Political Notes: Lee picks up LGBTQ backing in US Senate race

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Friday October 20, 2023
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Congressmember Barbara Lee, left, received the endorsement of state Senator Caroline Menjivar for her U.S. Senate bid. Photos: Lee, Jane Philomen Cleland; Menjivar, courtesy the senator
Congressmember Barbara Lee, left, received the endorsement of state Senator Caroline Menjivar for her U.S. Senate bid. Photos: Lee, Jane Philomen Cleland; Menjivar, courtesy the senator

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) is picking up support within the LGBTQ community for her bid to succeed the late U.S. senator Dianne Feinstein next year. Over recent days a prominent San Francisco LGBTQ political group and an out Southern California state legislator both endorsed Lee.

More progressive out Democrats could follow suit now that recently appointed Black lesbian U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler (D-California) isn't joining the race. She told the New York Times October 19 that she wouldn't seek a full term in 2024 after determining Congress wasn't "the greatest use" of her voice.

Governor Gavin Newsom had named Butler to fill the vacancy October 1 following the September 29 death of Feinstein, who was 90. Feinstein had announced in February that she would not seek reelection next year, prompting Lee and two of her Democratic House colleagues to launch campaigns.

Congressmembers Adam Schiff of Burbank and Katie Porter of Irvine are currently considered the frontrunners, due to their fundraising largesse and strong showing in a number of polls on the contest. Lexi Reese, formerly an executive at Google and the HR platform Gusto, is also running for the seat on the Democratic side, as is Christina Pascucci, a longtime Los Angeles television journalist.

Republican former baseball star Steve Garvey has also jumped into the race. Only the top two finishers regardless of party affiliation in the March 5 primary will move on to the ballot next November to compete for a full six-year term in the Senate seat.

The candidates are also expected to enter the race that will also be on the March ballot to complete Feinstein's term through January 3, 2025, with the top two vote-getters of that contest competing on next fall's ballot. Though the winner will only serve for less than two months, it could provide them more seniority in the Senate if they also are elected to the full term that will run through January 3, 2031.

Lee, 77, would be the first Black woman elected as one of the Golden State's two U.S. senators. While she has faced persistent questions on if she will drop out and seek reelection to her House seat, she had told the Bay Area Reporter this summer that her focus was on winning the Senate race.

Part of her strategy, she said, for surviving the March primary and advancing to the November ballot is to secure the support of LGBTQ voters. Lee also had told the B.A.R. she was also confident she could draw support from voters in Orange and Los Angeles counties.

After moving from Texas to California, a 15-year-old Lee worked with the local chapter of the NAACP to integrate the cheerleading squad at San Fernando High School, becoming its first Black female member. Friday, the day after Butler disclosed her decision not to run, lesbian state Senator Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley) endorsed Lee, noting her 20th Senate District includes Lee's alma mater.

"Barbara Lee is a champion for everyday people in California, a fighter who is not afraid to take on entrenched interests and corporations, and a leader we need in the Senate to fight for a more affordable and just country," stated Menjivar. "As the representative of San Fernando High, which was forever changed by Barbara Lee's bravery when she helped integrate the cheer team here, I am honored to endorse her for Senate and eager to partner with her to get things done to make life better for families in the North Valley and throughout California."

Menjivar is the latest member of the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus to back Lee. Lesbian state Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), who chairs the affinity group in Sacramento, endorsed Lee in April. Gay Assemblymember Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D. (D-Perris), also was an early supporter of Lee's Senate bid, endorsing her in March.

Other LGBTQ endorsers

Tuesday the members of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club voted to endorse Lee in the Senate race. Its political action committee had recommended that the progressive group do so.

"Harvey Milk would be so proud to see Laphonza Butler as California's first LGBTQ U.S. senator, and going forward, Barbara Lee will only advance our community's progress and representation," Milk club President Jeffrey Kwong told the B.A.R. "Not only was Barbara among the first to support marriage equality, she founded the HIV/AIDS Caucus and has authored almost every major piece of HIV/AIDS legislation, building bipartisan support for HIV/AIDS education and treatment. The Milk club is proud to endorse Barbara Lee for U.S. Senate."

Among Lee's other prominent LGBTQ endorsers are gay Congressmember Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin); gay California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara; gay former Los Angeles city councilmember Mike Bonin; Tiffany Woods, a transgender woman who's the immediate past co-chair of the California Democratic Party LGBTQ Caucus; and gay Democratic National Committee member Sean Dugar. Out Bay Area transit officials Jovanka Beckles, a lesbian on the AC Transit board, and BART board members Bevan Dufty of San Francisco and Rebecca Saltzman of El Cerrito have also endorsed Lee.

Several out Bay Area city council members are also backing Lee. They include Devin Murphy of Pinole; Victor Aguilar Jr. of San Leandro; Rebecca Kaplan and Janani Ramachandran of Oakland; Celina Reynes of San Leandro; Terry Taplin of Berkeley; Omar Torres of San Jose; Carolyn Wysinger of El Cerrito; and Cesar Zepeda of Richmond.

Milk club endorses Beckles for state Senate seat

The Milk club at its October 17 meeting also agreed with the PAC recommendation to endorse Beckles, a former Richmond city councilmember, in the race for the open 7th Senate District seat that spans western Contra Costa and Alameda counties. It largely mirrors the current 9th Senate District seat that was renumbered during the 2020 redistricting process and is held by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who will be termed out in 2024.

Also running to succeed Skinner is queer California Labor Federation President Kathryn Lybarger. The resident of Berkeley, where she lives with her wife, was endorsed this month by statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California. Other contenders vying to survive the March primary include Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb, and former Assemblymember Sandré Swanson.

Wading into another high-profile East Bay race on the March ballot, the Milk club threw its support behind Jennifer Esteen's campaign for the District 4 seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. The gay nurse and former union leader is aiming to oust from office longtime Supervisor Nate Miley in order to become the first LGBTQ person to be elected to the countywide governing body.

The Milk club has also endorsed the 2024 reelection campaigns of President Joe Biden; Congressmembers Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo/San Francisco); and San Francisco legislators gay state Senator Scott Wiener and Assemblymember Matt Haney.

Looking toward next November's ballot, the Milk club also endorsed the reelection bids of San Francisco Supervisors Connie Chan in District 1 and Dean Preston in District 5. The club's PAC had recommended endorsements of all of the candidates.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko.

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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