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Editorial: Lara for insurance commissioner

by BAR Editorial Board

State insurance commissioner candidate Ricardo Lara. Photo: Courtesy Lara for Insurance Commissioner campaign.
State insurance commissioner candidate Ricardo Lara. Photo: Courtesy Lara for Insurance Commissioner campaign.  

An LGBT person has never been elected to statewide office in California, although a couple have tried. For much of the past year, it looked like gay state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) had an easy path in his race for state insurance commissioner. No Republican was running against him, and he had a minor Democratic opponent. That all changed a few months ago when two things happened: Democrat Dr. Asif Mahmood ended his bid for lieutenant governor and announced he was running for insurance commissioner under his "I'm a physician, not a politician" tagline; and former Republican Steve Poizner decided to run for the job he once held, but this time as an independent. In these final weeks of the campaign, Lara is battling the wealthy Mahmood as well as Poizner's claims that an "independent" is better suited to overseeing the insurance industry. In fact, Poizner is just as political as Lara; he realized that he has no chance of winning a statewide race right now running as a Republican.

Lara made headlines last year when he introduced Senate Bill 562, designed to make California the first state to effectively implement a single-payer, universal health care system. It passed in the Senate but the Assembly balked, and the bill died. Lara, however, has not given up on the idea, although he and other lawmakers realize it likely will take years to accomplish, and will cost billions of dollars. But we think the long view is worth it if the state can incrementally develop a universal health care system. Having an insurance commissioner as an advocate for a single-payer health plan will benefit consumers and put the insurance companies on notice that their business model must change.

In terms of his work on behalf of the LGBT community, Lara wrote in our questionnaire that "One major issue in the insurance world for the LGBT community is combatting ongoing practices of discrimination from health insurance companies, who are regularly denying coverage for critical services such as hormone therapies and gender-affirming surgeries. These practices continue despite being outlawed by the Insurance Gender Non Discrimination Act back in 2005. ... I will be committed to protecting LGBT consumers from this sort of pernicious discrimination."

Lara plans to collaborate with groups that share his allegiance to consumers, patients, working families, and the state's most vulnerable communities.

Lara is an inspired choice for insurance commissioner because it will put him in a position to push for real change that hopefully will lead to statewide universal health care.


Gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Governor: Gavin Newsom
No one should be surprised that Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom turned a traditionally sleepy office into a platform for gun control, legalized cannabis, and equality. Few will forget how, back in 2004, just 36 days into his first term as San Francisco mayor, Newsom upended the status quo by ordering city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The "Winter of Love" galvanized the marriage equality movement that 11 years later culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. Newsom has never backed down from his commitment to equality for all. Since becoming lieutenant governor, Newsom has spearheaded ballot measures on gun control and legalizing marijuana for adult use.

As governor, Newsom wrote in our questionnaire that he will lead the effort to develop 3.5 million new housing units that are needed by 2025. "There is no silver bullet to solve this crisis," he wrote. "We need to attach the problem on multiple fronts by generating more funding for affordable housing, implementing regulatory reform, and creating new financial incentives for local jurisdictions that produce housing while penalizing those that fall short." His ideas include increasing investment in affordable housing tax credits, implementing stronger tenant protections and expanding rent control, and holding local jurisdictions accountable for housing production.

Newsom supports high-speed rail, although he has expressed concerns with the long-term funding plan - "particularly that projected federal and private funding hasn't materialized," he wrote.

On education, Newsom's plan calls for making it easier to access and afford a higher education. He wants to equip students with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curricula and said on his website that California should be leading the way on requiring computer science courses in all high schools.

During this campaign, Newsom has been confident, and polls show him in the lead. The other Democratic candidates, with the exception of former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, don't have broad public support. The two Republicans in the race are horrible options. It's time for a forward-looking governor who can continue programs that work, and develop new ones to help every resident.


Lieutenant governor candidate Eleni Kounalakis  

Lieutenant Governor: Eleni Kounalakis
Eleni Kounalakis, a straight ally, has significant LGBT support. She has been endorsed by Equality California, the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, the Stonewall Young Democrats, and the Tulare County Stonewall Democrats. Two of her senior campaign team identify as LGBTQ and she has an active base of volunteers in the community.

She served as ambassador to Hungary under President Barack Obama, where she was chief of mission at an embassy staffed with nearly 400 people. She currently chairs the California Advisory Council for International Trade and Investment. "I know what it takes to lead a government organization and how to run a successful business," she wrote in our questionnaire.

The lieutenant governor position includes seats on several powerful state bodies, such as the California Coastal Commission and the UC Regents board. Kounalakis also said that she would serve as chair of the Commission for Economic Development. "I'll use this position to work to expand our economy and grow the number of good-paying jobs, increase the supply of affordable housing, fight to provide universal health care, and ensure affordable higher education," she wrote.

