Political Notebook: Gay former CA legislative staffer Ruiz seeks LA Assembly seat

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday August 16, 2023
Share this Post:
Ari Ruiz is running for a Los Angeles area state Assembly seat. Photo: Courtesy the campaign<br>
Ari Ruiz is running for a Los Angeles area state Assembly seat. Photo: Courtesy the campaign

For six years in the 2010s Ari Ruiz worked for a member of the California Legislature. Come next December, the gay immigrant hopes to be serving in the state Assembly himself.

Ruiz, 33, is seeking in 2024 the open Assembly District 52 seat in Los Angeles County. The incumbent, Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), is running to oust from office embattled Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de León, her former ally. De León, caught on tape making racist comments, a recording of which was leaked last year, has ignored demands that he resign and seen several attempts to recall him fail.

The race to succeed Carrillo has attracted a number of other Democrats, including Justine Gonzalez, a bisexual transgender co-parent who lives in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles. The 52nd seat also covers a portion of the city of Glendale, and the Los Angeles communities of East Hollywood, Los Feliz, Echo Park, Hermon, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Elysian Valley, Montecito Heights, Lincoln Heights, El Sereno, and East Los Angeles.

"Never in my life, as someone who is undocumented, would I even have thought about the possibility of being on the ballot and asking people to vote for me," said Ruiz, who rents in the El Sereno neighborhood and is an aide to Congressmember Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles). "I have always been involved in politics and had a supporting actor or actress role in campaigns and government."

Speaking to the Bay Area Reporter during a recent phone interview, Ruiz said he had contemplated seeking the legislative seat in 2017 when former assemblymember Jimmy Gomez won a special election for a U.S. House seat. At the time, Ruiz was serving as a district representative for then-assemblymember Autumn Burke, who would later promote Ruiz as her deputy district director.

"She told me since I had lived in the district for 17 years and had served on the neighborhood council that 'you should run.' I thought about it," recalled Ruiz, who was a youth board member on the local advisory body.

But the Dreamer, who had emigrated from Mexico at the age of 10, wasn't a U.S. citizen, which is a requirement for seeking a legislative seat. He obtained his citizenship in 2019 and bided his time until the seat opened up again and he could vie to represent it.

"I have always lived here," noted Ruiz, as he and his family 23 years ago had moved into the El Sereno home owned by an aunt. "We lived in a 500 foot back garage she had there."

Eventually, Ruiz's family moved nearby into their own apartment. He is the oldest of four siblings, the youngest two sisters his mom had after she remarried. (He and his brother's father died due to cancer when Ruiz was 7.)

"My mom did the most courageous thing to move us over here after my dad passed away," said Ruiz. "Aside from Mexico City, this is the only home I have ever known."

The Assembly district boundaries have been redrawn over the years, he noted, and a portion of it was part of the district that lesbian former assemblymember Jackie Goldberg represented in the 2000s. Other than that, no LGBTQ person has represented it in Sacramento, noted Ruiz, who became the first Latino president of the Stonewall Young Democrats club for LGBTQ members of the party under the age of 36.

"There has been one LGBT person that I know of," said Ruiz, who hopes to win an endorsement of his candidacy from Goldberg.

Waters and Burke are among the current and former elected leaders who have endorsed him in the race. Ruiz also picked up the sole endorsement of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus this month. The affinity group for the Legislature's 12 LGBTQ members noted he "is ready to fight and meet the needs of working-class families from Glendale to East Los Angeles."

The district has a sizable population of both LGBTQ and immigrant residents, said Ruiz. It is also heavily Democratic, thus the expectation is that two Democrats will advance out of the March primary and compete head-to-head next November for the seat.

Ruiz intends to be one of them by building up a coalition of support among different communities and demographic groups throughout the district, he told the B.A.R. He reported raising nearly $75,000 within a month of launching his campaign June 5 and plans to have an aggressive ground campaign to introduce himself to voters.

