Political Notebook: List of LGBTQ 2024 CA legislative candidates expands

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday April 5, 2023
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AC Transit board member Jovanka Beckles, left, and UC Berkeley gardener and labor leader Kathryn Lybarger are running for the East Bay's District 7 state Senate seat. Photos: Beckles, courtesy the subject; Lybarger, Facebook
AC Transit board member Jovanka Beckles, left, and UC Berkeley gardener and labor leader Kathryn Lybarger are running for the East Bay's District 7 state Senate seat. Photos: Beckles, courtesy the subject; Lybarger, Facebook

With the filing deadline just eight months away, the list of LGBTQ candidates seeking California legislative seats in 2024 continues to expand. In the Bay Area, three out leaders are running for East Bay state Senate seats that will be open next year.

Meanwhile, another Southern California out lawmaker made their expected candidacy official this week. As of now, the Bay Area Reporter is aware of at least 17 LGBTQ people who have pulled papers to seek either a state Assembly or Senate seat next year.

Of those, nine are non-incumbent Democrats running for open legislative seats. At least one gay Republican plans to be a candidate for a South Bay Senate seat, though they have little chance of defeating the incumbent in the heavily Democratic district.

And the list could grow depending on what happens in the races for state Assembly and Senate seats covering San Francisco. As of now, gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has pulled papers to run for reelection in 2024.

But his plans could change should Congressmember Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) opt to retire and not seek another term in the House next year. Wiener already has launched an exploratory committee for a House bid, having long been seen as a contender to succeed Pelosi when she decides to depart.

Were his legislative seat to open up, it is widely speculated that gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman could jump into the race for it. He didn't respond to an inquiry from the B.A.R. this week on if he was interested in doing so.

The race to succeed Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), who is termed out next year of his District 19 seat, could also draw an LGBTQ candidate. Queer BART Board director Janice Li has long been encouraged to run for it.

She told the B.A.R. this week that she didn't "have anything to share publicly at this time" about if she had decided to do so. Meanwhile, the city's District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who has a younger lesbian sibling, announced in early March her candidacy for Ting's seat covering San Francisco's western neighborhoods and several of San Mateo County's most northern cities.

Former West Sacramento mayor Christopher Cabaldon is seeking a state Senate seat. Photo: Courtesy reSITE.org  

Across the bay the race for an open Senate seat that sprawls across parts of Contra Costa, Solano, Sonoma and Napa counties has drawn gay former West Sacramento mayor Christopher Cabaldon to once again seek elected office. He announced on Monday his candidacy for the District 3 Senate seat that also includes parts of Yolo and Sacramento counties, as Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) is termed out next year.

"Energized to launch my candidacy for state Senate, representing the people of District 3," tweeted Cabaldon April 3 along with a map showing the outline of the vast Senate seat.

Decades ago he had worked for lesbian former state lawmaker Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) as her chief of staff during her first term in the Assembly. He ran unsuccessfully for a state Assembly seat in 2008 and lost his mayoral reelection race in 2020, which ended his run of serving as an elected leader of his riverside city since 1996.

A higher education consultant, Cabaldon told the B.A.R. Wednesday he is planning to have smaller campaign events in the various parts of the district in the coming months rather than one large kickoff event. Having spent the last two years out of the political spotlight, he said he had time to focus on more personal interests and recharge ahead of seeking public office again.

"I had such a purposeful, meaningful, productive run in my own city, and the regional and national levels frankly. I like solving problems; I like fighting for the rights of all and solving tough problems, that is what is needed in the Legislature and certainly in our region," said Cabaldon, who has also been working with philanthropic groups to address climate change and housing issues since stepping down as mayor.

Another out former Assembly candidate is also seeking election to the state Senate next year. Lesbian former Richmond city councilmember Jovanka Beckles, now an elected member of the board that oversees the AC Transit public transportation agency, is seeking the East Bay's open 7th Senate District seat that spans western Contra Costa and Alameda counties from Rodeo south to the San Leandro border.

Beckles is one of five Democrats seeking to succeed termed out Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley). The seat largely mirrors Skinner's current 9th Senate District but was renumbered during the 2020 redistricting process.

In 2018, Beckles fell short in her bid for an Assembly seat but went on to win election to her Ward 1 seat on the transit board two years later. She is once again vying to become the first LGBTQ member of the state Legislature from the East Bay and the first out Black female state legislator.

