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Lara, Thurmond win statewide office

by Matthew S. Bajko

State Insurance Commissioner-elect Ricardo Lara. Photo: Lara campaign
State Insurance Commissioner-elect Ricardo Lara. Photo: Lara campaign  

Despite the Associated Press calling the last two statewide contests in California for the Democratic candidates last Friday, it took until Monday evening for both of the races to be officially over. Until then, the contest with the lone gay contender for an executive branch position had remained unsettled.

As the Bay Area Reporter reported online Friday, gay state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) will become the first out candidate to ever win a statewide post in the Golden State. He bested Republican-turned-independent Steve Poizner in their race for statewide insurance commissioner, which Poizner had previously served as from 2007 through 2011.

Yet, Lara did not declare victory until after a vote count update was posted Monday afternoon, when he stood at 52 percent or 5,345,900 votes. Poizner, at that point with 48 percent or 4,931,105 votes, called his opponent to concede the race.

In an exclusive statement to the B.A.R. Monday evening, Lara said he was "grateful for the support of California voters who deserve a strong consumer advocate. Helping communities recover from wildfires while preparing for the threat of climate change will be my first job as insurance commissioner."

Lara, who turned 44 the day prior to the November 6 election, added that, "as communities are rocked by devastating wildfires, Californians need a healthy, honest insurance market that allows them to quickly rebuild their lives and protects against future disasters."

In the other close statewide contest, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) over the weekend celebrated his defeat of charter school supporter Marshall Tuck in their contest for state superintendent of public instruction.

According to the updated tally Monday evening, Thurmond had 4,741,604 votes or 50.9 percent of the total. Tuck, who had been in first place on Election Night, continued to be in second place with 4,583,013 votes or 49.1 percent of the total.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction-elect Tony Thurmond  

In a Facebook message late Saturday morning, Thurmond wrote that Tuck had called him to concede and thanked his opponent for "his offer to help in our work to help students going forward."

Thurmond pledged "to be a champion" for all of the state's 6 million students and its public schools.

"I ran for superintendent of public instruction to deliver to all Californians the promise that public education delivered to me — that all students, no matter their background and no matter their challenges, can succeed with a great public education," he wrote. "As superintendent of public instruction, I'll fight for these values every day. Because these are the values that will create a better life for all through the power of public education in the great state of California."

The elections of Thurmond and Lara mean Democrats again swept all of California's statewide races. And in Lara's case, he has broken through a rainbow political glass ceiling no other out LGBT candidate in the state has been able to do over the last two decades.

It is a stunning victory for Lara, who was seen as the underdog heading into the election, with some polls showing him losing by double digits. His win is all the more remarkable considering that Poizner had won the endorsements of 24 newspapers in the state.

Lara will now resign from his state Senate seat by early January, which will prompt a special election to be held in early 2019 in his Los Angeles area district. When he does step down, it will also mean that the California Legislative LGBT Caucus will see its membership shrink in the next legislative session for the third time since it was established in 2002.

Currently, there are eight out members of the state Legislature, four each in the Assembly and Senate. Lara's departure will bring it down to seven, as none of the non-incumbent LGBT legislative candidates won their races this year.

There is a chance the LGBT caucus could return to having eight members, the most it has ever had, should an out candidate win the special election for Lara's Senate seat. His 33rd Senate District includes the Los Angeles County cities and communities of Cudahy, Bell, Bell Gardens, Lynwood, Maywood, Signal Hill, Paramount, South Gate, Vernon, Walnut Park, Huntington Park, and most of Long Beach with portions of the cities of Lakewood and Los Angeles.

Gay Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia is often mentioned as a potential candidate, though one local publication recently reported that it is doubtful he would enter the race.

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