"I am a hard worker. I tell people if my competition knocks on three doors, I am knocking on six," said Ruiz. "Right now, I have the fundraising advantage. If I keep going the way I intend to keep going, I will have enough resources to communicate with the entire district."

Moving out of the shadow of the various political leaders he has worked for, whether as an appointee, staff member, or campaign volunteer, over the years to being the candidate himself has been a "surreal experience," said Ruiz. Talking about himself isn't usually part of his job, he noted.

"I am always in meetings talking about the work I have helped do with other legislators and with the congresswoman, and people will say, 'Let's talk about you.' I am like, 'Why?' One lobbyist told me, 'Because you are the candidate,'" recalled Ruiz. "It is very much very different having to talk about myself."

A main motivation for why he is running to become a legislator has to do with his mom, who as an undocumented worker faced wage theft, and his brother, who had trouble accessing care for a tumor in his foot because of not being a citizen and now walks with a limp because of it, said Ruiz.

"My mom lined up at a Los Angeles County clinic every day for six months at 6 a.m. to apply for a health benefit the county offered for people undocumented because she has diabetes," he said. "People don't understand all of that. I lost a molar because I couldn't afford to go to the dentist. If people don't know those stories and nobody is talking about them, how can you represent the people who can vote for you? You should also represent the people who can't vote for you."

In addition to his political experience, Ruiz worked for the nonprofit Barrio Action, based in El Sereno, which focuses on helping at-risk youth children and their families, and for The Laurel Foundation of Pasadena, which provides services for families affected by HIV/AIDS.

He is also a former mayoral appointee of the Los Angeles City Commission for Children Youth & Their Families. Ruiz also served as a supervisorial appointee on the Los Angeles County Commission on Insurance, an advisory body to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

"The Assembly, I see it, obviously, as the people's house. It is supposed to represent every single person that lives in California," said Ruiz. "Having lived in the shadows undocumented for so many years, I never saw government being part of my life and helping lift me up. The work I have done in the Legislature and working in the nonprofit sector have given me an unique perspective that I want to put to representing everybody."

To learn more about his candidacy, visit his campaign site at ariruiz.com.

LGBTQ caucus endorses other out candidates

The LGBTQ caucus in recent days also endorsed two other out 2024 legislative candidates, Kathryn Lybarger and Mark Gonzalez. It has now announced endorsements for a dozen out legislative candidates running next year.

Lybarger, who lives in Berkeley, is one of two queer women seeking the East Bay's open 7th Senate District seat that spans western Contra Costa and Alameda counties. The other is AC Transit board member Jovanka Beckles, a former Richmond city councilmember.

"I have been arrested fighting for marriage equality. As a state senator I will continue fighting to protect our rights and freedoms," noted Lybarger, president of the California Labor Federation.

Gonzalez, who is gay, is running for the open Assembly District 54 seat in Los Angeles County. Lesbian state Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), who chairs the LGBTQ caucus, and gay Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego), its vice chair, noted that Gonzalez "has been at the tip of the spear in the fight to expand equality and justice for not only the LGBTQ+ community but people from all walks of life. He is a fearless leader who is deeply accomplished and effective at enacting change."

There are at least 29 LGBTQ individuals who have pulled papers to seek legislative seats next year. As the B.A.R. has previously noted, it marks a record for out candidates in California, as the previous high mark was 23 LGBTQ legislative candidates who ran in 2020.

Also endorsed so far by the LGBTQ caucus are gay men Christopher Cabaldon in Senate District 3, Javier Hernandez in Assembly District 53, Jose Solache in Assembly District 62, and Joseph Rocha in Assembly District 76. Bisexual candidates Christy Holstege in Assembly District 47 and Sasha Perez in Senate District 25 also have the caucus' endorsement, as does Lisa Middleton, a transgender candidate in Senate District 19.

The caucus also is backing lesbian Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona) in the Senate District 31 race and the candidacy of her sister, Clarissa Cervantes, who is queer, to succeed her in Assembly District 58.

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 an out San Diego County supervisor candidate.

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]

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.