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

Online Extra: Political Notes: Kuehl runs for LA county supervisor


Out former state lawmaker Sheila Kuehl is running for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. (Photo: Courtesy Kuehl for Supervisor campaign)
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Lesbian former state lawmaker Sheila Kuehl is attempting to make political history again by becoming the first out LGBT county supervisor in Los Angeles.

While there have been openly gay and lesbian members of the Los Angeles City Council and councils in various neighboring cities, there has never been an out supervisor elected in sprawling Los Angeles County.

"I would, indeed, if elected next June, be the first openly gay or lesbian person on the LA Board of Supervisors," Kuehl, 72, wrote in an email to the Bay Area Reporter.

The 4,084 square mile county laps at the shores of the Pacific Ocean and rises east to the Angeles National Forest and the high desert of Antelope Valley. According to its website, its 10,441,080 residents as of January 2010 comprise the largest population of any county in the nation. 

Approximately 27 percent of California's residents live there. The Board of Supervisors is the governing body on regional issues impacting 88 cities and acts as a city council for the 1 million people living in its 2,649 square miles of unincorporated land. If it were a nation, LA County would have the 19th largest economy in the world.

Remarkably, in an area of such immense size, there has been very little turnover on the county board. The membership had become so set in stone that in 2002 a supermajority of voters enacted term limits for the supervisor seats. They can now serve three consecutive terms for a total of 12 years.

Prior to the change, county supervisors served for decades, with one racking up a 40-year tenure. It was more than two decades ago when the last sitting supervisor was defeated by a challenger at the ballot box.

"There have been no open seats for quite a long time. This is the first race after term limits were adopted," wrote Kuehl when asked what has prevented an LGBT person from being elected a county supervisor in one of the most liberal areas of the state and country.

Kuehl has been patiently waiting for a county supervisor seat to open up since being termed out of the state Legislature in 2008. In an interview with the B.A.R. that December, Kuehl said she planned to run for the Los Angeles County third district supervisor seat held by Zev Yaroslavsky, who is termed out in 2014.

In January it was reported that Kuehl had hired veteran political consultant Parke Skelton to be her campaign manager and had begun the process to set up a campaign committee to start raising money.

She made her candidacy official April 25, sending out an email announcement to supporters with the subject line "I'm running."

"When I termed out of the California Legislature after 14 years, I thought long and hard about where I might best use all the information, experience and skills I had gained and it's clear: the LA County Board of Supervisors is absolutely the best place," wrote Kuehl in the email.

It is still more than a year away from the June 2014 primary for the seat. But Kuehl needs to raise at least $1.4 million to run a successful campaign and "early fundraising will be key to my success," she told her supporters.

Kuehl is the first major candidate to jump into the race; the filing deadline is in December. Former Santa Monica councilman and Kennedy family member Bobby Shriver is reportedly also interested in seeking the seat.

A Santa Monica resident herself, Kuehl became the first out person elected to the state Legislature when she won an Assembly seat in 1994. She again made history by becoming the first woman to serve as speaker pro tempore during the 1997-98 legislative session.

After three terms in the Assembly, she won election to her Senate seat in 2000 after beating back a challenger in the Democratic primary.

Her first public role was as a television star – Kuehl played Zelda Gilroy in the long-running 1960s TV show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.

Over the last five years Kuehl has stayed involved in politics, writing an annual series of online columns about the state budget process. She was appointed to the state Integrated Waste Management Board, where she served for a year, and launched her own consulting business.

In 2010 Kuehl was named the founding director of the Public Policy Institute at Santa Monica College. And she hosted a national LGBT cable show called Get Used To It that taped in and had been funded by the city of West Hollywood.

She has also worked for Planned Parenthood of California, the LGBT-focused Williams Institute at the UCLA Law School, and taught a class at the School of Public Affairs, Graduate School of Public Policy at UCLA.

During the 2012 election cycle Kuehl was involved in one of the more nasty state races as a backer of her former partner Torie Osborn 's bid for an Assembly seat covering West Hollywood and Santa Monica. Many in the state's LGBT political establishment, from Equality California to gay Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles), backed straight ally and former Assemblywoman Betsy Butler over Osborn.

Butler was charged with being a carpetbagger becasue she moved in order to run for the newly drawn 50th Assembly District, which included a tiny slice of her former Marina Del Ray-centered district. Osborn failed to survive a heated three-way primary, while Butler found herself bounced out of the Assembly by former Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom , as he won the November runoff.

It will be interesting to see if Kuehl is able to attract the LGBT leaders in Butler's camp to now back her supervisorial bid. She has yet to list any endorsers on her campaign website.

But in a May 13 email she wrote that "ever since my announcement email went out, hundreds of people – friends, colleagues and perfect strangers – have donated, offered to host house parties, left me enthusiastic messages on Facebook, Twitter and my website, and jumped right in to endorse my campaign for LA County supervisor."

Last Wednesday, Kuehl said she has "no concrete plans" yet to fundraise in San Francisco, "however, some folks have offered" to host an event for her in the future.

For more information about her campaign, visit


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

Due to the Memorial Day holiday, Political Notes will return June 3.


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