Political Notes: LGBTQ California candidates secure LGBTQ groups' support

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday January 26, 2022
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LGBTQ Assembly candidates David Campos, left, Georgette Gómez, and Christy Holstege have received new endorsements in their races as has congressional candidate Will Rollins, right. Photos: Campos, Rick Gerharter; Gómez and Holstege, courtesy the campaigns; Rollins, Rick Gerharter<br>
LGBTQ Assembly candidates David Campos, left, Georgette Gómez, and Christy Holstege have received new endorsements in their races as has congressional candidate Will Rollins, right. Photos: Campos, Rick Gerharter; Gómez and Holstege, courtesy the campaigns; Rollins, Rick Gerharter

A number of LGBTQ candidates seeking congressional and state legislative seats in California have picked up backing from two high-profile LGBTQ advocacy organizations. In several of the races the endorsements overlap, though one of the groups is so far sitting out the special election for an Assembly seat in San Francisco.

In that contest the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which helps to elect out candidates at all levels across the country, announced January 26 it had endorsed gay California Democratic Party Vice Chair David Campos to serve in the City-by-the-Bay's 17th Assembly District seat. It includes the LGBTQ neighborhoods of the Castro, Tenderloin, and South of Market.

Campos, a former city supervisor and police commissioner, had previously sought the legislative seat in 2014. But he lost to his then board colleague David Chiu, who in November resigned to become San Francisco's first Asian American city attorney.

The election to fill the Assembly seat vacancy was combined with the February 15 special election ballot that includes the recall of three school board members and appointed Assessor-Recorder Joaquín Torres' bid to serve out the remainder of his term through early January 2023.

Three straight allies are also running for the Assembly seat: District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, City College of San Francisco trustee Thea Selby, and former Obama administration staffer Bilal Mahmood. It is expected none of the four will receive more than 50% percent of the vote next month to win the seat outright, thus the top two voter-getters would advance to an April 19 runoff election.

The Victory Fund also endorsed Campos in the April contest, as it is widely expected that he and Haney will end up in the runoff. Should Campos win, he would return LGBTQ leadership to the Assembly from San Francisco since Chiu succeeded gay former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano. Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), a straight ally, represents the city's other Assembly District and is seeking reelection this year.

To date, the statewide LGBTQ advocacy group Equality California has not endorsed in the race for Chiu's seat. According to sources it has decided not to take a position in the February 15 special election, though Campos told the Bay Area Reporter he remains hopeful of securing EQCA's support after next month's election.

"I am deeply honored to receive the endorsement of the Victory Fund, such an important LGBTQ organization. It is especially meaningful as I began my career in public service by taking the Victory Fund's training for LGBTQ candidates," Campos told the B.A.R. "Getting the support of a grassroots organization like the Victory Fund is especially meaningful to our corporate-free campaign because we know the key to real change is winning the support of the people, not the corporations."

After the B.A.R. reported on EQCA's endorsement stance in the race, spokesman Samuel Garrett-Pate told the paper January 27 he had "nothing to add" about it. Campos said EQCA's political action committee has not ruled out an endorsement in the runoff race.

"With respect to EQCA, we continue to be in communication and hope they will consider an endorsement in the future," he told the B.A.R.

Campos fell short of securing the state Democratic Party's endorsement in the race, while the city's Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club took a no recommendation on it. The more progressive Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club is once again backing him for the Assembly seat, as it did eight years ago.

"We are proud that every major LGBTQ club, organization or publication that has weighed in on this race, including the B.A.R., has endorsed our campaign," said Campos. "This is the most unified the LGBTQ Community has been on a major race in a long time."

EQCA backs other legislative candidates

EQCA did endorse on Wednesday queer former San Diego City Council president Georgette Gómez in the special election for the vacant Assembly District 80 seat. Voters in San Diego will cast ballots April 5 to select a successor for former assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher.

She resigned this month after accepting a job offer to lead the powerful California Labor Federation come the summer. Should Gómez be elected, she would be the first queer person in the state Legislature and serve out the remainder of Fletcher's term through December.

"Georgette Gómez is a proven champion for social justice and the perfect person to represent San Diego's LGBTQ+, Latino and border communities in the California Assembly," stated EQCA Executive Director Tony Hoang. "We have proudly supported Georgette throughout her career and can't wait to welcome her to the California Assembly this spring."

