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No stranger to firsts: Lisa Middleton talks campaign, being trans & family

She would become the first openly trans state senator in California’s history if elected and second ever in the nation

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Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton (Photo Courtesy of Middleton for State Senate SD-28 campaign)

PALM SPRINGS — In 2017, Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton made history when she was elected to city council, becoming the first openly trans person elected to a political office in California. The public service veteran now wants to make history again as she campaigns for the California State Senate

If elected, she would become the first openly trans state senator in California’s history and only the second-ever trans state senator in the U.S. — Sarah McBride, of Delaware, was the first

“It was an honor to and it meant so much about the kinds of opportunities that we found in Palm Springs,” Middleton told the Los Angeles Blade of her 2017 election. 

Middleton joined the nation’s first all-LGBTQ+ city council, which also included three gay men — Robert Moon, then-Mayor, J.R. Roberts, then-Mayor Pro Tem, and Geoff Kors — and a bisexual woman, Christy Holstege, who now serves as Mayor of Palm Springs. 

Middleton noted that there has been at least a majority-LGBTQ+ city council for the last 20 years while touting the success it has brought. “In those 20 years, average property values have tripled, our hotel taxes have gone up fourfold and our sales tax revenue has increased fivefold,” she said. “We’ve brought up numerous new entrepreneurs and visitors to our community. We’ve not just been good for values in Palm Springs — we’ve been good for business.”

Even though Middleton is campaigning for a State Senate seat, she hasn’t lost focus on what truly matters to her: the people of Palm Springs. 

“One fascinating thing about being on a city council in a place like Palm Springs is you really are connected immediately to your residents,” she said. “I get stopped when I go to the grocery store, the hardware store, the restaurants, and people want to talk about the issues. When someone makes a phone call to me they expect me to answer the phone and listen to what their issue is. And Good Lord, I get hundreds of emails each and every day that people expect to get a personal answer from their city council members.”

“It’s a challenge sometimes to keep up with everyone,” she said. “But it also just feels really good to have that direct connection to the electorate.”

Middleton is campaigning for California’s 28th State Senate District, a district that will be no cakewalk for her. SD-28, which includes Coachella and Temecula, went to President Joe Biden in the 2020 election — but only by 2 points. 

Still, Middleton has some firepower behind her with the early support of former Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus. 

Boxer was “thrilled” to announce her support of Middleton. “A fearless fighter for the people she represents, Lisa is a compassionate, principled and savvy leader who will fight for those most in need in Sacramento while bringing people and ideas to the table to solve big problems,” she said in a statement. “California needs Lisa’s forward-thinking ideas, compassion, grit and determination in the State Senate. I’m proud to offer her my enthusiastic endorsement.”

The California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus offered similar words of encouragement in their statement: “Throughout her career, Lisa has been a trailblazing champion for the LGBTQ community as well as a dedicated public servant and activist working to uplift her city, particularly on the Palm Springs City Council. Additionally, the California Legislature should reflect our state’s dynamic population, and it’s far past time that transgender Californians were represented in Sacramento. We know that Lisa will be a pioneering, relentless advocate for the 28th District and all Californians, working tirelessly to make the state more inclusive, fair, and just. We’re with her 100% and look forward to helping Lisa get elected.”

The support she received was one of the main reasons she decided to run. “It was extremely helpful knowing that they had my back,” she said. “It lets you know that the organizational resources that it takes to run a successful campaign was something we could put together.”

A California native, Middleton has long been interested in state politics. For 36 years, working at the State Compensation Insurance Fund, dealing with workers’ compensation audits in the factories and meat-packing plants not far from where she grew up in Bell Gardens in Southeastern Los Angeles County.

During her time with the insurance fund, she came out as a trans woman in 1995 with the support of her employer. “I think I was pretty good at the work I did and had earned that kind of support,” she said. “But it was certainly gratifying to receive it.”

She understands she was “one of the fortunate individuals,” as she knows so many trans people didn’t, and still don’t, have the support of their employers. 

