Political Notebook: Eggman to chair historic CA LGBTQ caucus

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday November 30, 2022
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State Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman will chair the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus in January. Photo: Courtesy Sen. Eggman's office
State Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman will chair the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus in January. Photo: Courtesy Sen. Eggman's office

When lesbian state Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) assumes leadership of the affinity group for California LGBTQ legislators in January, she will preside over the largest caucus of out lawmakers since it was formed in 2002. As of Wednesday, the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus was assured of having 12 Democratic members when the winners of the November 8 election are sworn into office December 5.

As the Bay Area Reporter's online Political Notes column first reported October 31, it will mark the first time that 10% of California's 120 state legislators are LGBTQ. No other statehouse has reached such proportional LGBTQ representation.

One of Eggman's first orders of business, she told the B.A.R. in a recent phone interview, will be getting an official picture taken of the new caucus when it meets January 4. Visitors to its website will notice there isn't currently a group shot posted there.

"Our last official portrait still has retired members," noted Eggman, as the COVID pandemic over the last two and a half years impacted lawmakers' ability to meet in person for such ceremonial activities.

All eight of the current caucus members are returning for the next legislative session, as the quartet of out incumbent assemblymembers all easily won their reelection races last month, including gay Assemblyman Chris Ward (D-San Diego), who will be vice chair of the caucus. Joining them will be four freshmen legislators — two in the Assembly and two in the Senate — as their races have already been called.

Corey Jackson, set to become the first gay Black member of the Legislature, won an Inland Empire Assembly seat. Rick Chavez Zbur, the gay former executive director of statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California, won a Los Angeles Assembly seat.

Steve Padilla, a gay Chula Vista City Councilmember, won election to a Senate seat in San Diego County. Senator-elect Caroline Menjivar, a lesbian social worker, will be the first out state legislator elected from the San Fernando Valley.

Meanwhile, Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege has fallen back into second place in her Assembly race. As of the B.A.R.'s print deadline Wednesday, she was trailing her Republican opponent Greg Wallis by 12 votes in their contest for the open Assembly District 47 seat spanning Riverside and San Bernardino counties. (There are still more than 5,400 ballots to count in the two counties.)

If she wins, Holstege will be the first bisexual female LGBTQ caucus member. She will also bump up the LGBTQ caucus to having 13 members and bring the number of women in the group to five, its most ever.

"We are still small but glad to say we are growing," Eggman told the B.A.R., adding that "I think we feel great" about reaching the historic milestone in its membership.

Based on the election results, the LGBTQ caucus will outnumber Eggman's Republican colleagues in the Legislature's upper chamber. The GOP Senate caucus could grow by one to being 10 members next session depending on a still too-close-to-call Central Valley race.

"I don't mean to say this in any divisive way, but our caucus will be bigger than the Republicans in the Senate," noted Eggman. "They could fit in an SUV for the most part."

With the next round of state legislative races less than 16 months away, as the primary contests will be held on March 23, 2024, Eggman is already looking to recruit LGBTQ candidates for Assembly and Senate seats. She especially wants to widen the bench from the state's more inland and rural areas.

"One of the things I am focused on coming from the Central Valley is I always try to increase our representation around the state and to make sure we are providing an avenue for candidates to run around the state. California is still a very big state," said Eggman, who last chaired the caucus during the 2015-2017 session when she was serving in the Assembly. "There are a lot of conservative parts along the spine of California and a lot of those things lead to homophobia. We see it in this new wave of pushback from people going against LGBTQ rights and against trans rights. We want to get around the state and be doing our part with visibility there."

A top priority is to elect the first transgender member of the state Legislature. Many had hoped that milestone would have come this year with the election of Palm Springs City Councilmember Lisa Middleton to the Senate. But due to redistricting, the open seat she expected to seek was renumbered to be an odd district whose election will be held in 2024.