Gómez is also running in the June primary election for a full two-year term in the newly redrawn 80th Assembly District, whose boundaries are largely the same as it has been since the last redistricting of legislative seats over a decade ago. An out woman in the Assembly has not represented San Diego since Toni Atkins was elected to a state Senate seat in 2016. (Two years later she became the first lesbian and first woman to serve as the chamber's speaker pro tempore.)

Gómez, who also picked up the Victory Fund's endorsement in the special election race Wednesday, called it "a great honor" to be endorsed once again by EQCA.

"As a queer Latina born and raised in Barrio Logan, you know I'm ready to be the strong voice for equality and fairness that every South County family deserves," she stated. "In the state Assembly, I'll fight for families working hard to make ends meet and basic dignity for every Californian — regardless of where you're from, what you earn, or who you love."

Also receiving EQCA's support for her 2022 candidacy was Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege, who is seeking the new Assembly District 47 seat. She would be the first bisexual female state legislator if she wins, and stated she looked forward to working with EQCA in the Legislature.

"It's an honor to receive Equality California's endorsement in our campaign for Assembly District 47," stated Holstege, her city's most recent past mayor and the nation's first openly bi+ mayor. "Throughout my time on the Palm Springs City Council, my colleagues and I have made advancing inclusion, diversity, and justice the center of what we do. I've dedicated my whole career to this mission — as a community organizer for the No on Proposition 8 campaign; a civil rights attorney for our community's most vulnerable, including LGBTQ clients; and as the leader of this compassionate world-class city."

The newly redrawn Assembly District 47 in the Coachella Valley is now an open seat, as it is where former Republican Assemblymember Chad Mayes (I-Rancho Mirage) lives but he decided to retire rather than seek reelection to it. As EQCA pointed out, the state redistricting commission ended up making the district more Democratic and reunited Cathedral City, which has a large LGBTQ+ population, with the rest of the Coachella Valley's LGBTQ+ community in a single district.

"We couldn't be prouder to support Christy Holstege's historic campaign for California Assembly," stated Hoang. "On the City Council, Christy has been a tireless champion for civil rights, reproductive freedom, affordable housing and an economy that works for everyone. We have no doubt that she will continue to be a powerful force for progress in Sacramento when she makes history this fall."

EQCA also endorsed gay veteran Joseph C. Rocha in his campaign to oust state Senator Brian Jones (R-Santee) in the newly drawn 40th Senate District in San Diego County. Earlier this month Rocha abandoned his bid for California's newly drawn 48th Congressional District in the San Diego area against Republican Congressmember Darrell Issa, who currently represents the suburban 50th Congressional District seat northeast of San Diego.

As EQCA noted in announcing its support of Rocha, Jones has been a consistent vote against LGBTQ rights bills, earning a 36% on the organization's 2019 Legislative Scorecard and 0% in 2020. (It has yet to release its scorecard for 2021.)

"Joseph Rocha has exemplified service to community and country throughout his life, and he will be an incredible partner in the fight for full, lived equality in the California Senate," stated Hoang. "Joseph's unique perspective and powerful life experiences will be invaluable in Sacramento as he continues his lifelong fight for justice. We're thrilled to support Joseph's campaign."

Rocha, 35, who lives in Escondido with his dog Daytwa, fought the military's homophobic "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. A 2016 graduate of the University of San Francisco School of Law, Rocha interned with the San Francisco District Attorney's office. He also served as a field coordinator on gay former supervisor Bevan Dufty's unsuccessful 2011 bid to become mayor of San Francisco.

"I am heartened to join the ranks of the fearless trailblazers who have earned Equally California's endorsement," stated Rocha. "As a principal witness in the federal case that ruled Don't Ask, Don't Tell unconstitutional, I have a proven track record of fighting for LGBTQ+ inclusion in some of the toughest and most conservative spaces. I'm running for State Senate out of the same sense of duty and service that has guided me my entire life, and I will be a champion for equality and justice for San Diego County."

The Victory Fund has yet to endorse Rocha. It has endorsed Holstege, as well as bisexual Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San Jose), running for reelection in the newly drawn 24th Assembly District, and Rick Chavez Zbur, who is seeking the Assembly District 51 seat in Los Angeles County.

As it looks to help expand the ranks of the current eight-member Legislative LGBTQ Caucus this year, EQCA is expected to issue additional endorsements of out Assembly and Senate candidates. It currently is backing five, as in 2021 it early endorsed two gay male contenders: its former executive director Zbur and Chula Vista City Councilmember Steve Padilla, running for the Senate District 18 seat in San Diego County.

The state's LGBTQ community "is still underrepresented at all levels of government - here in California and across the country," noted Hoang. "Representation is power, and we have an historic opportunity this year to achieve proportionate representation in Sacramento. Equality California is going to take it."

