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Few CA LGBT Legislative Newcomers Expected in 2018

by Matthew S. Bajko

Assembly candidate Sunday Gover
Assembly candidate Sunday Gover  

Only a handful of 2018 Assembly and Senate races in California are expected to draw non-incumbent LGBT candidates due to a dearth of open seats next year.

Just three of the races for the 80 Assembly seats up for grabs will feature no incumbent running. And only six of the 20 contests next year for the even-numbered state Senate seats will be open due to the current occupants being ineligible to run because of term limits.

In the Golden State it is rare for incumbent legislators to draw serious competition when they seek re-election, as most challengers wait for sitting lawmakers to either be termed out of office or decide to run for a different elected post. Two lesbian candidates, however, are looking to take advantage of growing voter frustrations with the national Republican Party and President Donald Trump in their bids to oust GOP incumbents.

In San Diego, lesbian real estate agent Sunday Gover , who lives with her partner and their four children in Scripps Ranch, is running against Assemblyman Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego). The former San Diego city councilman was first elected to his 77th Assembly District seat in 2012.

Last week, lesbian former Long Beach City Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske announced her bid for the 34th Senate District seat, which is largely based in Orange County but includes Schipske's former council district in the Los Angeles County beach community. A lawyer, registered nurse, and a faculty member at Cal State Long Beach, Schipske is running to unseat Senator Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove). She is one of three Democrats and one Republican to pull papers to challenge Nguyen, a former Orange County supervisor first elected to the state Senate in 2014.

In the Bay Area, the legislative contest for an open Assembly seat in the East Bay has drawn three out candidates. Lesbian Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, lesbian Berkeley school board member Judy Appel , and bisexual East Bay Municipal Utility District board member Andy Katz are all seeking the 15th Assembly District seat.

The incumbent, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), is running next year to be the state's superintendent of public instruction after serving two two-year terms in the Legislature. The race has drawn a wide field of candidates who are all angling to survive the June primary, where the top two vote-getters will face off against each other in November.
State Senate candidate Gerrie Schipske

The fourth legislative contest to attract out non-incumbent candidates is in southern California. Three gay Democrats, Luis Lopez , David Vela, and Alex De Ocampo, have pulled papers to run next year for the 51st Assembly District seat in Los Angeles, which includes the gay-friendly enclaves of Silver Lake, Eagle Rock, and Echo Park.

The trio is also among the 13 candidates running in the special primary Tuesday, October 3, to serve out the remainder of former Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez's term through December 2018. Gomez is now a Democratic member of Congress, having won a special election this summer for the House seat vacated by Xavier Becerra when he was tapped by Governor Jerry Brown to be California's attorney general.

With such a crowded field in next week's special election, it is expected that the top two vote-getters will square off in a runoff race this December for the Assembly seat. Whoever wins will need to run next year, first in June and then in November, to maintain the seat.

Early polling had shown Lopez with a leg up on his challengers for the seat. But with voter turnout likely to be a record low Tuesday, the race is anyone's to win. And if the gay male candidates fall short but come in close, they could opt to take on the eventual winner next year despite that person having incumbent status, as due to the state's term limits law, the next Assembly member could maintain the seat through 2030.

Lead Incumbents

Of the eight LGBT incumbent state lawmakers, all four of the Assembly members will be seeking re-election next year. Lesbian Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) will be seeking her fourth two-year term, while gay Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) will be running for his third two-year term.

Gay Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) and lesbian Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona) will both be seeking second terms in the Statehouse's lower chamber. Both have already drawn Republican opponents, though Cervantes is the most at risk of losing her seat.

She ousted a Republican incumbent last year, and the GOP is expected to now target Cervantes for defeat, using her vote for the controversial gas tax against her. Corona City Councilman Randy Fox , who failed last year to unseat gay Congressman Mark Takano (D-Riverside), pulled papers in the spring to take on Cervantes.

While Fox has yet to report any fundraising for his Assembly bid, Cervantes reported having nearly $396,000 in her re-election account as of July 1. Equality California, the statewide LGBT advocacy group whose political action committee aims to maintain LGBT leadership in the Statehouse, has already designated Cervantes' re-election campaign as its top priority in 2018.

"Sabrina Cervantes will have a tough race next year, so it is a top priority to get her re-elected," EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur told the Bay Area Reporter in a recent interview.

None of the four out state senators are up for re-election next year, though gay Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) is likely to depart come 2019, as he is the odds-on favorite to win the 2018 race for state insurance commissioner. The incumbent, Dave Jones, is term-limited from running again, and no other Democrat has announced a bid for the state executive position.

With his Republican opponent given little chance of winning, Lara is set to become the first LGBT person elected to statewide office in California.

Gay Sonoma Sheriff Candidate Ends Bid

A gay man who is a deputy sheriff in San Francisco this week unexpectedly dropped his bid to become the next sheriff of Sonoma County, which includes the gay Russian River resort area.

In an email to supporters Wednesday (September 27), Jay Foxworthy disclosed the "difficult decision" to end his campaign, citing a family medical emergency for the reason.

"As many of you know about me, my family is the most important part of my life. My husband and my children are my world. It is with a very heavy heart that I have to share that my family is going through a major medical crisis," wrote Foxworthy, who lives in Santa Rosa. "This crisis will take all of our time and attention to heal and to make sure that our family can one day be healthy and whole again. I appreciate everyone respecting my family's privacy as we go through this process."

He added that a candidate forum scheduled for Thursday night prompted the timing of his decision, as he felt it would be unfair to voters to take part in the event knowing he would likely have to drop out of the race.

"After much thought and seeking the counsel of others, I feel like I would do more harm than good if I participated in this important public forum while knowing I could not continue in the campaign," wrote Foxworthy. "I have withdrawn from the forum, but I do hope the remaining four candidates will engage in a robust debate in my absence."

Foxworthy had publicly announced his candidacy from the main stage of Sonoma County Pride in early June. He was one of five men who had pulled papers to run in the 2018 election.

Former Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas , who had announced earlier this year he would not seek a third term, retired in August due to health reasons. Sheriff Rob Giordano is serving out the remainder of his term through January 7, 2019.

Foxworthy and his husband, Bryan Leffew , and their two adopted children, Daniel Martinez Leffew and Selena Leffew, gained national notoriety in 2008 when they created a YouTube channel, called "Gay Family Values," in opposition to Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban voters adopted in November of that year that was later struck down by the courts.

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