Political Notes: LPAC early endorses lesbian 2026 CA governor candidate Atkins

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday June 17, 2024
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State Senator Toni Atkins has picked up the endorsement of LPAC for her 2026 California gubernatorial campaign. Photo: Courtesy the campaign
State Senator Toni Atkins has picked up the endorsement of LPAC for her 2026 California gubernatorial campaign. Photo: Courtesy the campaign

A political action committee aimed at electing out women and nonbinary candidates to public office across the U.S. has become the first major LGBTQ group to endorse lesbian state Senator Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) for California governor in 2026. Should she be elected, Atkins would be the first LGBTQ person and first woman to lead the Golden State.

Atkins already earned the distinction of being the first female and first out leader in both chambers of the state Legislature. She was only the third legislator to serve as both speaker of the Assembly and president pro tempore of the Senate.

LPAC noted Atkins' leadership achievements in announcing June 12 during Pride Month its endorsement of her gubernatorial candidacy. The organization had previously endorsed Atkins in both of her Senate races in 2016 and 2020.

"LPAC stands proudly with Pro Tem Emeritus Atkins not only because of her decades-long advocacy for women and the LGBTQ+ community, but also because she is without a doubt the most qualified candidate in this race, having worked her way up through the ranks of elected office to boldly and successfully lead both California legislative chambers over the course of her storied career in public service, the only woman to ever do so," stated LPAC Executive Director Janelle Perez. "This Pride Month, LPAC is thrilled to be the first LGBTQ organization to jump into this critical race that will shape the future of California, a beacon at the forefront of the fight to protect and advance LGBTQ and women's rights."

Two years ago, LPAC had endorsed the campaign of lesbian Oregon Governor Tina Kotek (D), who will be up for reelection in 2026. Pointing to the "groundbreaking strides" in LGBTQ representation LPAC has helped bring about in elected politics, Atkins stated she was "honored" to have its support in her gubernatorial race.

"As a young lesbian, growing up in rural southwestern Virginia I never could have dreamed that one day I would be running to be CA's first woman & LGBTQ+ governor," stated Atkins, adding that, "now, more than ever, it's critical that our community has a voice in our government and the chance to achieve all their dreams — that's why I'm running."

Facing tough primary race

Atkins is facing a bruising contest to survive the state's gubernatorial primary set to be held June 2, 2026. Only the top two vote-getters regardless of party affiliation will advance to that fall's November 3 general election ballot.

With Governor Gavin Newsom termed out of office in early 2027, it has opened the door for his fellow Democratic state officeholders to eye succeeding him. Also already launching gubernatorial bids have been Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, and former controller Betty Yee.

Other Democrats contemplating bids are Attorney General Rob Bonta and his predecessor, Xavier Becerra, now the U.S. secretary of health and human services in the Biden administration. Speculation has also fallen on if lesbian U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler, who opted against running this year to keep her congressional seat, and gay Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, who is termed out of office in early 2027, will seek the governorship.

No matter who ends up in the race, the Democratic candidates will all be vying for the support of LGBTQ voters, a sizeable chunk of the state's registered voters who could provide the margin of victory that will be needed in what is likely to be a closely decided primary. The declared candidates are already courting support within the LGBTQ community.

Thurmond has touted his intervening in local school board fights over anti-LGBTQ policies, especially those targeting transgender youth. He was kicked out of one board meeting he showed up at to voice his opposition to its forced outing policy of trans and gender-nonconforming students and has supported Bonta's legal actions aimed at blocking it from taking effect. Thurmond has also issued directives and backed legislation in support of LGBTQ students.

Among his endorsers listed on his campaign site are lesbians state Assemblymember and Latino Legislative Caucus Chair Sabrina Cervantes (D-Riverside); Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Jackie Goldberg; El Cerrito City Councilmember Carolyn Wysinger; and former Berkeley Unified School District Board Member Judy Appel. Gay leaders Pinole City Councilmember Devin Murphy, currently serving as his East Bay city's mayor, and Oak Grove School District Trustee Jorge Pacheco Jr., president of the California Latino School Boards Association, also early endorsed Thurmond.

"This Pride Month, I want to reaffirm my commitment to doing everything possible to protect LGBTQ youth in California," wrote Thurmond, a former East Bay state legislator, in a June 8 email to supporters.

Yee, who grew up in San Francisco, has pointed to her work on education efforts early in the AIDS epidemic to supporting same-sex marriage and enacting property tax equity for LGBTQ couples when she served on State Board of Equalization.

"She helped reform the tax code to ensure property tax equity for same-sex couples, as well as to allow them to file joint state income tax returns — reforms that were foundational to key U.S. Supreme Court marriage equality decisions," notes Yee's campaign website, which has yet to list her endorsers.

Last Friday, Yee reflected on her husband, Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs, delivering what is believed to be the first sermon ever preached about homosexuality in a synagogue on February 16, 1968 at Temple Israel of Greater Miami in Florida. In her June 14 email, Yee included a photo of the bulletin announcing Jacobs' discussion on "the religious community and the homosexual" that took place the year prior to the Stonewall riots and ahead of the anti-LGBTQ campaign of the 1970s in Miami-Dade County .

"When I look into Steven's eyes, they are ones of steely resolve to continue the work of protecting the rights and dignity of all," wrote Yee. "The work seemingly has grown more difficult, yet at the same time, made more hopeful by so many more since 1968 who are speaking out courageously alongside our LGBTQ+ siblings."

Among the endorsers listed on Kounalakis' campaign website are gay state Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino) and lesbian former U.S. Civil Rights commissioner and San Francisco supervisor Roberta Achtenberg. Since being the first to enter the race last year, Kounalakis has repeatedly highlighted her support of LGBTQ rights.

Last June, the San Francisco resident and former U.S. ambassador to Hungary in the Obama administration was already plugging the ballot measure that will go before California voters this November to excise the anti-LGBTQ definition of marriage from the state's constitution.

"It's due time that we remove the hateful language Proposition 8 adds to our constitution and dismantle the discriminatory idea that marriage is only between a man and a woman," Kounalakis had written in an email to supporters last year during Pride Month.

Having formed a trans advisory body in her state office, Kounalakis noted in a January campaign email that in California, "We protect transgender Americans from discrimination."

While Atkins has yet to list her endorsers on her campaign website, she has been rolling out her endorsements via social media posts and emails to her supporters. To no surprise, she has picked up the support of numerous San Diego County elected officials, including its seven Democratic state legislators and all eight members of the San Diego City Council, including out Councilmembers Jennifer Campbell Stephen Whitburn and Marni von Wilpert.

Among her LGBTQ endorsers are gay leaders San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria; state Senator Steve Padilla of Chula Vista and Assemblymember Chris Ward of San Diego. Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, who is nonbinary and pansexual, and lesbian former state legislator Christine Kehoe are also among Atkins' early supporters of her bid.

"Toni has been working for San Diegans and Californians for decades, and I have no doubt that she has what it takes to lead California towards a better future in 2026," noted Kehoe, who hired Atkins to her city council staff after her 1993 election, in a fundraising appeal last month.

Atkins, who married Jennifer LeSar in 2008, has also been using her platform as a gubernatorial candidate to push for the repeal Prop 8's language this fall. She attended the San Francisco rollout this month of the Freedom to Marry initiative and has been urging her supporters to vote for it come November.

"We can send a message to the rest of the country that the LGBTQ+ community belongs here in California — and that we will always stand up for our freedoms," Atkins wrote in a June 9 email to supporters asking them to sign up for alerts about the fall ballot measure.

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 e-mail [email protected]

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