“Not long before I came out, in 1995, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission had done an extensive study of transgender individuals in San Francisco, which is where I was living and working at the time,” she said. “And in that study, they found an unemployment rate for transgender individuals that approached 75%. That’s not just under employment, that’s no employment whatsoever.” 

“Things have improved somewhat, but studies still reveal over and over again that transgender individuals are far more likely to be unemployed than anyone else within the LGBTQ community,” she said. “That creates economic insecurity, and it is very difficult to move forward, either individually or collectively as a community when there is widespread economic insecurity.”

Middleton remains somewhat hopeful about the future. However, the stark contrast between trans rights in red and blue states is holding her back from being fully optimistic. 

“We’re seeing really strong progress in terms of legal nondiscrimination in most progressive democratic states across the country,” she said. “We’re seeing the opposite and most Republican-dominated states.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, “2021 has officially surpassed 2015 as the worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent history,” with more than 250 anti-queer bills introduced in state legislatures. 

Those bills have especially attacked the trans community, from the sports field to the doctor’s office. So far in 2021, at least eight anti-trans sports bans have been enacted in Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Mississippi, Montana and West Virginia — all of which voted for former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Arkansas also enacted an anti-trans medical care ban. 

Other than trans rights, Middleton is also focused on climate change, noting its profound effect on every facet of life. Specifically, she wants to see more charging infrastructure for electric cars and renewable energy. “What we see every single day is the abundance of over 350 days of sunshine with the regular wind that blows through the San Gorgonio Pass into the Coachella Valley,” she said. “We’ve got an absolutely spectacular place for renewable energy projects.”

She also hopes to fix a “big issue” for the people of the district she is running for: regular daily rail service to Los Angeles. “I’m going to be spending a tremendous amount of energy working with Metrolink, Riverside County Transportation Commission, California Transportation Commission, Amtrak and officials to build the third rail from Colton out to the Coachella Valley so that we can truly connect commuter rail,” she said. 

Growing up in a poor, blue collar working community, Middleton understands the value of hard work. She was the first in her family to attend college and she worked her way up during her 36 years at the insurance fund. When she finally retired — or at least tried to — and moved to Palm Springs in 2011, she then ended up getting involved in local government. 

During her 2017 run for city council, she noted if she was able to win, she felt she could make a difference. 

“I really enjoy Palm Springs and the values of this community,” she said. 

When asked what made serving on the city council worth ending her retirement, Middleton responded: “Every single day that I’m in Palm Springs, I encounter somebody who moved here because of the values and the affirmation that they knew they would find in the city of Palm Springs. So many of the folks that live in this community are seniors like myself and my wife, we’ve experienced discrimination and we have experienced being given second class status. That doesn’t happen in this community.” 

Middleton and her wife Cheryl have been together for 21 years. They were married in 2013, soon after they moved to Palm Springs. 

They met through a personal ad in the San Francisco Chronicle. “I put the ad in because I had a couple of friends who were threatening to do one for me,” she said. “It ran for about a month, and it didn’t work. Then a few weeks later, Cheryl picked it up, made a phone call to me, and we were living together within a matter of a few months.”

Middleton is also the proud parent of an adult son and daughter, both educators. “To see the talent, love and brilliance that my kids have is just something unbelievably special,” she said. 

She became a grandmother this past July after the birth of her daughter’s son. “He’s absolutely beautiful and brilliant and wonderful,” she said. 

Her family, who she describes as the “treasures” of her life, have been there for her every step of the way — something she needs with the stress of working in local government and a new campaign. They also are her motivation to push into state government. 

“I am running for the state senate so that my grandson and all of those kids that are starting in schools today have the kind of opportunity that I had in the latter half of the 20th century,” she said. “One of the things that is incredibly humbling when I look at my grandson is that if he lives out to his normal life expectancy, he will see the 22nd century. That’s the obligation that we have in government today. Build the institutions that are going to make it possible for folks 50, 60, 70 years from now to be living in a country that still has the kind of opportunity that I grew up with.”