Beckles, who is also Latina, told the B.A.R. this week that she is planning to hold an official kickoff event for her Senate campaign on Saturday, April 29. While the details are still being worked out, it will likely be held in Richmond.

"I am proud of the city in which I live and want people to be proud of the fact we have an opportunity to have a state senator from Richmond," said Beckles, who was born in Panama City, Panama, and immigrated to the U.S. with her parents in 1972.

Recalling her past crowded race for a legislative seat, Beckles said she expects the Senate campaign to be both "a rough ride" and "a heavy lift." Other elected officials already in the race are Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb and former Assemblymember Sandré Swanson, who departed the Legislature in 2012.

"I have a very excited base, and it is my hope that with that excitement comes a lot of volunteers to make that heavy lift a little bit more bearable for all of us," said Beckles, who recently updated her campaign site with a number of endorsements from fellow progressive leaders such as gay Pinole City Councilmember Devin Murphy, currently serving as mayor, and Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price.

Also seeking the Senate seat is California Labor Federation President Kathryn Lybarger, who lives with her wife, Nina Ackerberg, in Berkeley. A gardener at UC Berkeley since 2001, Lybarger has also served as president of the UC system's largest employee union, AFSCME Local 3299, since 2011.

Lybarger, who earned an MFA from the now-closed San Francisco Art Institute, hadn't responded to the B.A.R.'s request for comment about her candidacy by its print deadline Wednesday. While her campaign website can be hard to find, she has been posting updates to her Facebook account.

In addition to various labor groups' endorsements, Lybarger picked up the backing of freshman Assemblymember Liz Ortega (D-Hayward) last week. (Ortega defeated several out candidates last year to win election to her Alameda County seat.)

"Kathryn has been leading on the frontlines fighting for workers rights, healthcare, housing and equality. She will make a great Senator and I look forward to collaborating with her on the issues that matter to working people!" wrote Ortega in announcing her endorsement.

Reviving her bid to serve in the Legislature and become one of its first bisexual female members is Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege. She confirmed this week the speculation that she would once again seek the 47th Assembly District seat, which she lost to Republican Greg Wallis last November by just 85 votes.

The news coincided with Holstege revealing in a Twitter thread Monday that she had suffered a miscarriage on Sunday, her second time doing so in as many weeks.

She will be on the ballot along with her colleague Palm Springs City Councilmember Lisa Middleton, who is seeking the open 19th state Senate District seat. If elected, she would be the state's first transgender member of the Legislature.

Also running for Southern California legislative seats are lesbian Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona), who is vying for the open Senate District 31 seat, and her younger queer and bisexual sister, Clarissa, who is seeking to succeed her sibling in her Assembly District 58 seat. Gay Lynwood City Councilmember José Luis Solache is running to succeed Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), who is termed out of his District 62 seat, while gay veteran Joseph C. Rocha is vying to succeed Assemblymember Brian Maienschein (D-San Diego), who is termed out of his District 76 seat.

Solache and Rocha lost their previous campaigns for legislative seats. Over the weekend gay GOPer Anthony Macias informed the B.A.R. he planned to run against Senator Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) in the South Bay's 15th Senate District. For years Macias has vied for legislative seats but has either failed to make the ballot or fallen short when he has.

Half of the current 12 members of the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus are expected to seek reelection next year, including gay state Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) and bisexual Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San Jose). Also running will be gay Assemblymembers Evan Low (D-Cupertino), Rick Chavez Zbur (D-West Hollywood), Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D., (D-Perris), and Chris Ward (D-San Diego).

Ward, however, could decide to run to succeed termed out lesbian Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) now that San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, set to resign in May, has bowed out of the race in order to seek treatment for post-traumatic stress and alcohol abuse. The news came late last month amid revelations that Fletcher was facing legal action for alleged sexual discrimination against several women.

Also being talked about as possibly running for Atkins' 39th Senate District seat are queer leaders Georgette Gomez, a former San Diego City Council president, and Janessa Goldbeck, a veterans advocate. Gomez lost her bid for an Assembly seat last year, and the two women both came up short in the 2020 race for a San Diego congressional seat.

UPDATED 4/6/23 with the link for Kathryn Lybarger's campaign website.

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 early support a quintet of LGBTQ Southern California legislative candidates has received.

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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