Political Notebook: LGBTQ CA senators given key committee chairmanships

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023
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State Senators Steve Padilla, left, Caroline Menjivar, and Susan Talamantes Eggman have been given important committee assignments. Photos: Courtesy the subjects
State Senators Steve Padilla, left, Caroline Menjivar, and Susan Talamantes Eggman have been given important committee assignments. Photos: Courtesy the subjects

As state leaders grapple with a projected $22 billion budget deficit this year, LGBTQ members of the California Senate will be in key leadership posts to help address fiscal matters and other policy issues in 2023. Of particular note, lesbian Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) has tapped her chamber's two freshmen LGBTQ members for key committee assignments.

Chairing the Senate's Budget Subcommittee #3 on Health and Human Services is lesbian Senator Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley). Meanwhile, gay Senator Steve Padilla (D-San Diego) is chair of the Budget Subcommittee #4 on State Administration and General Government.

In a tweet thanking Atkins for the chairmanship, Menjivar wrote, "As a social worker and previous EMT, I know how important it is to ensure our public healthcare systems are properly funded, with equitable distribution and access."

As for the other LGBTQ members of the Senate, gay Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) is chairing Budget Subcommittee #1 on Education. He is also a member of the Budget and Fiscal Review committee along with Menjivar, Padilla, and lesbian Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), chair of the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, who is also serving on the budget subcommittee chaired by Menjivar.

Eggman, also tapped as the Senate Democrats' assistant majority leader, is chairing the Health Committee. Among its members are Menjivar and gay Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).

"It has a broad & crucial jurisdiction that impacts everyone across CA. I'm excited to continue working to ensure our behavioral health system meets people where they are & leaves no one behind," tweeted Eggman.

For the sixth year in a row Wiener is chairing the Housing Committee, with Padilla one of its members. Among his top priorities this year, Wiener aims to make it easier for nonprofits and religious institutions to build housing on the property they own.

"I'm honored and humbled that our leader, Senator Toni Atkins, has once again given me the opportunity to help lead California's fight for a better housing future — one in which people can find and afford good housing," stated Wiener. "California continues to suffer the worst housing shortage in the nation, the costs of which are felt in working people's dinner tables and throughout our economy."

Having come under attack last year, including being subjected to death threats and threatened bombings of his home and offices, for his not only being gay but also Jewish, Wiener this year will be co-chairing the California Legislative Jewish Caucus along with Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino). (The affinity group includes among its 18 members gay Assemblymembers Rick Chavez Zbur, D-Santa Monica, and Chris Ward, D-San Diego, along with Assemblymember Matt Haney, D-San Francisco, a straight ally.)

"At a time of growing antisemitism, it is more important than ever we have strong Jewish leadership in the Legislature," stated Wiener. "As a Caucus, we work to ensure California's safety as a home for the Jewish people and to share our values of repairing the world, kindness, and caring for the stranger."

As for Atkins, she is once again chair of the Rules Committee, with Laird among its members. He is vice chair of the Joint Committee on Rules, whose members include Atkins and Wiener, and is a member of the Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee.

Both Laird and Wiener are members of the Judiciary Committee, while Wiener also sits on the Appropriations; Governance and Finance; and Public Safety committees. (Another freshman, Senator Aisha Wahab, D-Hayward, is chairing Public Safety.)

Laird is also serving on the Natural Resources and Water Committee with Padilla and Eggman. He and Eggman are also on the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.

Eggman's other committee assignments include seats on Business, Professions and Economic Development; Energy, Utilities and Communications; Legislative Ethics; the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management; and the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. Padilla was also named a member of the latter as well as the Agriculture and Governmental Organization committees, plus the Joint Legislative Committee on Climate Change Policies.

As for Menjivar, she is also serving on the Elections and Constitutional Amendments; Environmental Quality; Human Services; and Military and Veterans Affairs committees.

Despite the looming legislative battles to shore up the state's finances and pass a balanced budget by the summer, Atkins noted legislators in Sacramento are heading into those talks from a position of strength.

"The state budget is a testament to our values — our promise to uplift all Californians. We're seeing that in action as local communities, emergency responders, and state agencies do all they can to help us get through these severe winter storms, armed with the resources and tools made possible in past budgets by lawmakers determined to prepare our state for what may come. While no one can predict the future, we are entering this year from a position of strength and readiness," Atkins stated Tuesday after Governor Gavin Newsom released his 2023-24 state budget proposal.

Looking to 2024 campaigns

Attention already is turning to the 2024 election cycle, with Congressmember Katie Porter (D-Irvine) Tuesday launching her bid for the state's U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. Her announcement follows speculation all last year on whether Feinstein would resign early, reportedly due to growing health issues, or opt against seeking reelection next year.

"I'm a single mom of three school-aged kids who drives a minivan and uses a whiteboard to break down the math behind corruption and greed. I've spent my career — both before and after being elected to the House — taking on special interests and delivering for working people, and I'm running for the Senate because Californians deserve a warrior fighting for them in Washington," wrote Porter, 49, in a January 10 email to her supporters.

Feinstein, 89, a former mayor of San Francisco, first won election to her Senate seat in 1992. Expected to announce her electoral plans by the spring, Feinstein told the Los Angeles Times last month that she intends to serve out her current term.

Speculation has also circled for months around Congressmember Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) on if she will either resign early or opt to retire when her current term ends in 2024. Reelected in November, Pelosi stepped down as House speaker and leader of the Democrats in the lower chamber after Republicans won back control of the House last year.

Wiener is widely expected to seek to succeed Pelosi when she does decide to leave the House. It is such an open secret that gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman joked at his swearing in ceremony last Friday that he had mistakenly introduced Wiener as a member of Congress at a different event.

"I promise to stop introducing him as a congressman," pledged Mandelman, so it wouldn't "jinx him" when the time comes that he does mount a bid for the House seat.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on the swearing ins of San Francisco's three gay supervisors.

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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