Out men dominate LGBTQ CA legislative races

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 8, 2022
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Shawn Kumagai, left, and Assemblymember Alex Lee both advanced to the general election in their respective races. Photos: Courtesy the candidates
Shawn Kumagai, left, and Assemblymember Alex Lee both advanced to the general election in their respective races. Photos: Courtesy the candidates

It was a good night Tuesday for out male legislative candidates in California. Of the dozen LGBTQ contenders who survived their primary contests, just three were female.

Two more female candidates are hoping the counting of additional ballots will lead to their advancing to the November general election, while the campaigns of three male and one nonbinary candidate are now over. Based on the results of the June 7 races, it appears the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus could grow from its current eight members to having a record 15 members, at least, in the next legislative session.

In the East Bay race for the open 20th Assembly District seat, gay Dublin City Councilmember Shawn Kumagai was in second place with 25% of the primary vote, according to the unofficial returns Wednesday. Should his standing hold then he is poised to compete in the fall against labor leader Liz Ortega, who is straight and landed in first place with 31.1% of the vote.

"As we look forward to the general election, I want to extend my deepest thanks to every one of our supporters who worked so hard to make this result possible," stated Kumagai in a press release his campaign sent out Wednesday afternoon. "This is only the beginning of our mission to take on the affordability crisis, help keep neighborhoods safe, and ensure that East Bay families have access to more affordable housing, quality and affordable health care, child care, and education."

Gay nurse and union leader Jennifer Esteen was in fourth place with 20.8% of the vote behind Republican Joseph Grcar, who was in third with 23.1% of the vote. The quartet was vying to succeed Assemblymember Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), who opted against seeking reelection and endorsed Ortega in the Alameda County contest.

Should Kumagai win the seat in the fall, the Navy veteran would be the first LGBTQ legislator of Japanese descent in Sacramento. Esteen on Wednesday was holding out hope that her bid to be the first out Black female to serve in the Legislature was not over.

In a tweet thread Wednesday Esteen noted that "over half the ballots" still need to be counted and was waiting to see if the additional vote tally would boost her standing in the race.

"When those numbers come in from the registrar of voters we'll be watching and counting. And until then, conserve your energy, refresh, renew, reinvigorate because Team Esteen will be calling on you to join the movement and keep building power for a California that works for all," she wrote.

UC Santa Cruz student Joe Thompson fell short in their bid to be California's first nonbinary state legislator. While successful in organizing employees at several Starbucks locations in the state, Thompson failed to survive the primary race for the 28th Assembly District seat that straddles Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties.

Thompson, 19, came in last with 9.8% of the vote. As expected, former Santa Cruz County clerk Gail Pellerin, a Democrat who retired in 2020, took first place with 34.2% of the vote. She is expected to easily defeat in November the second-place finisher, GOPer Liz Lawler, who garnered 30.6% of the primary vote.

Bisexual Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San Jose) beat back an onslaught of negative attacks to win his primary race for the newly drawn 24th Assembly District. It continues to straddle Alameda and Santa Clara counties like his current 25th Assembly District does.

Lee, elected two years ago as the first bi member of the Legislature, captured first place with 39.9% of the vote Tuesday. He is expected to easily defeat in November the second-place finisher, Republican Bob Brunton, who received 21.8% of the primary vote.

Kansen Chu, whom Lee succeeded in the Legislature, was in third place with 18.1%, while fellow Democrat and Fremont City Councilmember Teresa Keng was in fourth with 11% of the vote.

Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege is set to join Lee in Sacramento as 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 came in first place in her primary with 50% of the vote.

She is expected to easily defeat in November the second-place finisher, Republican Greg Wallis, who received 30.9% of the vote Tuesday.

The third other bisexual legislative candidate, South San Francisco City Councilmember James Coleman, fell short in his bid for the open 21st Assembly District seat on the Peninsula. He netted just 9.3% of the vote in the primary for the seat being vacated by Assemblymember Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco) due to his vying to succeed retiring Congressmember Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo/San Francisco).

Having placed first with 44.7% of the vote Tuesday, San Mateo City Councilmember Diane Papan is set to succeed Mullin by easily defeating in November the second place primary finisher, Republican Mark Gilham. Papan's late father, Lou, had held the seat in the 1970s.

