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Beckles Seeks Assembly Seat

by Matthew S. Bajko

Assembly candidate Jovanka Beckles
Assembly candidate Jovanka Beckles  (Source: Jane Philomen Cleland)

Lesbian Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles is running for an open state Assembly seat in 2018. Should she win, Beckles would be the first out African-American state legislator and the first LGBT member of the state Legislature from the East Bay.

Beckles, 53, who also identifies as Latina, announced May 4 that she would seek the 15th Assembly District seat, as the incumbent, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), is running to be the state's superintendent of public instruction. His district includes the cities of Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Emeryville, Hercules, Kensington, Piedmont, Pinole, Richmond, San Pablo, Tara Hills, and a portion of Oakland.

"I am running a campaign built on individual donations and support from people like you. Not interest groups that are trying to influence the process for the benefit of the very few," wrote Beckles in a Facebook post announcing her campaign. "This campaign is for the people: it's for regular folks who work for their living and need real change in our politics, economy and culture to thrive!"

First elected to her council seat in 2010, Beckles has been a progressive voice in the Contra Costa County city, helping to pass a local rent control measure and calling for greater scrutiny of refinery owner Chevron, which spent more than $3 million to try to defeat her in 2014. The first LGBT elected official in Richmond, Beckles was subjected to homophobic catcalls during council meetings early in her first term.

In a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Beckles said the issues she has tackled on the council, from protecting workers and immigrants to housing affordability and access to health care, are of concern district-wide as well as across the region.

"These aren't just issues that are Richmond only, these are region-wide issues, these are statewide issues," said Beckles, who works for the county as a mental health specialist with children. "Closing loopholes for corporations is also an issue that affects the whole region. If we close loopholes for corporations, cities can have the resources they need and provide critical services to our residents."

Born in Panama City, Panama, Beckles immigrated to the U.S. with her parents in 1972. She attended Florida A&M University on a full basketball scholarship and graduated cum laude in 1988 with a B.A. in psychology. Later she earned a master's in business administration from the University of Phoenix.

Beckles and her wife, Nicole Valentino, a life coach, have an adult son, Lucio Valentino, as well as a nearly 1-year-old grandson and a 12-year-old granddaughter. Since moving to the Bay Area in 1989, Beckles has worked in a variety of jobs, including as a youth counselor and housing case manager.

Due to the Assembly seat being open, a number of candidates are expected to enter the race. The names of two other lesbian officials have been mentioned as possible entrants: Berkeley school board member Judy Appel , considered a moderate, and Oakland At-Large City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, a progressive. Neither responded to a request for comment on if they planned to run.

Beckles said she expects the race will "be competitive, but I also know the progressive values I share are the progressive values that District 15 residents share."

Progressive gay Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington has already endorsed Beckles, as has Richmond City Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin , a former Green Party member who served two terms as Richmond mayor.

Should she be elected to the Assembly, Beckles promised, "my priorities will be the people's priorities" and that she would fight "for a progressive future for California."

Beckles is the second LGBT non-incumbent to announce a state legislative bid this year. Gay Los Angeles resident Luis Lopez intends to seek the 51st Assembly District seat this summer should the incumbent, Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), be elected to Congress this spring. If Lopez wins then he would seek a full two-year term next year.

There are currently four out Assembly members and all will be seeking re-election next year. They include lesbian Assemblywomen Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) and Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona) and gay Assemblymen Evan Low (D-Campbell) and Todd Gloria (D-San Diego).

So far, no LGBT candidate has pulled papers to run for a state Senate seat next year.

Gay state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Los Angeles) is running in 2018 to become state insurance commissioner. The three other out senators were all elected to four-year terms last fall and are not expected to run for higher office next year.


Gordon Drops Bid for State Tax Board

Gay former Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park) has abandoned his 2018 bid for a seat on the state Board of Equalization amid a widening management scandal hitting the tax agency.

A recent audit of the tax board discovered tens of millions of dollars had been misallocated and that two of its elected members had used agency personnel for personal events. The revelations led Governor Jerry Brown to call for the state Department of Justice to investigate the agency and rescind a number of its powers. State lawmakers are also looking into how to reform the tax board.

In light of the agency's problems, Gordon wrote in a May 4 letter to supporters that he had concluded the Board of Equalization should no longer be an elected body. Thus, he determined "it would be hypocritical" for him to campaign for the position.

"The Board of Equalization has an administrative and quasi-judicial role to play in our tax system. I believe that this role becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill when board members must seek office through a political process," wrote Gordon. "The electoral process leads to a conflict in roles so that community outreach is confused with self-promotion, constituent services create a dynamic where board members are advocates for those who may eventually have an appeal to be heard, and campaign fund raising will always leave questions as to whether decisions are reached on merit or on candidate support."

His decision comes a month after San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen announced her candidacy for the tax board's sprawling District 2 seat, which spans from Santa Barbara on the Central Coast north to the Oregon border. Democrat Fiona Ma , the current occupant of the seat, is running for state treasurer in 2018 due to John Chiang's decision to run for governor.

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