“Government creates the foundation that makes it possible for people to do their very best to be their very best,” she said. “When we’re at our best in government, we’re creating the institutions and the support systems that allow people to show their brilliance.”

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California Politics

Lindsey Horvath elected to LA County Board of Supervisors

Horvath extended her appreciation to outcoming Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who had endorsed and backed her in the campaign to succeed her

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Lindsey Horvath (Screenshot/YouTube CBS Los Angeles)

LOS ANGELES – West Hollywood City Councilmember Lindsey Horvath won slightly more than a plurality of the vote gaining a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors representing District Three after State Senator Bob Hertzberg conceded Thursday afternoon.

In a statement released Hertzberg wrote; “I want to offer my sincere congratulations to Sup-Elect Horvath. The challenges LA faces are extraordinary and it’ll take someone with her work ethic to be successful. Thank you to everyone who has supported me- my family, friends, elected leaders, & residents across SD3.”

 

“I am humbled and honored that the voters have chosen me to serve as their next Supervisor. Their confidence and support fueled our people-powered campaign across the finish line, and I could not be more grateful for the opportunity to represent the people of District 3,” Horvath told supporters and county residents in a statement Thursday evening.

“I want to thank Senator Bob Hertzberg for his incredibly generous and kind phone call, for his commitment to public service, and for engaging in this hard fought campaign to make Los Angeles a better place. I welcome his supporters into the work we will all need to do together. Regardless of who you voted for, I will always work my heart out to represent you and the best interests of our communities,” she said.

She also extended her appreciation to outcoming Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who had endorsed and backed her in the campaign to succeed her in the seat.

SUPERVISOR 3RD DISTRICT

Candidate(s)VotesPercent
LINDSEY HORVATH (N)227,56152.24%
BOB HERTZBERG (N)208,01947.76%
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California Politics

Karen Bass elected as first woman mayor of Los Angeles

The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office is expected to certify the results on Dec. 5

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Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) (Photo Credit: Sam Garrett-Pate)

LOS ANGELES – Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif) has secured the votes to become the 43rd mayor of the City of Los Angeles, succeeding current mayor Eric Garcetti, according to projections from the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times though thousands of votes still remain to be counted.

In addition to being the first woman elected she is the second Black politician in the city’s 241-year history after the legendary Thomas Bradley who served as the 38th Mayor of Los Angeles from 1973 to 1993.

The congresswoman’s victory comes on the heels of one of the most expensive campaigns ever conducted in the city. The Los Angeles Times reported the 69-year-old Bass achieved victory despite real estate magnate Rick Caruso spending more than $100 million of his own fortune on his mayoral bid, shattering local spending records and pumping previously unprecedented sums into field outreach and TV advertising.

Caruso, 63, outspent Bass more than 11 to 1 but was ultimately unable to prevail as a former Republican in a sapphire-blue California city.

The campaign towards the end before election day because rancorous as the two candidates traded accusations and as the Times noted:

[…] as both candidates fought fire with fire. Much of the bombardment centered around one of the most prominent private institutions in the city, with Bass and Caruso attacking their opponent’s relationships to scandals at USC. Caruso also hit Bass for a speech she gave praising Scientology. Bass and her supporters frequently hammered Caruso for his Republican past, with her allies branding him as a “liar” and a “phony.”

The L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office is expected to certify the results on Dec. 5.

LOS ANGELES CITY GENERAL MUNICIPAL ELECTION Mayor

Candidate(s)VotesPercent
KAREN RUTH BASS (N)403,42753.06%
RICK J. CARUSO (N)356,84946.94%
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California Politics

Zbur is Assemblymember-elect as Abramson concedes

When Zbur is sworn in on December 5 and takes office, he will join the largest Legislative LGBTQ+ Caucus in California history

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Assemblymember-elect Rick Zbur chatting with constituents/voters last summer (Photo Credit: Zbur for Assembly)

LOS ANGELES – The latest election results released by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office on Tuesday indicated that former Equality California Executive Director and leading environmental attorney, Rick Chavez Zbur, had won the seat to represent California’s 51st Assembly District.

