Gay Palm Springs lawyer Rollins relaunches congressional bid

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday May 16, 2023
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Will Rollins has announced he will run again for the 41st Congressional District seat that includes Palm Springs. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Will Rollins has announced he will run again for the 41st Congressional District seat that includes Palm Springs. Photo: Rick Gerharter

In his race last year gay U.S. House candidate Will Rollins lost to conservative Congressmember Ken Calvert (R-Corona) by 11,100 votes in California's 41st Congressional District that includes a large part of Palm Springs. The former federal prosecutor expects to do much better in 2024 running in a presidential election year that typically draws out younger, more progressive voters.

Rollins officially announced his candidacy Tuesday. It had been widely expected, particularly since the LGBTQ retirement and tourist mecca of the Coachella Valley had been drawn into Calvert's district during the 2020 redistricting process.

Among the eight California House seats Democrats have already announced they aim to pick up in 2024 is the 41st District. And Calvert, who last year voted in support of a marriage equality bill after years of opposition to same-sex marriage, has already reverted to opposing LGBTQ rights, casting a vote last month in support of a federal ban against trans women and girls playing on female sports teams.

"I'm running for Congress because it's time that 41st Congressional District residents have a representative who rejects the corruption and extremism in Washington and has the courage to put people over politics and profits," stated Rollins, who had been called into jury duty last week, in announcing his decision on May 16. "Having worked in law enforcement, I know that the threats facing our democracy and our communities still loom large. But Ken Calvert doesn't have the backbone to stand up to his own party, let alone keep our communities safe or put the needs of working families first."

Rollins is the third out congressional candidate who lost last year to relaunch a bid in 2024. As the Bay Area Reporter's online Political Notes column reported in April, Derek Marshall is once again challenging Congressmember Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia) for his 23rd Congressional District seat in the High Desert east of Los Angeles. The gay progressive Democrat also believes he will have a stronger shot at victory with 2024 being a presidential election year.

He had fallen 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, seeking reelection likely against his former opponent, Republican President Donald Trump, whom Biden defeated in 2020. Abortion rights are also expected to be a major focus of next year's campaigns, which Democrats see as benefiting their candidates amid an ongoing rollback to access to abortion services being pushed by Republicans.

"Without a doubt," Marshall had told the Bay Area Reporter about his electoral chances next year.

With Congressmember 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 Congressional District could elect an LGBTQ person to represent them on Capitol Hill.

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.

Queer West Hollywood Mayor Sepi Shyne is also running for the seat and would be the first queer Iranian in Congress if elected.

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.

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.

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.

Strong show of support

When Rollins launched his first House bid in 2021, he was seen as the underdog and was initially dismissed by many Democratic Party officials as having no chance against an entrenched incumbent like Calvert. Those views of his candidacy began to change once Palm Springs and its bank of LGBTQ voters were drawn into the seat, forcing Calvert to address his anti-LGBTQ voting record.

This time Rollins is starting off with a strong showing of support from Democratic leaders, with Pelosi, Takano, and Garcia among the 30 members of the Golden State's congressional delegation endorsing his rematch against Calvert. So is Schiff, along with Congressmembers Katie Porter (D-Irvine) and Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), who are also seeking to succeed Feinstein in the Senate.

Others from the Bay Area backing Rollins include Congressmembers Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Walnut Creek), Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin), Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo/San Francisco), Anna Eshoo (D-San Jose), Ro Khanna (D-San Jose), and Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose).

"National Democrats have already made it clear: #CA41 is a top priority to flip in 2024, tweeted Rollins Tuesday with a link for people to donate to his campaign.

He is the second out candidate from the Coachella Valley to relaunch their campaign after falling short last year. Bisexual Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege, who lost her bid for an Assembly seat by 85 votes last November, is running again against Assemblymember Greg Wallis (R-Palm Springs) in 2024.

Joining them on local ballots in the area will be Palm Springs City Councilmember Lisa Middleton, who is seeking the 19th Senate District seat that also includes the Coachella Valley. If elected in 2024, she would be the first transgender member of the California Legislature.

Having all three on the same ballot could boost their chances, bringing even more attention to their respective races in the Coachella Valley. Next year is shaping up to be a banner year for out federal and statehouse candidates throughout Riverside County, with the two congressional races of Rollins and Takano, along with five LGBTQ community leaders seeking legislative seats in Sacramento that include parts of the county.

"I think we will have some really strong enthusiasm in our community," Middleton recently told the B.A.R. about next year's election.

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