She also said she'd use the power of the office to convene a blue ribbon panel on the status of LGBTQIA issues. While the state does have some of the most progressive laws protecting the queer community, it's great that Kounalakis knows more can be done.


Secretary of State Alex Padilla  

Secretary of State: Alex Padilla
As California's chief elections officer, Padilla has spent his first term expanding access to the ballot by giving voters more options for when, where, and how to cast their ballots. In his first two years, two million new voters were registered. He's launched online pre-registration for 16- and 17-year olds - the teens who are breathing new life into gun control advocacy across the country and here in California. He is implementing automatic voter registration so that anyone who is eligible will be automatically registered to vote when they apply for or renew their driver's license or state ID. He deserves to be re-elected as secretary of state.


State Controller Betty Yee at SF Pride parade. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Controller: Betty Yee
A straight ally to the LGBT community all her professional life, Betty Yee has long worked in financial positions of state government. As controller, she monitors the revenues and manages the state's cash, and informs the Legislature about how these affect budget projections and estimates. She found about $4 billion in public funds that had been directed to unallowed purposes or subject to waste.

Yee has not had to resort to any external borrowing to pay the state's bills. In short, just the type of state elected official California needs: competent and resourceful. She should be re-elected.


State treasurer candidate Fiona Ma. Photo: Courtesy Ma for Treasurer campaign  

Treasurer: Fiona Ma
As treasurer, Fiona Ma said she ensures that the state has access to the capital necessary to complete the projects Californians deserve while also helping to create good jobs and keeping the economy growing. This includes securing the financing necessary to support California's infrastructure projects, as well as address transportation, public schools, housing, water quality, and pollution issues.

Ma is a former San Francisco supervisor and certified public accountant, and current member of the state Board of Equalization.


Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Photo: Jo-Lynn Otto  

Attorney General: Xavier Becerra
Attorney General Xavier Becerra has been on the front lines of the resistance to President Donald Trump and his administration. Both on LGBTQ and immigration issues, Becerra has led the charge, often being the first state attorney general with a lawsuit challenging the administration's actions. He has appeared at numerous LGBT events, talking about how important the community is and how he will fight for us - and he's backed up that rhetoric with action. Just last week, he filed comments to oppose the Trump administration's decision to stop collecting crime data on LGBT teenagers at the federal level.

On immigration, he is leading the national effort to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. He sued the Trump administration over its effort to curb sanctuary jurisdictions that threaten local law enforcement's ability to protect communities and joined amicus briefs to oppose the administration's discriminatory travel ban.

On health care, Becerra is leading a coalition of states to protect the subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

On the environment, he has sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to provide documents he requested on whether EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has a conflict of interest in making environmental decisions.

Governor Jerry Brown appointed Becerra to the AG's post after Kamala Harris won her Senate race. Becerra, a former congressman, has a solid knowledge of state and federal policies.

In short, if the Trump administration does something harmful, it's likely Becerra will challenge it. That's the kind of fighter we need as the state's top law enforcement official.


State superintendent candidate Tony Thurmond. Photo: Courtesy Thurmond for Superintendent campaign  

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Tony Thurmond
This race is between Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) and charter schools advocate Marshall Tuck. Thurmond is the clear choice. He has demonstrated leadership on LGBTQ issues and is endorsed by Equality California. In our questionnaire he said that if elected, "I intend to be the loudest voice in California against Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump's agenda to undermine the rights of LGBTQ people in schools and to shift funding from public education to religious schools and other schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students, families, and educators." As state superintendent, he won't have direct policy-making power, but can sponsor legislation that would help school districts build affordable housing for teachers and school employees.


Board of Equalization candidate Malia Cohen. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Board of Equalization, District 2: Malia Cohen
San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen has been a longtime ally to the LGBT community. She's not afraid to take on Big Tobacco and the soda industry. She advocated restoring funding for gender affirming surgeries as part of Healthy San Francisco, which led to the development of a separate program to provide gender affirming surgeries to uninsured trans adult residents. She also supported and secured over $2.5 million for the city's Getting to Zero initiative, which aims to eliminate new HIV transmissions by 2020.

In our questionnaire, Cohen wrote that she would continue to support LGBT initiatives, and noted that many in the community face disproportionate economic challenges, like every other community. "I will work to ensure that our state's tax system supports their needs and that they have equal representation and rights at the board," she wrote.

Last year state lawmakers drained the BOE of almost all of its power after audits revealed that some board members had engaged in questionable practices, but allowed it to retain the authority to oversee property tax collection. As long as the BOE exists, it will have elected members. Cohen is an advocate for transparency, accountability, and reform.


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