Political Notes: Tuesday election could usher in historic LGBTQ wins

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday November 6, 2023
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In off-year elections November 7, Sasha Ritzie-Hernandez, left, is seeking an Oakland school board seat; Clay Hale is running for college board in San Jose; and Danica Roem hopes to be elected to the Virginia state Senate. Photos: Courtesy the candidates
In off-year elections November 7, Sasha Ritzie-Hernandez, left, is seeking an Oakland school board seat; Clay Hale is running for college board in San Jose; and Danica Roem hopes to be elected to the Virginia state Senate. Photos: Courtesy the candidates

Voters in certain areas of California and across the country will head to the polls Tuesday for the 2023 off-year elections. They could usher in historic LGBTQ wins, while providing an indication of how the electorate is leaning ahead of next year's presidential race.

In the Bay Area LGBTQ poll watchers will be seeing how two candidates running in special education races fare. Their contests come amid the heated debate about the rights of LGBTQ students, with transgender youth a particular target.

As the Bay Area Reporter reported online November 2, a conservative group received the go ahead to begin collecting signatures for a trio of ballot measures it wants to put before voters next November. Two would rollback protections for trans and nonbinary students at school, while the third would restrict their access to gender-affirming health care.

Out education leaders Sasha Ritzie-Hernandez and Clay Hale have both pledged to be vocal advocates for LGBTQ students should they win their special elections for education board seats. They both are seeking to serve out the terms of the former members who resigned after winning their races last November, and if elected to replace them, both will need to seek full four-year terms on the November 2024 ballot.

In Oakland, Ritzie-Hernandez is running for a seat on the Oakland Unified School District board. A resident of the city's Fruitvale district who uses both she and they pronouns, Ritzie-Hernandez is vying to succeed school board member Mike Hutchinson in the District 5 area covering several of Oakland's eastern neighborhoods.

Having been redistricted into the board's District 4 area, Hutchinson ran for the seat last fall. Due to a mix up by the county registrar, transgender married dad Nick Resnick had been declared the winner and sworn into office in January. But faced with a lawsuit over the results, Resnick resigned from the seat and Hutchinson was sworn into office earlier this year.

He is backing the other candidate in the District 5 race, retired educator and principal Jorge Lerma. The teachers union is supporting Ritzie-Hernandez, who last week picked up a late endorsement from the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club, the LGBTQ political group for Alameda County.

She also received a boost last week from the CA Working Families Party, which urged its supporters to help her campaign in an email. It noted Ritzie-Hernandez "is the only candidate endorsed by the teachers' union, making her a strong advocate for teachers, special education, and fighting school closures."

Should she win, Ritzie-Hernandez would be the second queer woman to serve on the Oakland school board. Valarie Bachelor won election last year to the oversight body's District 6 seat and endorsed Ritzie-Hernandez in her contest.

In Santa Clara County Hale is seeking to be elected to the District 7 seat on the seven-person board that oversees the San José-Evergreen Community College District. A gay man, he would be its lone LGBTQ member and represent downtown San Jose if elected.

Gay San Jose City Councilmember Omar Torres resigned from the board after being elected to his city's governing body last November. Hale, who works for the East Side Union High School District, is one of five candidates seeking to serve out the remainder of Torres' term through the end of next year.

Other races

Across the country are a number of school board races being watched by LGBTQ leaders. LPAC, which works to elect LGBTQ women and nonbinary candidates to office, will be seeing if seven office-seekers among those it endorsed in school races this year defeat their anti-LGBTQ opponents.

Among them are Toledo, Ohio school board member Sheena Barnes, who is bisexual and genderqueer; Bremerton, Washington lesbian school board member Karen Bolton, Ph.D.; and Stow-Munroe Falls, Ohio gay school board member Kari Suhadolnik. Queer candidate Amelia McMillan is running against several anti-LGBTQ opponents for a seat on the Central York School Board in Pennsylvania.

"It is imperative that we elect more LGBTQ women and nonbinary candidates to advocate for our community, act as our line of defense and build the bench of representation in this critical cycle," the political action committee noted in a recent email.

A number of high-profile city council races with out candidates are taking place Tuesday. In Seattle, voters could restore LGBTQ representation to their City Council by electing three candidates running this year.

The contenders are Joy Hollingsworth, who is queer; Maren Costa, who is bisexual, and ChrisTiana ObeySumner, who is nonbinary. In another high profile race in Washington state, Susanna Johnson, who identifies as same-gender loving, is seeking to become the first woman and first out LGBTQ+ person elected as Snohomish County sheriff.

In the Midwest Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins has faced a tough reelection campaign this year. In 2017, she became the first Black transgender person elected to public office in the U.S.

That same year Virginia Delegate Danica Roem became the first out transgender person elected to a state legislature. She is now running for a seat in the Virginia state Senate, and a victory by Roem could help keep the chamber in Democratic control.

Meanwhile, a slew of out candidates are running for seats in the state legislature's House of Delegates. Wins by them could help Democrats take back control of the chamber and put another check on the policies of conservative Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin.

They are among the 312 out LGBTQ+ people running for office November 7 that the national LGBTQ+ Victory Fund is tracking. According to the organization that helps elect out candidates across the country, it counted 514 candidates who ran in 2023.

It marks a 19.5% increase compared to the last odd-numbered election cycle in 2021, when the Victory Fund tallied 430 out candidates who ran. It released its "Out On The Trail 2023" report (https://victoryfund.org/out-on-the-trail-2023/) last week.

Among its findings are that LGBTQ+ candidates in 2023 sought election in 41 states and the District of Columbia; and 32.9% of this year's candidates are people of color.

Candidates who identify as either genderqueer or nonbinary, according to the report, "have grown dramatically — from five in 2019 to 37 this year." As for out LGBTQ+ state legislative candidates, they more than doubled between 2021 and 2023 (from 19 to 40).

"As politicians in state legislatures and on school boards levied unprecedented attacks on our community and our kids, LGBTQ+ leaders responded, running for office in record numbers," stated Victory Fund President & CEO Annise Parker. "We saw more LGBTQ+ candidates of color, trans candidates, nonbinary candidates and bisexual candidates than in any other election year. And in November, voters in 41 states and the District of Columbia can reject the politics of hate and instead mark their ballot for an LGBTQ+ candidate."

The battle for control of the two legislative chambers in Virginia's Statehouse is being seen as an indicator for which of the two parties may have a leg up in the 2024 presidential race. At this point polling shows expected Democratic nominee President Joe Biden will be locked in a tough reelection battle against former President Donald Trump, widely seen as running away with the GOP's nomination.

"It's official: the Virginia elections are a bellwether for 2024," noted Victory Fund political manager Eliza Fox in a recent fundraising appeal the national group emailed to its members.

Also seen as prognosticators for the upcoming races for the White House and control of the U.S. Congress are Tuesday's gubernatorial contests in Kentucky and Mississippi, races for seats on Pennsylvania's state supreme court; and an abortion measure in Ohio.

One thing is already crystal clear about the November 7 elections, according to Ballotpedia, "overall voter turnout will be a fraction of what it was in last year's congressional elections, and nowhere near the turnout we can expect for next year's presidential contest."

Sister District Project San Francisco will be hosting an election night watch party Tuesday for those interested in seeing the poll results come in. In addition to several other Virginia candidates, the group's local chapter has worked this year in support of reelecting Roem.

From 5:30 to 8 p.m. it will be at Asiento, located at 2730 21st Street in the city's Mission district. Those interested in attending can RSVP online here.

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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