Political Notebook: Out Sausalito councilmember Kellman runs for CA lt. gov

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday December 13, 2023
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Sausalito City Councilmember Janelle Kellman has announced she's running for California lieutenant governor in 2026. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
Sausalito City Councilmember Janelle Kellman has announced she's running for California lieutenant governor in 2026. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

Gay Sausalito City Councilmember Janelle Kellman has her eyes set on making political history in California come 2026 with her bid for lieutenant governor. Should she win the race, Kellman would be the first LGBTQ woman to hold statewide office in the Golden State.

But in order to smash through that pink ceiling in the state's politics, Kellman knows she has to significantly boost her name recognition with voters throughout California. It is why, after quietly launching her campaign website over the summer, Kellman is now rolling out endorsements and hosting campaign events three years before her name will appear on the ballot for the state's second-in-command position.

She is scheduled to be at a San Francisco fundraiser shortly after the new year on January 4 and in Oakland on January 20. Kellman told the Bay Area Reporter this week that she is also looking to line up events in Southern California in early 2024.

"I need as much help as I can get to boost my name recognition with voters," Kellman acknowledged during a phone interview December 12.

A resident of Sausalito since 2001, Kellman won election to her council seat in 2020 and served as the bayside city's ceremonial mayor last year. She helped launch the city's first Pride event last summer, which also saw it unveil a rainbow crosswalk ahead of the event, as the B.A.R. reported in June.

Kellman told the B.A.R. she will not stand for election next fall for a second council term due to her running for statewide office.

"I want to stay wholly focused on this race," explained Kellman.

In early December she held an event in Mill Valley to tout early endorsements she has garnered from Marin County officials. They include Supervisor Stephanie Moulton-Peters; Mill Valley City Councilmember Caroline Joachim; and San Rafael City Councilmember Rachel Kertz.

"I want to show my commitment to the role and my commitment to the state and doing the hard work to get my name and my platform out in front of as many people as possible. It is why we started early," said Kellman.

Her recent gathering with her early endorsers netted Kellman a lead item by Marin Independent Journal columnist Dick Spotswood, long a chronicler of the North Bay's political scene, in Tuesday's paper. Not only noting how "unusual" it is for a first-term officeholder in the county to seek statewide office, Spotswood also pointed out the challenge Kellman faces seeking an elected office few people outside of politics pay attention to.

"Ask yourself the name of California's current lieutenant governor. I award a blue ribbon to readers who, without Googling, know that it's Eleni Kounalakis," wrote Spotswood.

Kounalakis is running for governor in 2026, one of several statewide officeholders facing term limits that year who have already launched bids for higher office. The state's executive officeholders can only serve two four-year terms.

Gay Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara will also be termed out in 2026 and has also pulled papers for a lieutenant governor bid that year. He was the first LGBTQ person to win statewide office in California with his election to a first term in 2018.

The first LGBTQ person believed to have held statewide office was Tony Miller, a gay man and Democratic lawyer who was appointed to the vacant secretary of state position in 1994. Miller, however, lost his bid that year for a full term in the position, and in 1998, he again came up short in his bid for lieutenant governor.

It remains to be seen if Lara officially launches a campaign for lieutenant governor, or if his pulling papers for the race is just a way to park his campaign contributions until he decides what his next political bid will be. State Treasurer Fiona Ma, a former San Francisco supervisor who will also be termed out in 2026, is actively campaigning and raising money for a lieutenant governor bid that year.

According to the secretary of state's office, 27 political leaders have so far filed their intention to run for the position, with most doing so in order to raise funds likely for bids for other positions.

Among them are two lesbian state legislators who will be termed out in 2024, Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) and Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego). Atkins is highly expected to jump into the 2026 race to succeed termed out Governor Gavin Newsom (D).

It is what Kellman told the B.A.R. she expects when asked if she would drop her candidacy if Atkins decides to run for lieutenant governor. (Already in the gubernatorial race with Kounalakis is State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.)

