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Bonta leads Assembly race to succeed her husband

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Mia Bonta, with her husband, Rob Bonta in the background, spoke to supporters Tuesday night. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
Mia Bonta, with her husband, Rob Bonta in the background, spoke to supporters Tuesday night. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland  

Mia Bonta is leading in the race to succeed her husband in the state Legislature. Waiting for additional ballots to be counted in the August 31 runoff race for the East Bay's 18th Assembly District seat is Janani Ramachandran, who would be the first queer legislator should she win.

Rob Bonta resigned earlier this year when Governor Gavin Newsom swore him in as the state's attorney general. It led to the special election to fill his seat, which includes Alameda, San Leandro, and a portion of Oakland.

Mia Bonta, 49, a Black Latina, was seen as the frontrunner in the race, with a bevy of Democratic Party leaders and special interest groups lining up to endorse her and fund her campaign. She easily took first place Tuesday night with 55% of the vote, according to the unofficial returns, for a total of 25,712 votes.

Ramachandran, 29, a social justice attorney who also identifies as lesbian, received 21,103 votes for 45% of the total ballots counted so far based on the preliminary results Wednesday morning. The Alameda County registrar of voters has yet to announce how many ballots are left to count and will post an update online before 5 p.m. Thursday.

Bonta, president of the Alameda Unified School Board, fell short of the more than 50% of the vote she needed to win the seat outright in the special election held June 29. Ramachandran, a political newcomer, surprised many political insiders by taking second place and forcing Bonta into this week's runoff election.

"Are we going to make sure working people are taken care of?" Bonta asked the crowd at her election night party. "Are we going to make sure we as people, as people of color are seen and heard and believed in?"

Ramachandran would be the first LGBTQ state legislator from the East Bay. The Oakland resident of South Indian ancestry would also be the first out API female state legislator and California's first South Asian assemblywoman.

She tapped into a network of family and friends to raise money and had considerable support from fellow progressives, such as bisexual state Assemblyman Alex Lee (D-San Jose) and Congressman Ro Khanna (D-San Jose). She also picked up the support of the two gay men of no relation who failed to survive the June election: San Leandro Unified School District Board of Education member James Aguilar and San Leandro City Councilman Victor Aguilar Jr.

"Running a corporate-free campaign is not easy but y'all made it so much simpler through your activism, dedication & willingness to challenge business as usual. So tonight we are celebrating YOU," Ramachandran tweeted Tuesday night.

The East Bay Times solely endorsed Ramachandran, as did the Bay Area Reporter. Statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California endorsed both Ramachandran and Bonta, with one of them set to become the fifth female member of the Bay Area's legislative delegation.

Endorsing Bonta in recent weeks was the quartet of local female state legislators — Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Assemblywomen Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), and Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) — representing northern East Bay districts. Men hold the rest of the 23 legislative seats that circle the region from the coastal North Bay cities to San Francisco and the Peninsula south to the booming suburbs below San Jose.

Whoever wins is expected to be quickly sworn into office and will need to run next year for a full two-year term.

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