A complete list of EQCA's 2022 endorsements can be found at eqca.org/elections

Victory Fund backs Rollins for House seat

The Victory Fund also on Wednesday threw its support behind gay former federal prosecutor Will Rollins, one of several Democrats running against conservative Congressmember Ken Calvert (R-Corona), who currently represents the 42nd Congressional District in Southern California. They are now seeking the new 41st Congressional District that includes a large part of the Palm Springs area.

The Victory Fund noted that the contest is "one of the best pickup opportunities in California for Democrats" during this year's midterm elections where the party is widely expected to loose seats and likely see the House flip back to GOP control.

As Rollins told the B.A.R. in mid-November while he was in town for a fundraiser hosted by friends, he is "very excited" about the prospect of potentially representing the Palm Springs area in the House. It is about an hour drive from his Canyon Lake home he shares with his partner, Paolo Benvenuto, a user experience designer for Google.

"It would be an honor to do that," said Rollins, a graduate of both Dartmouth and Columbia Law School and, until last year, an assistant U.S. attorney. "The best part about it is knowing I share the same values as the people who live in Palm Springs."

In its announcement of the endorsement for Rollins, the Victory Fund labeled Calvert an "anti-LGBTQ incumbent." In 2020, Calvert earned a 10% on EQCA's federal scorecard.

Back in 1994 when Mark Takano, a gay man and educator, ran for a House seat against Calvert, Riverside County voters received electric pink mailers asking if he would be "a congressman for Riverside ... or San Francisco?" The anti-gay smear campaign, which essentially outed the public school teacher, remains one of the more blatant homophobic attacks a gay candidate running for office in California has faced, as the B.A.R. noted in 2012 when Takano made his (ultimately successful) second attempt to be elected to Congress.

The mailers accused Takano of having a secret homosexual agenda and would push to extend benefits to gay couples and open up the military to gay soldiers. Takano threw his own tough punches against Calvert, then a freshman congressmember who police had caught the year before with a prostitute in his car.

One famous mailer Takano's campaign sent out showed a scantily clad woman in bed and asked voters "it's midnight, do you know where your congressman is?" Calvert ended up winning that race by fewer than 600 votes. Two decades later Takano won his race in the 41st Congressional District to become California's first out LGBTQ member of Congress.

Rollins, who has made his sexual orientation a key talking point in his campaign, is now reviving the homophobic attacks that Takano once faced to attack Calvert as he runs against the GOP lawmaker this year. He has accused Calvert of "trying to soften his radical, anti-LGBTQ record with voters in our district" now that he is once again being opposed by a gay candidate.

In a recent interview with the Desert Sun, Calvert said he'd "never believed in any kind of prejudice or discrimination against any group of people, whether they're gay or Black or Hispanic, and the laws in our country should reflect that."

Rollins, in a recent campaign email, retorted, "We're not falling for it: Calvert's political career began with homophobia." And he told his supporters that Calvert had sent out "homophobic mailers attacking his opponent Rep. Mark Takano for being a gay man. His bright pink mailers asked voters if they 'knew the real Mark Takano...' and sounded the alarm about Takano's 'secret' homosexual agenda."

Rollins thanked Takano and other LGBTQ leaders who sought public office at a time when "being gay was literally a crime in some states" for paving "the way for me to run for office today - even if it meant enduring hatred and homophobia."

The Victory Fund has also endorsed Takano's reelection bid this year for the new 39th congressional district seat. EQCA has yet to also do so, nor has it yet endorsed in Rollins' race.

Both groups came out with early endorsements last month for Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, who is aiming to become the first gay Latino to represent California in the House. He is seeking the new 42nd Congressional District that is majority Latino.

Both of the current congressmembers who ended up in the new district, Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Downey), decided not to seek reelection this year. Also seeking the open seat that includes a number of southwestern Los Angeles County cities is Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens).

Earlier this month the Victory Fund highlighted for its members in an email a number of controversies Garcia has been embroiled in, including her admission to San Francisco public broadcaster KQED in 2018 that she had called gay former state Assembly Speaker John A. Perez a "homo," which prompted her to issue a statement apologizing for using the gay slur. It also dredged up her being accused of groping by a former staff member, which she was cleared off that year by Assembly investigators.

To see all of the Victory Fund's endorsements this election cycle, visit https://victoryfund.org/our-candidates/

UPDATED 1/27/2022with a response from EQCA on its endorsement stance in the SF Assembly seat special election.

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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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