Primary narrows field of LGBTQ CA legislative candidates

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday March 6, 2024
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State senate candidates Kathryn Lybarger, left, Jovanka Beckles and Christopher Cabaldon wanted to expand the ranks of Bay Area LGBTQ legislators. Cabaldon could be the only one able to do so come November. Credit: Courtesy the candidates
State senate candidates Kathryn Lybarger, left, Jovanka Beckles and Christopher Cabaldon wanted to expand the ranks of Bay Area LGBTQ legislators. Cabaldon could be the only one able to do so come November. Credit: Courtesy the candidates

A historic 30 LGBTQ candidates sought California legislative seats on Tuesday's ballot, with a record eight identifying as part of the bisexual community. While the vote count is expected to last days due to mailed in ballots, what is certain is that the primary race outcomes will narrow the field of out contenders advancing on to the fall election.

Several of the contests featured multiple LGBTQ candidates, and only the top two-vote getters will compete on the November 5 ballot. Twelve of them were women, another record for out candidates based on election statistics kept by the Bay Area Reporter, and two were transgender.

Due to a trio of out incumbents departing this year, predictions ahead of Tuesday's primary had the number of LGBTQ legislators in Sacramento growing from the current high of 12 to being 15 or more come the fall. It now looks like the caucus has a chance to grow to perhaps as many as 16 members come December when the winners of the fall contests will be sworn into office.

In the Bay Area, the most heated race with LGBTQ contenders was the battle for the East Bay's open Senate District 7 seat that spans Alameda and Contra Costa counties. AC Transit boardmember Jovanka Beckles and union leader Kathryn Lybarger, who both identify as queer and lesbian, were among the six people running to succeed termed out Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley).

Buoyed by labor donations that helped her blanket local airwaves with a TV ad that featured her playing guitar, Lybarger was expected to easily strum her way into one of the top spots. Yet she was fighting for fourth place along with Republican Jeanne Solnordal as of early Wednesday.

They both had 13% of the vote, with Lybarger's total of 7,564 votes one more than that of Solnordal. Beckles was in third place with 14% of the vote.

As expected Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín was in first place with 31% of the vote. Poised to compete against him in November is Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb if he maintains his second place finish, having netted 17% of the vote so far.

In the two-person race to succeed termed out Senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) from his District 9 seat that covers much of Contra Costa County and a portion of southern Alameda County, San Ramon City Councilmember Marisol Rubio is in second place with 36% of the vote.

Rubio, a gender-nonconforming, demisexual, biromantic, will compete in November against Assemblymember Tim Grayson (D-Concord) for the seat. He currently is in first place with 64% of the vote.

Gay former West Sacramento mayor Christopher Cabaldon is fighting it out for first place in the race for the open Senate District 3 seat. Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) is termed out of representing the sprawling district that includes portions of Contra Costa, Solano, Sonoma and Napa counties in the Bay Area as well as Yolo and Sacramento counties.

Cabaldon was in second place with 27% of the vote count Tuesday night, while Dixon City Councilmember Thom Bogue, a Republican who survived the Jonestown massacre when he was a teenager, was in first place with 29% of the vote.

In the crowded race for the open Assembly District 6 seat in Sacramento, it appears none of the out candidates will make it to November. Gay Republican Preston Romero was in third with 13% percent of the early returns.

Rosanna Herber, a lesbian elected member of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, and fellow Democrat Carlos Marquez III, who is gay, were both trailing in fifth place with 9%. And in ninth place with 2% was Democrat Evan Minton, a former legislative staffer who had hoped to be the first transgender man elected to the Legislature.

As for Palm Springs City Councilmember Lisa Middleton, aiming to become the state's first female transgender legislator, she now stands in second place with 49% of the unofficial returns in the race for the 19th Senate District spanning Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Middleton was the only candidate to run against Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R-Yucaipa), who is now at 51% of the vote count.

"As we continue to await the final vote count, I am genuinely humbled and honored to be advancing into the November General Election," stated Middleton on Wednesday. "The incredible support from the voters of the 19th Senate District is a testament to the strength of our democratic process and voters' desire for a new, pragmatic approach to governance, and for that, I extend my heartfelt gratitude."

A trio of Bay Area incumbents all easily secured first place finishes Tuesday as they seek reelection come November. Gay state Senators Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) are currently at 71% and 66% in their respective races.

Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San Jose), to date the only bi member of the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, is leading his contest with 66% of the vote.

