Oakland Democrat named Assembly first female leader

The Associated Press
Monday October 07, 2002


SACRAMENTO – California Assemblywoman Wilma Chan, an Oakland Democrat, has been appointed as the first woman and the first Asian-American majority leader of the Assembly. 

Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson announced late Friday he had selected Chan to the Assembly’s top leadership post. 

“Ms. Chan brings with her a wealth of experience I expect to tap extensively as we deal with the significant legislative challenges in the upcoming session,” Wesson said in a written statement. 

Chan will replace San Francisco Democrat Kevin Shelley, who is running for secretary of state. 

Chan, 53, was elected to the Assembly in November 2000 and served as Majority Whip during the 2001-02 session. Before her election to the Assembly, Chan served on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. 

“In my district, I represent everyone,” Chan told the San Jose Mercury News on Friday. “But I think the Asian-American community will be very proud and supportive of having representation at the highest level.” 

The majority leader is responsible for leading Assembly Democrats, overseeing fund-raising by the Democratic caucus and working with the majority floor leader to make sure sessions run smoothly. The post is key in a state where Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature and all but one statewide office. 

Chan is seeking re-election next month. She won in the 2000 election after then-incumbent Audie Bock switched party affiliation from Green Party to independent. 

In the Assembly, Chan has pressed legislation to promote affordable housing, study whether to tax junk foods and exempt Holocaust survivors from paying income tax on reparations. Last year Chan wrote a new law to encourage counties to build school partnerships by donating surplus computers to schools. 

She and Palo Alto Democrat Joe Simitian also successfully pushed manufacturers of antifreeze to add a bitter taste to protect children and pets from accidental poisoning. 

Chan was born in Boston to Chinese-American immigrant parents and graduated from Wellesley College. She earned a master’s degree in education policy analysis and administration at Stanford University.