Zbur’s opponent Louis Abramson issued a statement of concession congratulating the Assemblymember-elect:

One of our campaign mantras is: The hard part comes after the hard part. Well, this is the hard part. While many votes are outstanding, we’re at 44.6%. Having been outspent nearly eight to one by a well known opponent, this achievement is incredible. Nonetheless, we don’t see a path to 50%+1. With a full heart and a grateful soul, it’s time to close this chapter.

I want to congratulate Rick Zbur on his victory in this race. I will do everything I can to help him succeed in confronting the existential challenges facing our shared community—homelessness, housing affordability, mental health reform, and climate change.

Rick ran with generosity and kindness. His previous work made California more equitable and just. It has been a privilege to campaign with him and to have the opportunity to advance that work. Rick will be an effective advocate for our district. I look forward to being his partner in repairing our world, and I invite you all to join me.” 

In an email to the Blade Tuesday afternoon, Zbur wrote:

As the votes continue to be counted, our campaign is confident that our margin of victory will continue to grow.  I’m incredibly humbled and grateful to the voters across AD-51 who powered our campaign to a victorious finish. We are proud that we won with a substantial margin in every city across the district.  This victory was only possible because of the dedication and effort of thousands of people —supporters, contributors, and volunteers who fueled our campaign, and I am incredibly grateful. I’m also deeply proud that my victory ensures that the 51st District—and the County of Los Angeles—finally has the LGBTQ+ representation in the State Assembly that it deserves

I would like to congratulate my opponent Louis Abramson for his dedication to our community, and for running an energetic campaign that was focused on the issues—many of which we agree about. I appreciate his gracious congratulations call yesterday and his offer to work together in the future to improve the lives of the people of California.

Our campaign was never about one person – it was about ensuring real change and lasting progress to improve the lives of the people of California and the 51st District. It was about assuring that our government tackles effectively the issues that matter most—affordable housing and homelessness, climate action, safer and sustainable communities, good jobs with good pay and safe working conditions, civil rights and social justice for all, and more. I’m proud of the movement we have built and I look forward to beginning the hard work to achieve a government that works for every Californian, especially our most vulnerable.  I am excited to begin my work in the Assembly to deliver for families across the 51st District.”

Early on in his candidacy Zbur received the backing of various organizations and political groups including labour, civic, environmental as well as this newspaper. Zbur was endorsed by Equality California early in April 2021, alongside the California Legislative LGBTQ+ Caucus.

When Zbur is sworn in on December 5 and takes office, he will join the largest Legislative LGBTQ+ Caucus in California history.

Equality California released the following statement from its Executive Director Tony Hoang celebrating the victory:

“My friend Rick Chavez Zbur has spent his career fighting for justice and is exactly the type of champion LGBTQ+ Californians need in the Assembly. From a small farming community in the Rio Grande Valley to the halls of the California Capitol, Rick’s life has been defined by service to his community and his country. I know that his bold, experienced leadership will continue to move our state forward, and he will deliver progressive results for the people of the 51st Assembly District.

“Equality California looks forward to being a partner to Rick in his new role, as we continue our shared fight for a world that is healthy, just and fully equal for all LGBTQ+ people.” 

California’s 51st Assembly District includes West Los Angeles, Hollywood and West Hollywood.

MEMBER OF THE STATE ASSEMBLY, 51st District

Candidate(s)VotesPercent
RICK CHAVEZ ZBUR (D)57,32355.40%
LOUIS ABRAMSON (D)46,14544.60%
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California Politics

Alex Villanueva concedes, Robert Luna is new LA County Sheriff

Luna served as chief of the Long Beach Police Department for seven years, having first been appointed to the position in 2014

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Screenshot/YouTube

LOS ANGELES – Alex Villanueva, the incumbent Los Angeles County Sheriff who has been trailing challenger Robert Luna, the retired police chief from Long Beach, by 20% among a shrinking number of ballots left to be tabulated has conceded the race.