"My understanding is that Toni Atkins, who is so accomplished and so impressive, ... is running for governor," said Kellman, adding that she has no plans to drop out of the race no matter who opts to run to succeed Kounalakis. "You never know. I am sure many wonderful people will come to the table. I can only focus on what I can bring to the state of California."

Kellman, 50, has a history degree from Yale and a master's in environmental management from Oxford. She graduated from Stanford Law and clerked for a judge in San Diego.

She spent time at the Woodrow Wilson Center at the Smithsonian, focused on how issues like water scarcity and civil unrest impact national security. She had her own private practice as a land use and environmental attorney then joined the Environmental Protection Agency working on water quality and species issues in its Region 9 office that includes California along with other western states.

She has also worked in the private sector at firms focused on renewable energy. Two years ago she founded, and serves as CEO of, a global nonprofit called the Center for Sea Rise Solutions.

Her educational, professional, and political background make her well qualified to be the next lieutenant governor, argued Kellman. The position requires the officeholder to serve in a number of roles overseeing issues Kellman noted she already has experience tackling.

The lieutenant governor serves on the oversight bodies for the state's community colleges, four-year colleges, and university system. The person also sits on the powerful California Coastal Commission and shares chairing of the State Lands Commission.

"When I was mayor I was dealing with issues that are of statewide importance, like homelessness, like affordable housing, like aging infrastructure and climate change," said Kellman. "One of my very big wins was we went to the state of California and got $1 million to do a sea level rise vulnerability assessment for Sausalito. We just retained our consulting group to commence that in early 2024; I think they are saying it will take two years to complete it."

To learn more about Kellman, and for information about her campaign events in early 2024, visit her website at janellekellman.com.

EQCA endorses Low's House bid

Statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California Wednesday endorsed gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino) in his bid for an open South Bay House seat. He is seeking to succeed retiring Congressmember Anna Eshoo (D-San Jose) in 2024.

Also in the race are fellow Democrats Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, former San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo, Palo Alto City Councilmember and author Julie Lythcott-Haims, and former Marine Peter Dixon, a tech executive. Only the top two vote-getters will advance out of the March 5 primary to compete head-to-head for the congressional seat next November.

Low, a former council member and mayor of Campbell, California, would be the first out House member from the Bay Area if elected. The national LGBTQ Victory Fund earlier this month had endorsed his House candidacy.

"His experience and strong record make him the ideal candidate to represent California's 16th Congressional District," stated EQCA Executive Director Tony Hoang. "We are eager to work to elect Evan Low to Congress in 2024, alongside our largest-ever slate of pro-equality endorsees up and down the ballot."

Out San Leandro councilmember Reynes resigns

Less than a year into her first term, bisexual San Leandro City Councilmember Celina Reynes has announced she will be resigning her seat. Her last day in office will be December 31.

Elected in 2022, Reynes was the first out woman to serve on her city's governing body. A third generation resident of San Leandro, where she lives with her husband, Ted, Reynes holds the council's District 1 seat.

A teacher pursuing a law degree at UC Hastings, Reynes had been a certified law clerk this fall in the Alameda County Public Defender's Office. Next year the council will appoint someone to serve out her term through 2026.

"Each individual deserves care and our well-being necessitates it. To better serve my community, I must now take time to prioritize my own well-being and that of my newborn daughter," stated Reynes in announcing her decision last week. "I hold nothing but the highest regard for the San Leandro community, which has been my family's home since my grandparents immigrated here nearly eighty years ago. I express my deepest gratitude to everyone who has served this community with kindness and courage, regardless of the scale of their contributions."

Mayor Juan González III has encouraged residents of the council district interested in the appointment to fill the vacancy to apply with the city.

"I deeply respect Council Member Reynes' passion and dedication to our community," he stated. "I look forward to hearing from her, as she advocates for positive change in the lives of all San Leandro residents."

The council continues to have LGBTQ representation on it, as gay District 3 City Councilmember Victor Aguilar Jr., is not up for reelection until 2026. He was first elected in 2018.

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 leadership changes in the state Assembly ahead of its reconvening in early January.

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

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

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