"With that Senate seat in Palm Springs, we really want to get our first transgender member with Lisa Middleton. We will see how things shake out," said Eggman.


Recruiting LGBTQ candidates has been made harder by the increasing attacks out lawmakers receive via social media and in the conservative media. Eggman faced homophobic attacks in her past electoral campaigns, though they paled in comparison to the egregious attacks and death threats her gay colleague, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), is increasingly subjected to, she noted. Last week GOP House member Marjorie Taylor Greene (Georgia) called Wiener a "communist groomer" in a tweet.

"It is absolutely unacceptable and not a sign of a healthy democracy for people to be fearful from attacks of physical violence against them and their family if they want to serve as public officials. It is frightening. I think we have a lot of soul-searching to do going forward," said Eggman. "It is going to take all of us to meet and find ways to see the value in civility and dialogue and governing. Our constituents depend upon us to do that."

The insurrection on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 led Eggman to reconsider her own safety protocols for herself and her family, she said.

"I know my family was one of those who invested in a security system," said Eggman. "My wife said, 'We are getting one now.' I don't think I am alone in that."

Both Eggman and her lesbian colleague, Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), will be termed out of the Legislature in two years. Neither has officially announced what their future political plans will be, but both have opened campaign accounts for potential runs to be lieutenant governor in 2026 when the incumbent, Eleni Kounalakis, will be termed out.

It allows them to continue raising campaign contributions for the time being, with Atkins reporting she had $729,530 in her account as of June 30. Eggman, meanwhile, reported she had $67,322 in hers as of October 22.

She suggested to the B.A.R. that her caucus chairmanship could be her political denouement.

"You want to keep your plans open," said Eggman, "but I feel pretty done with elected life, I think."

As for who will succeed Atkins as the leader of the Senate, Eggman told the B.A.R. she hadn't given it any thought.

"I think there is only one pro tem at a time, and we have ours. We love our pro tem," she said. "Our house runs smooth, and people like that. Important work gets done when we're not fighting with ourselves."

Eggman was also mum on where she stands in regard to Governor Gavin Newsom's calling for a special session of the Legislature next week to adopt a windfall tax on oil companies. She noted she had yet to see an exact proposal for such a tax.

"I am always waiting to see what a proposal looks like, and we go from there," said Eggman.

She also was coy about what LGBTQ legislative proposals the caucus would prioritize next year. Whatever LGBTQ-focused bills do get introduced, they are likely to generate attention not just in other U.S. statehouses but legislative bodies around the world, as Eggman noted the caucus has been fielding calls from out elected leaders in other countries interested in learning more about its work and legislative accomplishments.

"We are getting attention from other countries of the world. Japan reached out; India reached out," said Eggman of fielding requests from gay or lesbian lawmakers in those nations. "They are starting to look at policy and wondering how we did it. When they hear about everything we have done, they are like 'Whoa!' There is interest in us visiting those other countries."

Eggman did make one pledge to the B.A.R. regarding her new caucus chairmanship term. She intends to see the late San Francisco drag performer and gay Latino civil rights leader José Julio Sarria inducted into the California Hall of Fame.

Caucus members have worked with LGBTQ community leaders for years to see Sarria, who in 1961 became the first known gay person to run for elective office, join the list of Golden State residents bestowed with the honor. Yet Sarria has been repeatedly snubbed since a campaign was launched in 2015 to see that he be selected.

The California Hall of Fame is a project of the governor, first partner, and the California Museum. The Newsoms will induct the newest class, which includes lesbian professional soccer player Megan Rapinoe, on December 13.

"I don't know. We are going to get to the bottom of this mystery," pledged Eggman when asked about the ongoing snub of Sarria. "It is frustrating year after year we submit Jose's name, and year after year it doesn't make it. When we make history for the caucus, we make history for California. In the class of 2023, we are going to get it done."

Political Notes, the notebook's online companion, will return Monday, December 5.

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]

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