Villanueva leaves office in the wake of a single term marred by upheaval, fighting with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the discord he sowed amidst allegations of corruption.

The Los Angeles Times reported six days ago that Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has launched a criminal investigation into allegations that Sheriff Alex Villanueva may have broken state law when he solicited campaign donations from deputies.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff serves a four-year term. There are no term limits for the position.

Luna served as chief of the Long Beach Police Department for seven years, having first been appointed to the position in 2014.

He was the last candidate standing in a crowded field of law enforcement professionals who sought to unseat the controversial sheriff.

SHERIFF

Candidate(s)VotesPercent
ROBERT LUNA (N)987,73059.84%
ALEX VILLANUEVA (N)662,89340.16%
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California Politics

Two anti-LGBTQ House Republicans reelected in close Calif races

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that two highly contested U.S. House races ended Monday after both Republican incumbents won reelection

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Republicans Rep. Michelle Steel and Rep. Ken Calvert (Photo Credit: U.S. House)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Times is reporting that in two highly contested California U.S. House races, both ended Monday evening after the Republican incumbents won reelection.

Republican Rep. Michelle Steel defeated Democratic Navy Reserve officer Jay Chen after a heated race for California’s 45th Congressional District, an area straddling Orange and Los Angeles counties that was created to empower Asian American voters, according to the Times.

Steel faced protests over her campaign ads aiming to portray her rival as a communist sympathizer. She was elected to the Orange County Board of Supervisors in 2014 and to Congress in 2020 after a fierce battle with then incumbent Democratic Congressman Harley Rouda. Steel is one of the first three Korean American women elected to the House.

Michelle Steel is so opposed to letting Americans marry who they love, she pulled her own daughter out of school for expressing support for LGBTQ rightsIn a speech given to supporters, Steel said to laughter from the audience, “and then [Steel’s daughter] said, ‘God gave us two men — what’s wrong with gay marriage?’ We brought her back and we sent her [to] Marymount.

Rep. Ken Calvert, the longest-serving Republican member of California’s congressional delegation, won reelection in Riverside County despite being drawn into a less favorable district during the decennial reconfiguring of congressional maps.

Calvert beat Democrat Will Rollins, a former federal prosecutor, in a district that became much more competitive this year, in part because of the inclusion of one of the nation’s largest concentrations of LGBTQ voters, the Times reported.  Calvert, in the past has opposed gay rights and once attacked an opponent for being gay, has recently said that he has reconsidered his position on LGBTQ issues.

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California Politics

Rep. Karen Bass widens lead over Caruso in LA mayoral race

While Caruso held a slight advantage after last Tuesday’s election night, Bass has outgained him with every release of voting data since

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Rep. Karen Bass speaking at a campaign event in San Pedro September 15 (Photo Credit: Bass for Mayor campaign)

LOS ANGELES – According to the new figures from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office released Monday, Rep. Karen Bass has jumped out to a lead of more than 29,000 votes, or 52.15% to Real Estate tycoon Rick Caruso’s 47.8%.

Bass had 354,948 votes to Caruso’s 325,677.

Candidate Rick Caruso speaking with former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan this past June
(Photo credit: Caruso for LA mayor campaign/Facebook)

The hotly contested race is still too close to call. While Caruso held a slight advantage after last Tuesday’s election night, Bass has outgained him with every release of voting data since, and now holds a 29,271-vote lead. There are still hundreds of of thousands of ballots to be counted, as the latest update represents roughly 76% of the estimated vote. An undetermined number of mail-in ballots remain to be counted.

LOS ANGELES CITY GENERAL MUNICIPAL ELECTION Mayor

Candidate(s)VotesPercent
KAREN RUTH BASS (N)354,94852.15%
RICK J. CARUSO (N)325,67747.85%
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