Political Notebook: Housing, budget top priorities for LGBTQ caucus vice chair Ward

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday January 17, 2024
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Assemblymember Chris Ward. Photo: Courtesy the subject
Assemblymember Chris Ward. Photo: Courtesy the subject

As vice chair of the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, gay Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) will be helping this year to elect the out candidates for state Assembly and Senate seats endorsed by the affinity group for LGBTQ legislators in Sacramento. There are at least 30 LGBTQ legislative candidates running on the March 5 primary ballot.

As of January 1, the 12-member caucus had endorsed nearly half of them. With three of its current members set to depart later this year, and several of the 2024 candidates running for the same seat, Ward told the Bay Area Reporter he expects modest gains to the caucus' roster come December when the winners of the November races are sworn in.

"We will see how the primary shakes out. I expect the caucus will have 15 to 17 members, but it could be more than that," said Ward, who is set to become the next chair of the LGBTQ caucus.

The B.A.R. met up with Ward in December when he happened to be in San Francisco for a holiday party and meetings with local leaders and housing advocates. With several of his caucus colleagues either seeking or expected to run for higher offices, Ward said his visit wasn't tied to his laying the groundwork for his own post-Assembly candidacy.

"No," Ward simply replied when asked about seeing him run for statewide office in 2026.

As of now, Ward said he expects to serve all 12 years in the Assembly that he is allowed to do so under California's term limits. First elected in 2020, he is running this year for a third term representing the 78th Assembly District.

This year will be the first full legislative session overseen by Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Salinas). After Rivas faced criticism for not naming any African Americans to his leadership team in the fall, Ward was among his Democratic caucus colleagues who came to his defense, as the B.A.R.'s online Political Notes column noted last month.

With anti-LGBTQ groups pushing a ballot measure aimed at stripping away rights for transgender youth, and conservative lawmakers expected to introduce bills in Sacramento that attack the LGBTQ community, despite having no chance of advancing them in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, Ward told the B.A.R. he has full faith in Rivas defending the LGBTQ community.

"He is an unwavering ally of the LGBTQ community and will go to the mat for any issues we raise," said Ward.

Housing a priority

At the top of Ward's more immediate agenda is addressing the state's lack of affordable housing for many residents. Rivas named him chair this year of the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee.

"I have been meeting with a lot of thought leaders about the solutions we need," Ward said of his time late last year ahead of the Legislature reconvening this month.

As chair of the Senate Housing Committee since 2018, gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) told the B.A.R. he looks forward to working with Ward over the coming months. He expected to have as good a relationship with him as he had with Ward's predecessors in the position, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Berkeley) and former Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), now city attorney for San Francisco.

"He is such a thoughtful, hardworking, detail-oriented person. He gets it when it comes to housing because he has seen it at the local level as well as the state level," said Wiener, who like Ward is also running for reelection this year. "He and I have a wonderful working relationship. I am really excited about Chris' new role."

With California facing a budget deficit, Ward expressed concern about what the impact could be on LGBTQ programs funded by the state. Preserving such allocations in the budget will be a top priority for the LGBTQ caucus, he predicted, while some new LGBTQ initiatives may need to be delayed unless a funding source for them can be worked out.

"I am concerned. A $68 billion deficit is not something that comes easily to solve, but California has been in a budget deficit before and addressed it," he said, referring to earlier deficit figures.

Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled his 2024-25 state budget proposal last week. The $291.5 billion spending plan includes a $37.9 billion deficit that Newsom hopes to offset by dipping into the state's rainy day reserves and possibly delaying a minimum wage increase for health care workers, according to media reports. The Los Angeles Times reported the deficit is due to weaker than expected revenues, delayed tax deadlines because of last year's storms, and inaccurate budget projections.

Bill to ban forced outing on hold

As for reviving his bill aimed at prohibiting school officials from outing transgender students to their parents or guardians without their permission, Ward told the B.A.R. he has put it on hold for the time being. He withdrew it in the fall for several reasons, one being after hearing from educators about the issue.

"A common thread in our conversations with educators was teachers want to teach and not be the gender police," said Ward. "They said their main concern is that students can be safe in their classrooms and learn to their full potential."

For the time being Ward is closely watching a lawsuit state Attorney General Rob Bonta filed against a Southern California school district in San Bernardino County that adopted such an outing policy. The state courts have put most of the transphobic policy on hold as the case is being litigated.

Meanwhile, an anti-trans parental group has until late May to qualify for the fall ballot a statewide proposition supportive of the outing policy, in addition to banning gender-affirming care for minors; preventing trans women and girls from participating in women's sports; and repealing a state law allowing trans students to use bathrooms or locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity. This month, it announced it would sue Bonta over the title and summary he gave to their proposed proposition.

"While we are monitoring Attorney General Bonta's work and other issues out there, we are committed to being strategic about our approaches without losing sight of our goals and principals," said Ward.

Asked about seeing the LGBTQ caucus get behind a decline-to-sign campaign to ensure the anti-trans measure doesn't make the ballot, Ward would only say it is in talks with leaders of LGBTQ advocacy groups about mounting such an effort.

He noted that many of the caucus members "are mindful of the origins of Prop 8" and how it ended up qualifying back in 2008. In that case, Ward recalled how backers of the same-sex marriage ban appeared at first to be failing then rebounded after receiving an infusion of cash and support from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"It gave it the fuel to get the necessary signatures to make it on the ballot," said Ward, who has two young children with his husband.

He dismissed any suggestion that the out legislators aren't concerned about this year's anti-trans ballot measure initiative.

"We take it very seriously and need to monitor the work being done to qualify it," said Ward, adding, "We will be prepared for all contingencies."

As for seeing voters adopt the measure the Legislature placed on the November ballot to repeal Prop 8's anti-marriage equality language from the state's constitution, Ward expressed confidence in seeing it be passed. Despite a federal court decision striking down the homophobic proposition that went into effect in 2013, two years prior to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling marriage equality was a federal right, Prop 8's definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman remains in California's governing document.

LGBTQ leaders want it excised in case the conservative justices who now have a majority on the nation's highest court reverse course on allowing same-sex couples to wed in a future ruling. Ward said the LGBTQ caucus members are "in early discussions" with LGBTQ groups on who will run the campaign in support of the Prop 8 repeal measure, which he estimated will require at least $20 million to $30 million in donations.

"I feel really great about the early polling supportive of the repeal," he said. "We will put together a solid and appropriate campaign to ensure we get that language out of our constitution."

Political Notes, the notebook's online companion, will return Monday, January 29.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko.

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

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