Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Online Extra: Political Notes: Out lawmaker could lead CA Senate


State Senator Mark Leno has been mentioned as the next leader of the Legislature's upper house. (Photo: Rick Gerharter)
Print this Page
Send to a Friend
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on MySpace!

With state Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) termed out of office in December 2014, California statehouse watchers are already beginning to speculate about who will replace him as president pro tem.

Conventional wisdom is that the likely successor will be Senator Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), who has made no secret about his desire for the position. His chances grew stronger last week with the sudden resignation of Senator Michael Rubio (D-Bakersfield), who had been seen as a competitor for Senate leader.

But the early speculation in Sacramento also has the upper legislative chamber's three out members in the mix as likely candidates. Should any of them be elected, it would mark the first time an out lawmaker led the state Senate.

The most senior of the three is gay Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who in November was elected to his second and final four-year term in the Legislature. His being termed out in 2016 could hurt his chances, though, as he would only be able to hold the leadership post for two years.

The other two are freshmen Senators Ricardo Lara (D-Los Angeles), a rising leader in both the gay and Latino communities, and Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), who won a hard fought election battle last fall a year after coming out as lesbian. Both are eligible to be re-elected in 2016 to second terms in the Senate, which could be an advantage in the race to be the next Senate president.

With lesbian Assemblywoman Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) mentioned as a top contender to succeed gay Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles), there is the possibility of seeing out lawmakers lead both legislative chambers. Such an occurrence would mark the first time in any statehouse that LGBT lawmakers have held the top two legislative leadership positions at the same time.

Competing against Atkins, the majority floor leader in the Assembly, for the leadership post is freshman Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), the Democratic whip. Gomez could serve 12 years in the Assembly, due to a change in term limits voters adopted, allowing him to argue that he can serve longer than Atkins, who can run for one more two-year term in the Assembly in 2014.

Like Steinberg, Perez is also termed out at the end of 2014. But he could depart sooner if he is tapped to join the Obama administration, as Perez is among the possible candidates to become the next labor secretary.

If a southern California lawmaker continues to hold the Assembly speakership, then under statehouse tradition the Senate president pro tem should be from northern California.

"The NorCal folks feel that one house needs to keep leadership, and with Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) likely as next speaker (or possibly Jimmy Gomez if the freshmen 'win'), folks are passionate that Senate is the place to be led by someone from the Northern part of the state," wrote Scott Lay in his "Around the Capitol" email newsletter last month. "And, of course, the issue of water is a major part of the geographic divide. There are also broader environmental issues (CEQA) and all three of the GLBT senators (Galgiani, Lara, and Leno) have been mentioned as possibly the first openly gay leader of the upper house."

Several sources contacted by the Bay Area Reporter last week said it was too soon to tell who has a lock on the Senate presidency, as there are several variables at the moment. In addition to the Assembly leadership contest there are two special elections for vacant Senate seats that must first be decided.

Plus, the decision won't be made final until after the November 2014 elections, and in politics, that is a lifetime. Anything can happen between now and then.

"I've heard more talk about Leno than Galgiani, but there is still a while to go on this, and things can change day-to-day with an electorate of 26 or 27 (or whatever it is when they vote)," wrote one source on background, referring to the number of Democrats in the Senate, in an emailed response.

As for Leno, he did not rule out becoming Senate president pro tem in a brief interview with the B.A.R. Friday.

"While always a pleasure to see one's name considered for a leadership post, it is a bit early to have this discussion," said Leno. "I say that because I am confident that Senator Steinberg will remain Senate leader through the next two years."


Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail

Follow The Bay Area Reporter
facebook logo
facebook logo
Newsletter logo
Newsletter logo
ISSUU logo