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Record Number of Lesbians Seek CA Legislative Seats

by Matthew S. Bajko

Democrat Joy Silver is seeking to oust a GOP state senator in southern California.
Democrat Joy Silver is seeking to oust a GOP state senator in southern California.  (Source:Rick Gerharter)

While the 11 LGBT candidates known to be running for state legislative seats in California this year is six fewer than the high seen in 2012, a record number of lesbians will be on the June primary ballot seeking Assembly or Senate seats.

So far at least eight lesbians are looking to be elected to the Statehouse, two more than had sought legislative seats in 2012. It marks the largest group of lesbian legislative candidates in the Golden State over the last decade.

Coincidentally, the three out men, two gay and one bisexual, known to be running for legislative seats this year is the fewest number of male candidates from the LGBT community seeking to be elected to the state Legislature since 2008. The previous low mark for male candidates came four years ago when one gay Senate candidate and four gay Assembly candidates were on the June primary ballot.

Currently, there are eight out members of the state Legislature, four each in the Assembly and Senate. The membership of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus is also split evenly between men and women at the moment.

Two members could depart at the end of the year if gay Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) wins his race for state insurance commissioner, marking the first time an LGBT person is elected to statewide office, and if lesbian state Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) is elected to a seat on the state's Board of Equalization.

Due to three of this year's out legislative candidates running for the same Assembly seat in the East Bay, the most the LGBT caucus could grow this year is by five members depending on the outcome of the various races with out candidates.


Competitive Race

The only competitive race in the Bay Area with out candidates is the legislative contest for the open 15th Assembly District seat, which stretches from Richmond south into parts of Oakland. Among those running are lesbian Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, lesbian Berkeley school board member Judy Appel, and bisexual East Bay Municipal Utility District board member Andy Katz, who is vying a second time for the seat.

The incumbent, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), is running 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.

Facing relatively easy bids for re-election come the fall are gay Assemblymen Evan Low (D-Campbell) and Todd Gloria (D-San Diego), as they are facing token opposition from Republicans in safe Democratic districts. Lesbian Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) is also expected to easily win re-election this year to her Central Valley seat.

Lesbian Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona) could face a tough re-election campaign this year, two years after ousting a Republican incumbent. The GOP has targeted Cervantes for defeat, using her vote for the state's controversial gas tax increase against her.

Republican Corona City Councilman Randy Fox, who failed in 2016 to unseat gay Congressman Mark Takano (D-Riverside), so far is the only person to pull papers to run against Cervantes. Yet it remains unclear if he will mount a bid, as in September he told a local newspaper he was "leaning more heavily" toward running for re-election to his council seat.

The deadline for state legislative candidates to file for the June primary ballot is March 9.


Looking for Blue Wave

The remaining four lesbian candidates all face tough odds as they are running against Republican incumbents. But they could ride a blue wave of voter discontent with President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans this year to surprise electoral wins.

In Placer County former San Jose resident Jackie Smith is running to oust freshman Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Granite Bay) from his 6th District seat. She moved with her wife, Darlene Smith, to Rocklin six years ago and founded the LGBT political group Placer Stonewall Democrats.

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 and has been very supportive of LGBT legislation over the last six years.

Lesbian former Long Beach City Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske is seeking 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 who have pulled papers to challenge Nguyen, a former Orange County supervisor first elected to the state Senate in 2014. Their chances could greatly improve if Nguyen opts to run for the congressional seat held by Republican Ed Royce, who announced earlier this month he would not seek re-election.

And Joy Silver, a lesbian expert on aging issues, is running for the state's 28th Senate District seat, currently held by Senator Jeff Stone (R-La Quinta), one of the most anti-LGBT members of the statehouse. The Palm Springs resident, who formerly served on the board of the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco and was in town last week to fundraise for her campaign, told the Bay Area Reporter she was inspired to seek political office for the first time following the election of Trump, as she had worked hard to elect former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"Absolutely," said Silver when asked if Trump's victory pushed her to run. She added that Stone's Senate district is "much more progressive than it is thought to be, and Democrats have a reason to vote this year."

She said her ability to win would come down to getting her supporters to vote, noting that the difference between registered Democratic and Republican voters in the district is less than 3 percent.

"It is all in the turnout," said Silver.

In speaking to her local newspaper, the Press Tribune, Smith said she is also hoping to see a large Democratic turnout sweep her to victory this year.

"If you could turn Alabama, we could turn it here," said Smith, referring to the victory last month in the Southern state by Democrat Doug Jones in a special election for a U.S Senate seat.

The number of out state legislative candidates in California varies every two-year election cycle depending on how many open seats there are, as incumbent lawmakers often do not draw serious opponents. It is also influenced by how many members of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus are running for re-election or a seat in the other legislative chamber in any given year.

Of the 80 Assembly seats up for grabs this year, six are expected to feature no incumbent running. And only six of the 20 contests for the even-numbered state Senate seats will be open due to the current occupants being ineligible to run because of term limits. Assembly members run every two years for re-election, while state Senators serve four-year terms.

The list of out candidates could grow should LGBT contenders enter the special elections for three Assembly seats due to the resignations of a trio of male lawmakers, one for health reasons and two for allegations of sexual harassment.

One factor for why the number of gay male candidates is so low this year is due to the dearth of out Republicans running for statehouse seats. All of the out male and female candidates running this year are Democrats.

California Log Cabin Republicans' chairman Matthew Craffey, who unsuccessfully ran for a Los Angeles-area Assembly seat in 2016, told the Bay Area Reporter this week that the LGBT GOP political group had "no legislative candidates running this time that I'm aware of."

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