In the South Bay gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell) appears headed to victory in the new 26th Assembly District that includes Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and parts of San Jose. He was the first place finisher in his primary race with 65.7% and should easily defeat in November his GOP opponent, Tim Gorsulowsky, who took second place Tuesday with 24.8% of the vote.

Low had to move out of his current 28th Assembly District after he was redistricted into the newly drawn 23rd Assembly District along with Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto). Berman is set to easily win reelection to that seat in November.

Other Southern California races

Corey Jackson, a gay man running for the Assembly District 60 seat in the state's Inland Empire, is moving on to the fall contest. The Riverside County Board of Education trustee came in second place with 27.7% of the vote Tuesday and is likely to become the first LGBTQ African American elected to the California Legislature.

He will be running against Republican Hector Diaz-Nava, who netted first place in the primary with 37.4% of the vote. But with three Democratic candidates receiving a combined 62.6% of the vote Tuesday, Jackson is favored to be the next assemblymember for the district encompassing Moreno Valley and Perris and parts of Riverside, Hemet and San Jacinto.

South Los Angeles resident Jamaal Gulledge, who was also aiming to be California's first gay Black state senator, fell short in his bid for the open 28th Senate District seat. The Democrat placed last with 4.1% of the vote.

Although she is currently losing in Tuesday's special election for the vacant Assembly District 80 seat, queer former San Diego City Council president Georgette Gómez is leading in the primary contest for a full two-year term.

In an odd electoral predicament Gómez was trailing fellow Democrat David Alvarez, also a former San Diego city councilmember, in their runoff race to serve out the remainder of former assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher's term through the end of the year. She had endorsed Gómez to succeed her in Sacramento.

But Alvarez was in first place with 56.1% of the vote, while Gómez had 43.9%. He will now be sworn into the Assembly seat, which could boost his chances of winning in November when he again runs against Gómez.

In their primary race for the full term, Alvarez was in second with 31.9% of the vote slightly behind Gómez, who was leading with 35% to take first place. Should Gómez be elected in November, she would be the first queer member of the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus.

Another queer candidate, Bulmaro "Boomer" Vicente, did not prevail in the primary for the 68th Assembly District seat covering his hometown of Santa Ana plus the cities of Anaheim and Orange. Vicente landed in last place with 11.8% of the vote.

Los Angeles County is assured of once again having LGBTQ representation in the state Senate due to the contest for the newly drawn 20th Senate District seat. Gay hotel manager Daniel Hertzberg is poised to become the first out state legislator elected from the San Fernando Valley and succeed his father, state Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), who is termed out this year.

The younger Hertzberg was in first place with 31.8% of the vote as of Wednesday. In second place was Republican Ely De La Cruz Ayao with 29.5%.

Close behind in third place was lesbian social worker Caroline Menjivar with 24.9% of the vote. Should those results hold and Menjivar not advance to the fall contest then Daniel Hertzberg is all but assured of winning the heavily Democratic Senate district.

Set to return leadership from Los Angeles to the Assembly is Rick Chavez Zbur, the gay former executive director of statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California. He took first place in the primary for the open Assembly District 51 seat with 62% of the vote Tuesday.

The seat was newly drawn to run from Santa Monica east to Griffith Park and includes the LGBTQ enclave of West Hollywood. Zbur is expected to easily defeat in November fellow Democrat Louis Abramson, who netted 38% of the primary vote.

Lesbian Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona) was the top finisher, with 56.8% of the vote, in the primary Tuesday for the new 58th Assembly District seat. Gay Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) also took first place, with 67.1% of the vote, in the primary contest for his slightly redrawn 78th Assembly District seat. Both are expected to easily win reelection in the fall.

Joining them will be gay Chula Vista City Councilmember Steve Padilla. He took first place, with 61.9% of the vote, in the primary for the open Senate District 18 seat in San Diego County. He is expected to easily win in November against his Republican opponent, Alejandro Galicia.

Facing long odds of victory, however, is gay veteran Joseph C. Rocha of Escondido. He is trying to oust state Senator Brian Jones (R-Santee) in the newly drawn 40th Senate District in San Diego County. Jones took first place in their primary contest Tuesday with 53.9% of the vote, compared to Rocha's 46.1%, and is favored to win reelection in November.

UPDATED 6/8/2022 with a statement from Assembly candidate Shawn Kumagai.

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