Bisexual contenders look to advance

Looking to join Lee as the second bi man in the affinity group for out legislators was Hawthorne City Councilmember Alex Monteiro, one of eight candidates running for the open Senate District 35 seat in Los Angeles County. Monteiro fell short, however, netting 6% of the vote so far.

Thus, it appears the lone African American man in the LGBTQ caucus will continue to be gay Assemblymember Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D., (D-Perris). He was in first place in his reelection race for his District 60 seat with nearly 55% of the vote.

Fellow gay incumbent Assemblymembers Chris Ward (D-San Diego) and Rick Chavez Zbur (D-Santa Monica/West Hollywood) also easily took first place Tuesday as they seek reelection. Ward was unopposed and thus netted 100% of the vote, while Zbur is currently at 76% of the vote in his race.

Among the female bi candidates is Sasha Renée Pérez, one of five candidates running for the open 25th Senate District spanning Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. She was in second place with 28.5% of the vote as of Tuesday night.

Bisexual Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege is again seeking the Assembly District 47 seat, having narrowly lost in 2022 to Assemblymember Greg Wallis (R-Bermuda Dunes). She netted 51% of the early returns, with Wallis currently in second place with 43% of the vote.

Two bi women, Dulce Vasquez and Sade Elhawary, were among the five candidates running for the open Assembly District 57 seat in Los Angeles County. Elhawary, who prefers the term fluid when it comes to her sexual orientation, would be the first Black Latina in the LGBTQ caucus if elected.

She is currently in second place with 27.4% of the early returns and is poised to compete against Efren Martinez, who is in first place with 37% of the vote. Vasquez is in third place with 14% of the unofficial vote.

In the race for the open 58th Assembly District seat, bisexual Riverside City Councilmember Clarissa Cervantes is vying to succeed her older sister, lesbian Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona), a married mom seeking the open Senate District 31 seat this year. According to the unofficial count early Wednesday, Clarissa Cervantes was in a tough fight for second place.

She was trailing fellow Democrat Ronaldo Fierro by five votes, with both at 27.1% of the vote. Their Republican opponent, Leticia Castillo, had taken first place with nearly 46% of the vote.

As for Sabrina Cervantes, she had fallen further behind Republican Cynthia Navarro into second place with 41% of the vote as of early Wednesday. Navarro was in first place with nearly 44%, leading by 1,272 votes.

Other Southern California races

Four gay non-incumbent candidates ran for open legislative seats in Los Angeles County. Lynwood City Councilman José Luis Solache is seeking the Assembly's District 62 seat.

He was in a close contest for first place against Republican Paul Jones, with both pulling in 38% of the vote. Early Wednesday, Solache was ahead by 10 votes.

In the Assembly District 54 race, Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chair Mark Gonzalez stands in first place with 46% of the unofficial returns. Fellow Democrat John K. Yi was in second with 31%.

Immigrants Ari Ruiz and Javier Hernandez both fell short in their Assembly races. In the District 52 contest Ruiz currently stands in fifth place with 8% of the vote, while Hernandez is in fourth place with 14% of the vote in Assembly District 53.

In Orange County gay Iranian Alex Mohajer was one of 10 candidates running for the Senate District 17 seat against state Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), who was redistricted into it in 2021 and is in first place with 30% of the vote. Mohajer currently stands in sixth place with 6.6% of the unofficial count.

He conceded Wednesday and congratulated Newman on his strong showing in the primary.

"Although we did not win this election, that fight is not over. We have to fight to create a sustainable world for our children and an economy that works for everyone," wrote Mohajer in an email to his supporters.

Former "Amazing Race" TV show contestant Dom Jones, a Black queer Orange County resident, is the lone person running against Assemblymember Diane Dixon (R-Newport Beach) for her 72nd District seat. Jones trails with 39% of the unofficial vote.

In the San Diego area Democratic veteran Joseph Rocha was one of three people running for the open Assembly District 76. He is in last place with 18% of the early returns.

Republican former San Diego city councilman Carl DeMaio is in first place with 44% of the vote in the race for the open Assembly District 75. He is the first out GOP candidate to have a decent chance of being elected to the California Legislature; currently in second place is Democrat Kevin Juza with 19%.

"In my own race for CA State Assembly District 75, we have a commanding first-place lead with 44% of the vote even after the Sacramento Swamp spent $1.4 MILLION against us in dishonest attacks," boasted the firebrand political leader in a March 6 email to his supporters. "Our win against these powerful corrupt interests was only possible because of YOUR SUPPORT — and that of the voters!"

Editor's note: This story will be updated as new vote totals are released.

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