught African American studies there. She later won a seat in the California State Assembly in 2012.
After serving as a member of the State Assembly, Weber planned to move to Ghana, Africa and construct a new home. But that changed when California Gov. Gavin Newsom nominated her to be the secretary of state, the story reported. She began serving in the position in 2021, and was just re-elected for a second term, making her the first Black woman to be elected into the position.
“I look forward to ensuring fiscal accountability, with an eye on transparency and innovation,” Cohen said at her swearing-in ceremony for California’s controller seat.
Upon swearing Cohen in, Newsom commented, “Our politics does not always reward taking on the hardest problems. The results of our work may not be evident for a long time. We will prepare for uncertain times ahead. We will be prudent stewards of taxpayer dollars, pay down debt, and meet our future obligations.”
Cohen is a native of San Francisco where her political path began when she was elected to be class president at Lowell High School, one of the oldest public schools on the West Coast, according to the Post story.
She received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Fisk University, a historically Black school. She also earned a master’s degree in public policy management from Carnegie Mellon University.
As Controller, Cohen is the chief fiscal officer of California, responsible for accountability and disbursement of state financial resources. She also serves on the Franchise Tax Board for the nation’s two largest public pensions. She was previously elected to California’s Board of Equalization in 2018 and later appointed chairperson in 2019 and 2022.
California now has three statewide offices being held by Black people for the first time in state history: Cohen, Weber, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.