Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Former Dem chair Torres comes out


Former California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres. Photo Jane Philomen Cleland
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Art Torres, the former state senator and retiring chairman of the California Democratic Party, publicly thanked his longtime partner, Gonzalo Escudero, at a tribute dinner held in his honor at the state party convention Saturday night in Sacramento.

Garry Shay, an openly gay member of the Democratic National Committee, attended the dinner. He told the Bay Area Reporter that Torres did thank his partner, something that surprised him.

"I can confirm that it happened," said Shay.

Other LGBT Democrats present at the dinner also were surprised by Torres's acknowledgment. Torres reportedly thanked Escudero for his patience and support while Torres "drove him up and down the state" for political events.

Openly gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) attended the dinner and confirmed that Torres came out publicly in front of the audience, which included his 89-year-old mother and adult children.

"It was well received and everyone gave him a lot of love and love to the both of them," said Leno, referring to Torres and his partner. "I was very pleased to see it, of course, and it was appropriate for Art to do it. No one blinked and everyone cheered."

During previous state party conventions, Torres has thanked his family during his remarks, but has never mentioned his longtime partner.

Torres did not respond to several messages from the Bay Area Reporter seeking comment.

Torres chaired the California Democratic Party for the last 13 years. He was succeeded last weekend by another former state senator, John Burton of San Francisco.

New leadership

As Torres stepped down from his post, new gay leadership emerged.

Eric Bauman, the openly gay chair of the Los Angeles Democratic Party, easily won the state party vice chair post. Bauman had sought the chairmanship, but stepped aside when Burton decided to run for the position. Bauman then faced a challenger for vice chair, Campbell City Council member Evan Low, who is also openly gay.

As previously reported, Low did not immediately step aside for Bauman but, a week before the convention, Low withdrew and Bauman announced Low as his campaign manager for the vice chair position.

LGBT delegates at the convention held a caucus meeting Friday afternoon. Usually the LGBT Caucus meeting is a must-stop for statewide office seekers, but fewer dropped by this year. In the governor's race, only the declared candidate, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, appeared at the meeting, where he received a standing ovation.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that possible gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Jerry Brown, who served as governor in the 1970s, has an almost 2-1 lead over Newsom in a new statewide poll by Tulchin Research. Newsom is at 16 percent, while Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who's also mentioned as a possible candidate, is at 12 percent. Villaraigosa skipped the convention, citing budget work. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) is also said to be mulling the race.

Newsom, 41, was the most visible candidate at the convention, followed by "Newsom's youth brigade," a group of about 40 young Democrats who carried Newsom banners everywhere the sharply-dressed Newsom went and stood out in force in front of the Sacramento Convention Center Saturday.

Brown, 71, who seemed to act like a candidate, challenged Newsom to an IQ test on a local Sacramento radio show just before the convention began. Brown supporters handed out baseball-like sports cards listing, among other things, Brown's economic accomplishments while governor of the state.

"Under Gov. Brown, California produced 25 percent of the nation's new jobs and enjoyed the largest state surplus ever,'' it said in part.

But the list of achievements and Brown's efforts to invalidate Proposition 8 have not swayed Yolo County activist and Marriage Equality USA chapter leader Shelly Bailes, who told the B.A.R. that she and wife, Ellen Pontac, while not endorsing any candidate, are leaning toward Newsom.

"I believe that Jerry Brown is one of those politicians that will use the LGBT community to get what he wants. I really felt that Jerry Brown needed our vote and so he changed his position [on Prop 8]," said Bailes.

Immediately after the November election, Brown indicated he would uphold Prop 8. But he later filed a brief with the state Supreme Court arguing that Prop 8 should be thrown out. The court has not yet issued its ruling in the case.

San Francisco Democratic legislators Leno and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano also received standing ovations from attendees at the LGBT Caucus. Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi, who announced last week that he's running for the congressional seat expected to be vacated by Representative Ellen Tauscher (D-Walnut Creek) attended the LGBT Caucus, but Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), who faces re-election next year, did not. [See related story, page 2.] 

Newsom's opening line at both Friday afternoon's LGBT Caucus and the general assembly on Saturday, "Whether they like it or not, I'm running for governor," received only a tepid response from those at the caucus. The comment received a stronger response from the broader convention hall.

The Yes on Prop 8 campaign used Newsom's "whether you like it or not" comment about same-sex marriage to great effect during last year's campaign, hence the likely reason for the mixed reaction from gay delegates.

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