SACRAMENTO – The California Assembly passed AB 1401 by a vote of 45-26 last week. The bill would make California the first state to allow non-citizen jury service by immigrants residing in the country legally. The bill was passed largely on a party-line vote, with only one Democrat voting against the measure. The lone Democrat is freshman Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-AD21), representing California’s Central Valley, which includes Merced, Patterson, and Newman; a region known for its agriculture and its independent politics.
Although AB 1401 passed without serious opposition, Gray’s lone “No” vote should not go unnoticed. There were 8 members of the assembly that did not vote on the bill — all Democrats. These members include Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova), Tom Daly (D-Anaheim), Steve Fox (D-Los Angeles), Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), Adrin Nazarian (D-Van Nuys), Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton), and Rudy Salas Jr. (D-Bakersfield).
Gray could have abstained from voting against his party and the result would have been the same. But, in a political era defined by partisanship, the freshman assemblyman may have, knowingly or not, made a larger statement with his vote.
In a phone interview, I asked Gray a few questions about his vote:
Why did you vote against the rest of your party on AB 1401, the Non-Citizen Jury Service Bill, even though it was sure to pass?
I didn’t go into the vote under the lens of party politics. I reviewed the bill with my office and I believe there is a lot we can do with respect to immigration. We can be a more inclusive society and offer more opportunity to immigrants, but serving on a jury is a privilege that comes with citizenship. What was most disturbing is that the debate on the Assembly floor revolved around the “burden” of jury service. I believe that jury service is a privilege. Allowing non-citizens to serve on a jury to satisfy the burden of service demeans that privilege. I vote my district and I vote my conscious. So I voted No.
Why do you think all your follow Democrats voted in favor of the Bill?
I don’t want to speculate too much on why they cast their vote. I was the only Democrat to vote no, but I know some other Democrats abstained. I know why I voted … My position is that it’s a privilege and an honor to serve on a jury and should remain that way.
What, if anything, do you gain politically by opposing the bill?
I think I gain the support of my constituency. Not only was there feedback in my district, but some of the strongest and most robust feedback I have had since I took office.
Just last weekend, I attended 9 or 10 events in various communities around the district. At each event, I had at least 5 people thank me for having the courage to take a vote against my party. I got this sentiment from across party-lines. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all thanked me. Even a judge took the time to thank me for my vote. I received very positive feedback. In the 4 or 5 communities I visited, I didn’t received one negative comment about my vote.
Those familiar with the Central Valley know its history of independent politicians willing to go buck partisanship for the good of their community.
On that note, I asked Gray what he though about Republican Senator Anthony Cannella’s (R-Ceres) ‘Realignment Reinvestment Act’ (SB 144). The bill, voted down in committee earlier this week, would have directly linked state funding to the number of increased criminals in each county due to California’s prison realignment.
“Canella’s district overlaps a lot of my district and I think Canella is a great senator,” Gray responded. “The Central Valley often finds itself drawing the short-stick when it comes to allocating resources throughout our state. I am supportive of any effort by Canella, or anyone else, who tries and make funding more equitable.”