Political Notes: Mixed results for out candidates with Bay Area ties

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday December 5, 2022
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Jim Obergefell, left, came up short in his bid for an Ohio state House seat, while Emily Randall won reelection to the Washington state Senate. Photos: Courtesy the campaigns
Jim Obergefell, left, came up short in his bid for an Ohio state House seat, while Emily Randall won reelection to the Washington state Senate. Photos: Courtesy the campaigns

For two out candidates with Bay Area ties, the November 8 election brought mixed results for their political bids. Both had held fundraisers in San Francisco this year as they campaigned for their respective elected posts.

In Ohio, gay first-time candidate Jim Obergefell (D) lost his bid for a statehouse seat. He had gained international notoriety as the lead plaintiff in the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case that established marriage equality in all 50 states.

He also is a co-owner of Equality Wines, which has a downtown tasting room in the LGBTQ vacation destination of Guerneville in California's Sonoma County. This year, Obergefell had thrown his hat into the contest for Ohio's 89th House District centered in his hometown of Sandusky, another vacation destination along the shores of Lake Erie.

But Obergefell fell short against Republican Ohio state Representative D.J. Swearingen, who secured reelection with 61.72% of the vote.

"The results were not what we were hoping for, but that does not mean I will stop fighting," wrote Obergefell in a November 9 note conceding the race that he posted to Twitter.

He pledged, "I will always be a champion for all Ohioans, and I will continue to fight for the issues that matter the most to our district."

Back on the West Coast, queer Washington state Senator Emily Randall (D) secured a second term. She will continue to serve alongside lesbian state Senator Claire Wilson, who also won reelection, as did their two gay colleagues in the legislature's upper chamber.

Four years ago, Randall and Wilson became the first out women elected to the state Senate. They are among the octet of current out LGBTQ lawmakers in their state Legislature, according to a map maintained by the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

All but one of the eight won their contests last month, as the other opted not to seek reelection.

"Even with a few more votes to count, the numbers are clear: I'll be returning to the state Senate for another term! Thank you," Randall wrote in a November 16 tweet. "From the start, our work's been fueled by community. By you, my neighbors. Together we can do amazing things. Here's to the continued work ahead."

As the October 10 Political Notes column reported, Randall, 36, managed institutional partnerships for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in 2015 and 2016. Her time at the agency coincided with its opening the Strut health clinic in the heart of the city's LGBTQ Castro district.

She and her partner of 17 years, Alison Leahey, had called West Oakland home. The women first met at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and eventually moved together out west.

In 2017, with Leahey working for Microsoft, the women relocated fulltime to Washington state and moved to the Puget Sound region where Randall grew up in Port Orchard. Randall, at the time working for Planned Parenthood, laid the groundwork to become the first Latina elected to represent the Evergreen State's 26th Senate District in 2018.

She won that race by just 104 votes. This year, she defeated her Republican opponent, state Representative Jesse Young of Gig Harbor, with 50.79% of the vote and a margin of victory of 1,276 votes.

And last week, the Senate Democratic Caucus unanimously elected Randall to serve as its deputy majority leader in the 2023-2024 session.

National rainbow wave election

According to the Victory Fund, at least 517 LGBTQ candidates won election this year in races across the country. It is a new record, as the previous one was set in 2020 when at least 336 out contenders won their races, based on a tally kept by the national organization that works to elect LGBTQ people to public office.

"This Rainbow Wave was fueled by a record number of LGBTQ candidates who defied the odds by running - and winning - in the face of extraordinary anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and attacks. Bigots underestimated our power and determination as they've done throughout history," stated Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker.

To reach equitable representation, noted the Victory Fund, the U.S. must elect over 35,000 more out LGBTQ people to office. Plus, Louisiana and Mississippi are now the only U.S. states to have never elected an out LGBTQ state lawmaker, it also pointed out.

Yet, come December 10, Louisiana voters could elect Davante Lewis as the first openly gay candidate elected to a statewide commission in the Pelican State. He forced Public Service Commissioner Lambert Boissiere, an 18-year incumbent, into a runoff race as neither Democrat secured more than 50% of the vote in their November 8 contest for the oversight body's District 3 seat.

Lewis, 30, endorsed by the Victory Fund and the Forum for Equality PAC, garnered 18% of the vote and Boissiere netted 43% of the vote in their five-person contest. The elected position oversees how much electric companies can charge and regulates utilities, such as if they must transition to renewable energy sources.

The two issues were among those that sparked the candidates to challenge Boissiere this year, Lewis told the Bay Area Reporter in a December 2 phone interview. They are also what animated a majority of voters to reject him last month, he added.

"For us, we feel really good about getting people out to vote," said Lewis. "On Election Day, the 18-year incumbent saw 57% of the district vote against him. The challengers all had a very similar or the same platform."

This is the third electoral bid for the Lake Charles, Louisiana native who is director of public affairs at the Louisiana Budget Project, a nonpartisan organization that provides analysis of the state budget and other matters. In high school, Lewis ran for a school board seat but lost. Two years ago he came up short in a crowded field for an open seat on the East Baton Rouge City Council.

One of three Black men in the general election race for the utility regulator post, Lewis has in the runoff race the endorsements of the other two African American candidates who lost last month.

"What we are going to see, and how we win this race, is getting the anti-incumbent vote out," he told the B.A.R. "We didn't differ on issues and there wasn't factions; there was a heavy vote of people who wanted a new direction. If we turn those people back out, it is a victory."

The Victory Fund is also waiting to see if another of its endorsed candidates, Daniela Silva, wins her contest for an Austin, Texas City Council race. Her runoff election will be held December 13, and if elected, Silva will be the governing body's first queer first-generation Latina member.

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

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