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CA Assembly speaker Rendon criticized for replacing gay Asian committee chair with straight white colleague

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Assemblymember Evan Low was removed as chair of the Assembly's Business and Professions Committee without explanation by Speaker Anthony Rendon. Photo: Courtesy ABC7 News
Assemblymember Evan Low was removed as chair of the Assembly's Business and Professions Committee without explanation by Speaker Anthony Rendon. Photo: Courtesy ABC7 News  

The leader of the California Assembly is facing criticism after he bounced a gay Asian committee chair and replaced him without warning with a straight white colleague. The decision has outraged LGBTQ and Asian Pacific Islander community leaders.

Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Los Angeles) removed Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell) November 17 as both chair and a member of the Assembly's Business and Professions Committee. In a terse letter Wednesday to the Assembly's chief clerk, Rendon revealed he was naming Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto) as chair and that Low's removal from the committee had resulted in a Democratic vacancy on it.

Low had served as the committee's chair the last five years. It is responsible for oversight of the California Medical Board, the nursing profession, and the pharmaceutical industry among other business concerns.

Berman and Low both traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to meet with federal officials as part of the Legislative Technology & Innovation Caucus delegation. The two Silicon Valley lawmakers are both members of the group, which Low co-chairs according to its website.

The Bay Area Reporter could not reach Low for comment. In a statement released by his office, Low said he looked forward to his continued service "in any capacity" with the committee and its work.

"It has been an honor to serve as chair of the Assembly's Business and Professions Committee, where my colleagues and I crafted legislation to help small businesses, combat the opioid crisis, implement a system to regulate legal cannabis, and work with Governor Newsom to protect patients and health professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic," stated Low, who chairs the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus.

Rendon issued his own statement regarding the leadership switch after the news broke. He said Berman's "service in the Assembly has demonstrated his commitment to the Democratic Caucus. As a B&P committee member, he has shown mastery of the subject matter and I know I can depend on him to dedicate his time and focus to leading the work of this important committee."

Meanwhile, Berman expressed his gratitude "to Speaker Rendon for the opportunity to chair the Assembly Business and Professions Committee. It has been an honor to serve on the committee, and I look forward to taking on this new role in the upcoming session."

According to a source, Low was given no heads up about Rendon's decision nor did he receive a courtesy call from the speaker to explain why he was being removed. Reportedly, over the summer, Low had been approached by entities upset with Rendon's leadership over the last two years during the COVID-19 pandemic about waging a campaign to take over the speakership position.

But Low declined their entreaties, according to the source, preferring to wait until Rendon steps down. In the fall Low hosted a fundraiser on Rendon's behalf that brought in $120,000.

A spokesperson for Rendon did not respond Thursday to the B.A.R.'s questions on if Low being approached this summer to take over the speakership played into his decision to remove him as chair or if the speaker is concerned his doing so could result in a vote to remove him from the Assembly's top leadership post in the coming weeks.

A number of LGBTQ and API groups have voiced their criticisms of Rendon's removal of Low as the committee chair. But their statements have stopped short of calling for his being removed as speaker.

Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization, stated Wednesday it is "deeply disappointed" that Low was removed as committee chair "without any explanation."

It noted that "at a time when the API community faces a surge in hate, violence and discrimination, and state legislatures across the country relentlessly attack the LGBTQ+ community, Assemblymember Low has provided critical representation for our communities in Sacramento. He has chaired the B&P Committee for the last five years with policy-driven and solution-oriented leadership."

His removal, added EQCA, "is an unfortunate example of people of color — especially API people — being sidelined from leadership roles despite demonstrated success and a commitment to strengthening and diversifying the Legislature."

In a series of tweets Thursday BAYMEC, the Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee that seeks to elect LGBTQ candidates and allies in the South Bay, said it was "shocked and outraged" by Rendon's decision and said removing "the only openly LGBTQ AAPI committee chair in the Assembly is deeply troubling." It also demanded a response from Berman.

"Assemblymember Low's leadership has been crucial in responding to the crisis of hate and attacks against AAPI and LGBTQ+ people. To talk about elevating leaders that represent our communities while doing the opposite is mere lip service," tweeted BAYMEC. "Assemblymember Low is a consistent champion for equal rights and the inclusion of all LGBTQ+ people and represents the kind of leadership we hope to see from the Democratic Party now and in the future."

As for Rendon, BAYMEC demanded an accounting of his actions against Low "and an explanation of how less diversity in leadership positions makes California a better place."

The national LGBTQ Victory Institute also weighed in via a tweet from its president and CEO Annise Parker. It is affiliated with the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which endorses LGBTQ candidates, like Low, across the country.

"Speaker Rendon has the right to replace any committee chair, but he also has the responsibility to explain why... To remove Evan Low — the only out LGBTQ AAPI committee chair in the Assembly — from his position without explanation is problematic, especially with no other LGBTQ people serving as chairs," Parker wrote. "At a time when the LGBTQ community and the AAPI community face increasing harm, we need more bold leadership like (Low's) not less."

OCA SACRAMENTO — Asian Pacific American Advocates said in a tweet it too was "deeply disturbed" by Low's removal and said it "is counter to California's commitment to equity."

A spokesperson for the Victory Institute did not respond to the B.A.R.'s query on if it supported seeing Rendon be removed as speaker. Samuel Garrett-Pate, EQCA's managing director of external affairs, demurred when asked by the B.A.R. the same question. As for if Rendon's decision would play into EQCA's endorsement process next year when it reviews supporting non-LGBTQ members of the Legislature seeking reelection, he said it would be up to EQCA's political action committee to decide.

"As you know, we have lots of factors we look at it," said Garrett-Pate.

The Sacramento Bee first reported about Low being stripped of his chairmanship. His being removed means he no longer chairs any committees, as per Assembly rules its members are only given one chairmanship per legislative session. Low remains a member of the communications and conveyance; elections; governmental organization; and higher education committees.


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