Political Notes: California statehouse to be 1st with 10% of legislators LGBTQ

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday October 31, 2022
Share this Post:
Out Assembly candidate Rick Chavez Zbur, left, Corey Jackson, and Christy Holstege, along with state Senate candidate Steve Padilla, are hoping to add to the number of out California lawmakers should they be successful in the November 8 election. Photos: Courtesy the candidates
Out Assembly candidate Rick Chavez Zbur, left, Corey Jackson, and Christy Holstege, along with state Senate candidate Steve Padilla, are hoping to add to the number of out California lawmakers should they be successful in the November 8 election. Photos: Courtesy the candidates

With roughly one week left to the 2022 campaign season, LGBTQ leaders are confident that the November 8 election will result in 10% of California's 120 state legislators being LGBTQ. It will mark the first time that a statehouse has reached such proportional LGBTQ representation.

At the moment the state with the most out members in its legislature is Vermont with 14, while New Hampshire has 13, according to a map of out elected officials maintained by the LGBTQ Victory Fund. But neither legislative body has 10% of its members being LGBTQ politicians, as Vermont's legislature numbers 180, while New Hampshire's has 424 seats.

Maine has nine LGBTQ state legislators out of 186. There are eight each serving in the legislatures of Colorado (out of 100), Massachusetts (out of 200), and Washington state (out of 147).

"Definitely, we are going to have the highest LGBTQ caucus representation," said Tiffany Woods, a transgender married mom who is the California Democratic Party's LGBTQ Caucus co-chair. "It feels like all the hard work is paying off."

But Woods added, "Unfortunately, it has taken so long to get to this level."

The Bay Area Reporter's Political Notebook had first reported in March that LGBTQ California leaders said they were on the cusp of reaching the 10% milestone due to there being nearly 20 out candidates running in primary races for state Assembly or Senate seats. In order to do so, the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus needs to grow from its current eight members to 12.

Gay state Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), who is not up for reelection this year, had predicted to the B.A.R. at the time that, "I think there is a good chance of getting there."

Based on the results of the June 7 primary election, there is a strong likelihood that the affinity group for out legislators could have 13 members, which would be a record. As LGBTQ caucus chair gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell) told the B.A.R. in early October, "We had an incredible opportunity to increase membership significantly this year. It is looking like it could be plus six."

Low is expected to easily win reelection to the South Bay's new 26th Assembly District, which includes Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and parts of San Jose. Bisexual Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San Jose) is also favored to win reelection to the redrawn AD 24 seat that straddles Santa Clara and Alameda counties.

Incumbent Southern California Assemblymembers Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona), who is lesbian, and Chris Ward (D-San Diego), who is gay, are also expected to secure new terms. Rick Chavez Zbur, the gay former executive director of statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California, is favored to win the open Assembly District 51 seat in Los Angeles.

Either lesbian social worker Caroline Menjivar or gay hotel manager Daniel Hertzberg will be elected to the newly drawn 20th Senate District seat and become the first out state legislator elected from the San Fernando Valley. They are vying to succeed Hertzberg's father, state Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), who is termed out this year.

Gay Chula Vista City Councilmember Steve Padilla appears set to be elected to the open Senate District 18 seat in San Diego County. Corey Jackson, a gay man running for the Assembly District 60 seat in the state's Inland Empire, is on track to become the first LGBTQ African American elected to the California Legislature.

Victories by out candidates in those eight races will be enough to meet the 10% threshold and break through another pink political ceiling. The octet would join Laird and his trio of out colleagues in the Senate: lesbian Senators Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) and Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), who is president pro tempore of the chamber, and gay Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).

The fifth newcomer to the LGBTQ caucus, bringing its membership to 13, could very well be Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege, who would be the first bisexual female LGBTQ caucus member. Running for the new Assembly District 47 seat, which former Republican Assemblymember Chad Mayes (I-Rancho Mirage) opted against seeking reelection to this year, Holstege has a strong shot at defeating her Republican opponent Greg Wallis. The political news site CalMatters rates their race as leans Democratic.

Facing harder roads to election are two gay military veterans. Joseph C. Rocha of Escondido is trying to oust state Senator Brian Jones (R-Santee) in the newly drawn 40th Senate District in San Diego County. It has been rated as a "toss up" race by CalMatters.

On Friday California Attorney General Rob Bonta and former governor Jerry Brown both endorsed Rocha, who was drummed out of the Navy for being gay in 2007. He later enlisted in the Marines after the homophobic "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was lifted.

In a statement, Brown said Rocha, a University of San Francisco School of Law graduate who lived in San Francisco during the 2010s, "understands the struggle working families are facing, and they need a champion who will fight for them and create more jobs. As a Marine Corps veteran, he has put service to our country over self, and he will do the same for California in the State Senate."

In the East Bay race for the open 20th Assembly District seat, Dublin City Councilmember Shawn Kumagai, who served in the Navy, is in a tough election fight against labor leader Liz Ortega, who is straight. She has the endorsement of outgoing Assemblymember Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), who opted not to seek reelection.

Wins by Rocha and Kumagai would bring the membership of the LGBTQ caucus to 15. No matter what happens in the various races, the state Capitol is set to have the largest contingent of LGBTQ legislators in California history; since its creation in 2002, the LGBTQ caucus has had at most eight members at one time.

Nonetheless, Woods told the B.A.R. that LGBTQ political leaders can't rest on their laurels.

"We absolutely have more work to do," said Woods, pointing out, "we still need to elect our first out trans legislator."

The chance to do so could come in 2024, when current Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton, the first transgender person elected to a city council seat in California, is expected to seek a state Senate seat. That year the newly drawn 19th Senate District, spanning the Coachella Valley and running north to San Bernardino, will be an open seat.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes

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

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.