Political Notebook: Out West Coast candidates face tough House races

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 1, 2022
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Out West Coast congressional candidates Robert Garcia, left, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, Will Rollins, and Derek Marshall. Photos: Garcia, Carlos Delgado/AP images for Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau; Skinner and Marshall, courtesy the candidates; Rollins, Rick Gerharter
Out West Coast congressional candidates Robert Garcia, left, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, Will Rollins, and Derek Marshall. Photos: Garcia, Carlos Delgado/AP images for Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau; Skinner and Marshall, courtesy the candidates; Rollins, Rick Gerharter

Of the three gay men and one lesbian seen as the most viable non-incumbent candidates vying for U.S. House seats in the West Coast, all but one are facing tough roads to victory this year. Two are running in districts political handicappers see as favoring their Republican opponents, with a third race deemed a toss up.

Facing the best odds is gay Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia. He is seeking the new, open 42nd Congressional District along the coast of Los Angeles County. It is heavily Democratic, and Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) is seen as the other leading candidate among the eight people in next week's June 7 primary race.

Garcia has drawn broad support for his race, winning the endorsement in May of the Los Angeles Times. Should he be elected to Congress, Garcia would double gay representation from the Golden State, as gay California Congressmember Mark Takano (D-Riverside) is expected to easily win reelection this year.

Lesbian former Santa Clara City Councilmember Jamie McLeod-Skinner could triple the number of LGBTQ representatives in the House from the three-state West Coast region if she wins Oregon's open, newly drawn 5th Congressional District. She was officially declared the winner of her Democratic Primary last Friday, May 27, after a balloting snafu delayed the vote count for 10 days.

The progressive lawyer and small business owner ousted from office moderate Congressman Kurt Schrader (D-Canby). It is McLeod-Skinner's second time running for a House seat, having lost in 2018 against then-congressmember Greg Walden (R-Hood River).

This year she is facing Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer for the congressional seat in what is expected to be a heated contest. Last week, the Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman moved the seat from "leans" Democratic to being a "toss up." He also predicted the GOP will pick up anywhere from 20 to 35 House seats in the fall to retake the chamber from Democrats.

"Republicans' House advantage looks as robust as ever," he wrote. "For independent voters, inflation has become such a dominant concern that neither a Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade nor January 6 hearings are likely to drastically alter the midterms' trajectory."

In a statement issued after the Associated Press had called her the winner of her primary race, McLeod-Skinner thanked Schrader and his campaign "for a hard-fought primary." She noted her victory in their intraparty contest was "only the beginning" and her "battle" to be elected to Congress was "just getting started."

If she is elected come November, McLeod-Skinner would be the first lesbian from the West Coast serving in Congress. Of the current 11 LGBTQ members of Congress, only three are lesbians.

"Oregonians across the newly drawn 5th Congressional District have joined together to make our voices heard and we want our seat at the table," stated McLeod-Skinner, elected three years ago to an at-large seat on the Jefferson County Education Service District. "Shirley Chisholm once said, 'if they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.' Well, we've got our folding chairs."

Southern California

Facing even stronger headwinds are the two other gay men running for House seats in Southern California. Former federal prosecutor Will Rollins, who lives with his partner in Canyon Lake, is aiming to oust from office conservative Congressmember Ken Calvert (R-Corona).

They are competing for the new 41st Congressional District that includes a large part of the gay retirement and tourist mecca Palm Springs. While Rollins and Calvert are expected to advance out of next week's primary, where the top two vote-getters regardless of party affiliation move on to the November 8 ballot, Calvert as of now is favored to win reelection.

The Cook report has graded the race as "likely Republican." Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, also has it listed as likely staying in the GOP column in his Sabato's Crystal Ball handicapping newsletter.

"This race is one of the most competitive House races in the country, and we have a golden opportunity to hold a Trump loyalist accountable," Rollins acknowledged in a recent fundraising appeal.

As of now, gay progressive Democrat Derek Marshall is seen as having little chance of defeating Congressmember Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia) in the Golden State's 23rd Congressional District. Political handicappers have the High Desert seat east of Los Angeles in the "safe Republican" column.

Next week's California primary could bring to a close the campaigns of two transgender House candidates running against powerful Democratic incumbents. G "Maebe A. Girl" Pudlo, a nonbinary drag queen elected in 2019 as the at-large representative for the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council in Los Angeles, is running against Congressmember Adam Schiff (D-Los Angeles) for the state's 30th Congressional District.

The other candidate, Bianca Von Krieg, is a transgender actress campaigning for San Francisco's newly numbered 11th Congressional District seat against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). Schiff and Pelosi are both expected to be in first place in their respective primary races, so all eyes are on which of their opponents will land in the second spot to advance to the fall election.

Bay Area local candidates pick up endorsements

Ahead of their races on Tuesday's ballot, a number of Bay Area LGBTQ candidates picked up key endorsements to give them a last minute boost for their campaigns. The LGBTQ Victory Fund last week endorsed gay Pleasant Hill City Councilmember Ken Carlson in his bid to become the first out supervisor in Contra Costa County.

Carlson, a retired Concord police sergeant, is seeking the board's open District 4 seat, which spans the cities of Concord, Pleasant Hill, Clayton, and parts of Walnut Creek. If elected, he would be following in the footsteps of his grandfather James Moriarty, a county supervisor in the 1970s.

The Victory Fund also came out in support of Amie Carter, Ph.D., a gay married mother running for the open Sonoma County superintendent of schools this year. The first openly gay candidate to run for the education post, she would be the first woman to hold the position in Sonoma in almost 100 years if elected.

Also receiving the backing of the national LGBTQ organization was Omar Torres, a gay man seeking San Jose's 3rd City Council district seat covering much of downtown. He would be only the second LGBTQ community member to serve on the municipal body and the first out candidate to be elected in 16 years.

It is not expected that any of the three will receive the 50% plus one vote threshold they need to win their races outright on the June 7 ballot. Thus, the trio is aiming to be one of the top two vote-getters moving on to the November ballot.

Also last week Jennifer Esteen, seeking to be the state's first Black female LGBTQ legislator, was one of only a handful of candidates in California to be endorsed by actor and environmental activist Jane Fonda. Via a video released through her Fonda PAC, the Hollywood celebrity and political agitator announced Esteen and the other candidates had won her support due to their championing of policies to tackle climate change.

Too many of the state's leaders, including Democrats, have "failed to protect Californians from fossil fuel pollution," said Fonda in the video.

Esteen, a gay mom, registered nurse and union leader, is one of two out candidates running for the East Bay's open 20th Assembly District seat. Gay Dublin City Councilmember Shawn Kumagai is also vying to succeed Assemblymember Bill Quirk (D-Hayward).

The legislator opted not to seek reelection this year and has endorsed labor leader Liz Ortega, who is straight, in the race. One of the three Democrats could find themselves running against the lone Republican candidate, retired laboratory scientist Joseph Grcar, depending on how the vote goes next week in the newly drawn Alameda County Assembly District.

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 various events kicking off Pride Month in the Bay Area.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail m.bajko@ebar.com

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