Delaine Eastin is a long shot in the race to be the next governor of California. But Bernie Sanders was a long shot, too, and while the socialist independent didn’t capture the nomination of the Democratic Party, he did win enough hearts and minds to inspire radical challengers to traditional Democratic thinking.
Eastin is considerably nicer—no charged up bros or Bernie bot arrows in her quiver. But she is running a grassroots Bernie-style campaign, targeting voters with special-issue interests such as pay equity, climate change and anything to do with education. And she’s doing it with such a smart and sometimes tongue-in-cheek, rousing kickass presentation that her messages come across as simple, logical, common sense. To underscore the point, on May 15 Eastin released her first campaign ad cleverly featuring debate snippets of frontrunners Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa agreeing with her.
“California is a state overwhelmingly run by Democrats. We are the leaders of the resistance to Trump. We are also the state that has the highest number and percentage of poor people and homeless individuals in the country. If Democrats can’t protect and grow the middle class in the richest state in the richest country on earth, what good are we?” Eastin said at the Democratic convention in San Diego on Feb. 28. “You need a visionary governor with a brass backbone, who isn’t afraid of bullies and will not kowtow to the rich and powerful. That is who I am, what I have always done, and what I will do as governor.”
Delaine Eastin told EdSource that her favorite quote is from author, educator Neil Postman: “Children are living messages we send to a time we will never see.”
Interestingly, though her mother lived to see Eastin flourish as a college teacher of women’s studies and political science, a corporate strategic planner and a member of the Union City city council, she may not have grasped how impactful the values of respect and acceptance she inculcated in her daughter wound up helping the LGBT community.
“I was privileged to be raised in a very broad-minded household,” Eastin tells the Los Angeles Blade in a recent phone interview. “My mother was a San Franciscan and I was raised to be accepting and open to every person on earth.”
Eastin’s mother walked the talk. The gubernatorial candidate tells how her mother worked at a very nice dress shop and at one point her boss tested her mettle. “’Dottie, you seem like an open-minded woman.’ And my mother said, ‘I like to think I am.’ And the boss said, ‘Well ya know the state law says that men can’t try on women’s clothes.’ And my mother said, ‘Oh, I didn’t really know that.’ She said, ‘Yes, on the other hand, we have private dressing rooms here and there are men that want to buy women’s clothes and I was wondering if you would consider being the sales person to such men?’ And my mother said, ‘Well of course.’”
Eastin says her mother actually had “quite a number of men who were dressing in women’s clothes who were her regular customers. And she said they were lovely and they were very gracious and it was easy work to do.”
Later, in 1983, the weekend with family before her mother passed away, Eastin was doing her nails when her four-year old nephew Cameron asked her to do his nails, too. The boy was sent to get his father’s permission and in his absence, Eastin’s dying mother told her: “You have to look after Cameron because I think he’s gay.” That’s interesting, why would you say that? Eastin replied. “She said, ‘It’s not a choice you make. It’s the way you’re born.’”
“I’ve just always known some great people that happened to be gay people,” Eastin says. “I just think we ought to have an open mind about everybody’s life.”
Cameron did turn out to be gay, has a wonderful life with a wonderful partner and Eastin is prepared to officiate at their wedding, should that occasion rise.
And Eastin learned her mother’s life lessons. As a member of the California Assembly, she fought against Prop 64 in 1986 and became the first State Superintendent of Public Instruction to march in the San Francisco Gay Rights Parade with Cameron and her high school drama teacher, Jay Deck, who happened to be gay. “He was such an inspiration to me in high school,” she says. “I was an ingrown toenail disguised as a fourteen-year-old and he helped me find my voice.”
Elected Superintendent in 1995, she established an LGBT Task Force to enforce the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 (AB 537), then-Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl’s bill (co-authored by then-Assembly Speaker Villaraigosa) that changed California’s Education Code by adding actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity to the existing nondiscrimination policy.
Throughout her career as Superintendent, as well as serving on the UC Board of Regents, Eastin received death threats for supporting the “gay agenda” but never waivered.
Win or lose, Eastin intends to stay engaged. But now, she’s fighting to be one of two candidates that survive the June 5 primary. To LGBTQ voters Eastin says: “I will always stand with you on behalf of tomorrows that are brilliant for everyone. And I appreciate, as my mother pointed out so many years ago, this is not a choice you make, this is how you were born and we must, in fact, respect each other’s differences, whether it’s left handed versus right handed, whether it’s LGBTQ, whether it’s people that have chosen to be vegetarians or people that are religious or atheist—everybody has to be respected and they have to respect each other.
“And that’s what we must do. We must foster the kind of attitude in our society that is love your neighbor as yourself,” Eastin says.