Political Notes: CA GOP ex-legislator with best LGBTQ rating seeks return to Sacto

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday February 27, 2023
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Former Assemblymember Suzette Valladares scored the highest of any Republican lawmaker on Equality California's 2022 Legislative Scorecard. She announced that she will be seeking a state Senate seat in 2024. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
Former Assemblymember Suzette Valladares scored the highest of any Republican lawmaker on Equality California's 2022 Legislative Scorecard. She announced that she will be seeking a state Senate seat in 2024. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

A former Republican member of the California Assembly who had the best voting record in 2022 on LGBTQ bills among her GOP colleagues is vying to return to Sacramento next year. Her candidacy comes as most members of the Republican caucus in the Legislature continue to rack up dismal records on LGBTQ legislation.

Suzette Valladares, first elected in 2020 to a Southern California Assembly seat, lost her reelection bid last November in the 40th Assembly District. In one of the closest contests for a legislative seat last year, Democrat Pilar Schiavo won by a 522-vote margin.

Last Wednesday, Valladares formally launched her campaign for the 23rd state Senate District that covers portions of San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties. It will be an open seat next year, as Senator Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) is termed out of office.

He is supporting Valladares in her race against Democrat Kipp Mueller. The attorney had lost to Wilk in 2020, though he will face better odds next year due to the redrawn district now favoring Democrats.

(Because of the 2020 redistricting process, much of Wilk's current 21st Senate District will be incorporated next year into the new boundaries of the 23rd district. The current holder of the Senate District 23 seat, Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, R-Yucaipa, will be up for reelection in 2024 to represent the newly drawn 19th Senate District.)

In announcing her candidacy to succeed Wilk, Valladares released a short video via her social media accounts in which she listed among her reasons for wanting to return to the Legislature a desire to "lower the cost of living" for Californians and "to end the homeless, drug trafficking and fentanyl crises that are linked hand in hand."

A founder of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the Legislature, Valladares received some of the highest scores on the legislative scorecard annually released by statewide advocacy organization Equality California compared to her GOP colleagues during her two-year term. Her score in 2021 was 70% out of 100 and was 60% in 2022.

In fact, Valladares earned the highest score last year of any of the Legislature's 28 Republicans. And she was one of just three GOP legislators who earned a score of 50% or above. (EQCA uploaded its 2022 Legislative Scorecard to its website earlier this month and posted about it via its Twitter account on February 3.)

Valladares, who lives in Acton with her husband and daughter, did not respond to an interview request last week.

She received points from EQCA for voting in support of bills that ranged in focus from protecting the privacy of patients receiving reproductive services and prevention of sexually transmitted infections to LGBTQ cultural competency training for pharmacists and updating death certificates to honor the makeup of LGBTQ families. She also voted for bills that expanded a ban on deadnaming people at community colleges and aimed to educate incarcerated LGBTQ youth about their rights.

Valladares lost points for voting against a bill that ended the usage of loitering laws by police to arrest transgender women who engage in prostitution in order to make a living. She was also dinged for failing to cast votes on two bills related to reproductive issues.

Wilk, with a score of 20%, was among the 25 Republicans who received scores of 30% or less from EQCA. Former Assemblymember Dennis Kelly Seyarto, now a state senator from Murrieta, was the sole GOP legislator to earn a score of zero last year.

Scores improve for Democratic legislators

After double-digit numbers of Democratic legislators received imperfect scores from EQCA in 2021 and 2020, their caucus showed vast improvement last session in terms of voting to pass LGBTQ bills. On the 2022 scorecard, three assemblymembers and one senator all received 90% scores, with one assemblymember receiving 89%.

"Still, as we celebrate our legislative victories in Sacramento, we recognize that too many LGBTQ+ Californians still face hate, discrimination and even violence in their communities," wrote EQCA Executive Director Tony Hoang in his message included with the scorecard. "Too many LGBTQ+ students still face bullying and harassment in our schools. And too many LGBTQ+ people across the country and around the world do not have the most basic civil rights protections."

Every member of the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus last year was among the 86 Democrats who received a perfect 100% score from EQCA. It was the first time since 2018 that all the members of the affinity group for out lawmakers had not lost points on an EQCA scorecard.

And after receiving a less-than-stellar score in 2021 due to vetoing a substance use treatment bill, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom scored a perfect 100% score on the 2022 EQCA scorecard. Newsom was able to do so despite having vetoed last September Senate Bill 1234, the STI Prevention & Treatment Fairness Act authored by then-senator Dr. Richard Pan, a Democrat termed out of his Sacramento seat last year. The legislation had sought to expand access to services for the prevention and treatment of STIs to income-eligible patients who have confidentiality concerns, including LGBTQ+ patients, through the state's Family Planning, Access, Care, and Treatment program.

Because of its costing tens of millions of dollars to implement, Newsom refused to sign the bill into law because of state officials predicting budget deficits this year. In a note about its scoring of the governor last year, EQCA explained it had excused Newsom of the veto since the STI bill's budget companion wasn't advanced in the state budget.

Thus, it gave him a perfect score for signing the other 11 bills that made it to his desk that EQCA had co-sponsored last year and included in its scoring methodology. As for Pan, he was the senator who received the 90% score because he didn't vote on the bill requiring LGBTQ cultural competency training for pharmacists.

Lawmakers who abstain from the final vote on a bill in their chamber, and do not have an excuse for doing so, are given an A by EQCA, which then scores them as if they had voted against the bill. Such was the case for why the four Democratic Assembly members lost points on last year's scorecard.

Those lawmakers seeking reelection in 2024 who didn't receive 100% on EQCA's scorecards for the previous two years must now seek its endorsement ahead of the March primary. Only legislators who receive perfect scores in the two preceding years of their election, or are granted an excusal for why they didn't vote on an LGBTQ bill, are automatically endorsed by EQCA.

Download the full 2022 Legislative Scorecard here.

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Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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