Political Notes: Gay CA House candidate Marshall again seeks to unseat GOPer Obernolte

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday April 24, 2023
Share this Post:
Derek Marshall, above, has announced he's running for Congress again next year against Republican incumbent Jay Obernolte for the 23rd Congressional District that spans Kern, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino counties. Photo: Courtesy the campaign
Derek Marshall, above, has announced he's running for Congress again next year against Republican incumbent Jay Obernolte for the 23rd Congressional District that spans Kern, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino counties. Photo: Courtesy the campaign

Derek Marshall is once again challenging Congressmember Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia) for his House seat in the High Desert east of Los Angeles, having lost to him last November. But the gay progressive Democrat believes he will have a stronger shot at victory with 2024 being a presidential election year.

"Without a doubt," Marshall told the Bay Area Reporter last week a few days after he officially kicked off his second bid to represent California's 23rd Congressional District.

He fell short by roughly 35,000 votes last November but believes he can gain ground next year in what is shaping up to be a presidential election cycle favorable to Democrats due to the incumbent, President Joe Biden, expected to seek reelection in what will likely be another political rematch. It is widely expected Biden will again face former Republican President Donald Trump, whom Biden defeated in 2020.

"Considering we were under-resourced, we did about as well as could be expected given the resources we had," said Marshall, 40, of his performance in his 2022 race.

One lesson the Victorville resident learned from running to represent a district that spans Kern, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino counties is the need to start early in order to fundraise. It is why he held two kickoff events over the third weekend of April, less than a year before the March 5 primary.

For his 2022 campaign Marshall raised roughly $900,000, with less than $500,000 of it for use on the general election campaign after he survived the primary, where the top two vote-getters regardless of party affiliation advance. To run a truly competitive race next year, Marshall is eyeing a campaign war chest of closer to $4 million.

"That is why I wanted to get started early and just kind of also to keep up the momentum that we had," Marshall said.

He recently reported having nearly $3,000 left in his federal campaign account as of April 1. As for Obernolte, he reported having $393,426 in his campaign account, but his filing also listed $1.3 million in debt and loans owed by his federal committee.

Marshall told the B.A.R. that he was pleased with the turnout for his kickoff events in Victorville and Redlands. He has also been fielding invites to more events this year than he did as a first-time candidate last year.


"I am feeling very optimistic," said Marshall of his 2024 electoral chances.

Endorsed by various LGBTQ political groups during his 2022 race, Marshall was mostly overlooked by Democratic Party officials. Once again that pattern is playing out, as Obernolte wasn't listed among the 33 House seats that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently designated as "in play" next year.

Nonetheless, Marshall told the B.A.R. he expects to have more support from the party this time around.

"One hundred percent," he said. "I think I am being viewed differently because we performed relatively well given it is a conservative district and we were under-resourced. Already, I am being treated differently."

Among the eight California House seats Democrats announced they aim to pick up in 2024 is the 41st District seat held by conservative Congressmember Ken Calvert (R-Corona). With the gay retirement and tourist mecca Palm Springs drawn into it due to the 2020 redistricting process, gay former federal prosecutor Will Rollins came close to defeating Calvert last November.

Rollins, who lives with his partner in Canyon Lake, is considering a 2024 rematch against Calvert. But he has yet to formally launch another bid for the House seat, as in March Rollins had told the B.A.R. he would make a decision within "a couple months."

Last week, Rollins said he expects to decide "in the next couple of weeks."

Now back to working at a law firm part-time, Rollins has remained engaged politically since last year's election. And he continues to criticize Calvert's political decisions, most recently his vote last week in support of an intersex and transgender federal school sports ban.

"He needs to be held accountable no matter who the nominee is for his hypocrisy and targeting Americans for just being who they are," Rollins told the B.A.R. last week. "He has not actually evolved in terms of LGBTQ rights; the only thing evolved was his calculus for political survival. As soon as he won, he went back to the same prejudice, new target."

The Golden State's two current gay Democratic congressmembers, Mark Takano of Riverside and Robert Garcia of Long Beach, are both expected to easily win reelection next year. They both represent House districts that favor Democrats, with Takano in the 39th District and Garcia in the 42nd District.

Takano reported this month having almost $543,000 in his campaign account. As for Garcia, he reported sitting on nearly $244,000 in his electoral coffers.

With Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Los Angeles) vying to succeed U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who opted not to seek reelection next year, voters in his 30th District could elect an LGBTQ person to represent them on Capitol Hill. West Hollywood Mayor Sepi Shyne is running for the seat and would be the first queer Iranian in Congress if elected.

Mounting a third bid for the seat is Maebe A. Girl, a nonbinary drag queen elected in 2019 as the at-large representative for the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council in Los Angeles. She didn't survive the primary for the House seat in 2020 and lost to Schiff last year in the general election.

Shyne this month reported raising $98,028 and having nearly $65,000 in her federal campaign account. Maebe A. Girl reported receiving $17,286 in contributions this year and having $12,580 on hand as of March 31.

In the Bay Area gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has opened an exploratory committee for a possible bid in 2024 to succeed Congressmember Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). The former House speaker has yet to say whether she plans to seek reelection next year or retire after serving 37 years in Congress.

Wiener has yet to report any fundraising totals. As for Rollins, he reported this month having $6,443 left in his campaign account.

The filing deadline for candidates who wish to seek offices on the March 5, 2024 primary ballot is December 8. If the incumbent officeholder opts not to run for reelection, then the deadline will be extended to December 13.

Marshall expects to come up to the Bay Area to host a fundraiser at some point in the coming months. He told the B.A.R. he rejects the notion that the 23rd Congressional District is unwinnable for a Democrat because it is a more rural or exurban area of California.

"I like to say there are no conservative areas in this country, just unorganized areas in the country," said Marshall.

To learn more about his candidacy, visit Marshall's campaign website.

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.