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Statehouse LGBT caucus grows to seven members
by Matthew S. Bajko

As expected California's LGBT Legislative Caucus will grow to seven members following Tuesday's election. Once sworn into office Monday, December 6, the septet will comprise the largest bloc of openly gay state legislators in the country.

Three Democratic freshmen out Assembly members – Toni Atkins in San Diego's District 76; Rich Gordon in San Mateo County's District 21; and Ricardo Lara in Los Angeles County's District 50 – will join Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), who chairs the LGBT caucus.

Lara and Gordon's wins mark the first time that out candidates have been elected to the statehouse from districts without LGBT neighborhoods.

"We started this campaign 20 months ago, so I am glad to have reached this hurdle," said Gordon, a former San Mateo County supervisor and the first out candidate to win state office from the Peninsula.

In addition to the five members of the Legislature's lower house will be out state Senators Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), neither of whom were on Tuesday's ballot.

Of the five Assembly members running in Tuesday's election, Atkins was the only one competing against a gay opponent. Republican perennial candidate Ralph Denney nabbed 35,419 votes or 37.63 percent of the total, far short of Atkins's 54,106 votes or 57.49 percent.

Several out Assembly candidates lost their bids Tuesday. Gay Republican Eric Hickok, with 28 percent of the vote, came in a distant second in his race against Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Cupertino) in the South Bay's 22nd Assembly District.

In the race for the 29th Assembly District in the Fresno area, out Democratic state Assembly candidate Michael Esswein lost to his Republican opponent, Dr. Linda Halderman. The 21-year-old political newcomer did garner 33 percent of the vote in the conservative district.

The LGBT caucus members will find a changed landscape in Sacramento, with Democrats not only in charge of both legislative chambers but also the governor's office for the first time in seven years. And due to the passage of Proposition 25, they will no longer need Republicans to pass a budget (see story, page 1).

"I think we have a great opportunity with both the state Assembly and state Senate in Democratic control and the governor's mansion in the hands of Jerry Brown. We have an opportunity to craft the progressive agenda California wants," said Gordon.

Fiscal issues will remain their biggest challenge, predicted Gordon, who said he expects the new Legislature's first priority will be dealing with termed out Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger 's cuts to AIDS funding, mental health services, and childcare for working families.

"It is budget, budget, budget," said Gordon. "I think the projections that were made on income, particularly from the federal government, were way too optimistic. That is going to have to be dealt with in terms of mid-year corrections."

LGBT issues will also be front and center during the next legislative session. Equality California is in talks with Leno and Ammiano about re-introducing their pro-gay bills that Schwarzenegger vetoed this year: Leno's civil marriage and religious protection act and Ammiano's LGBT prisoner safety act.

"We will be working with the LGBT caucus to look at key legislation, especially around LGBT youth, transgender protections, and to ensure that LGBT health and human services organizations receive needed funding," said Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors .

Prop 8 author defeated

The sweetest victory of the night for EQCA and LGBT Californians came in the defeat of GOP Assembly candidate Andrew Pugno , who authored and helped pass Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in California.

Pugno lost to his Democratic opponent, Dr. Richard Pan , in the Sacramento area's 5th Assembly District. According to unofficial returns Wednesday, Pan received 56,386 votes or 49.1 percent, while Pugno took second place with 53,006 votes or 46.1 percent.

It is a pickup seat for Democrats and is a consolation prize for the LGBT community following the passage of Prop 8 two years ago. EQCA had made the defeat of Pugno a top priority, funneling donations toward Pan's campaign and sending three staffers and volunteers to the district to help with get-out-the-vote efforts.

"It is an incredibly sweet victory and made sweeter by the fact his opponent [Pan] in this district stood up and said he supported full and total equality for LGBT people," said Kors.

Gays win South Bay races

In Campbell, two gay men have won seats onto the City Council, making it the Silicon Valley city with the most out elected leaders on its council. Mayor Evan Low won re-election and was the top vote getter, according to unofficial returns Wednesday.

Low captured 25 percent of the votes cast for a total of 4,542 votes. His term as mayor will be up come January, when the council will select a new member to hold the ceremonial post.

Gay certified public accountant Rich Waterman , a past president of the LGBT-focused SAGA North Ski and Snowboard Club, came in second place in the nine-person race for three seats on the council. The parks and recreation commissioner garnered 2,791 votes or 15.46 percent.

"I am going to take a vacation," said Waterman Wednesday morning, adding that his professional experience likely helped him win his council seat. "It helps to be a CPA in a time with a lot of fiscal issues."

He said his and Low's sexual orientation never once came up during the race or was used as an attack by their opponents.

"It is just a sign of a mature town of people that are looking at the issues and looking past whether we are gay or not gay," said Waterman. "It is sort of like we have come a long way baby."

Next door in San Jose the LGBT community was successful in defeating anti-gay council candidate Larry Pegram. The founder of the Values Advocacy Council, Pegram was a leader of the Yes on 8 campaign in the South Bay and was criticized as being too extreme in his social views by LGBT leaders.

He lost the race for the District 9 seat to LGBT ally Donald Rocha, a local school board member. According to unofficial returns, Rocha captured the seat with 62 percent of the vote for a total of 10,332 votes. Pegram received 6,238 votes or 38 percent.

South San Francisco Planning Commissioner Robert Bernardo is now the only out countywide elected official in San Mateo County after winning a seat on the county's Harbor District Commission. The Port of Oakland staffer came in first place in the four-person race for two seats on the oversight panel.

According to unofficial returns Wednesday, Bernardo received 60,225 votes or 33.3 percent of the total. Incumbent commissioner James J. Tucker was re-elected with 54,218 votes or 29.9 percent.

"In the race for harbor district commissioner, I received more votes than the Republican incumbent of 12 years. This win is also historic because it makes me the first ever openly gay and first ever Filipino elected to county harbor commissioner," Bernardo told the B.A.R.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check Monday mornings around 10 a.m. for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column looks at the new conservative gay Republican group GOProud.

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 mailto:.


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