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California Politics

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

Kick Big Tobacco OUT of California Political Campaigns launches

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

LOS ANGELES — The OUT Against Big Tobacco coalition supported by Equality California Institute launched a pledge last week urging California legislators and candidates to voluntarily refuse campaign contributions from the tobacco industry.

A total of sixteen legislators and candidates have taken the pledge thus far, with more expected to sign on as the 2022 campaign season gets underway.

The pledge was launched in conjunction with the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, a national day in recognition of tobacco users who are looking to quit tobacco for good. LGBTQ+ people are more than TWICE as likely to smoke as our non-LGBTQ+ peers, and nearly 30,000 LGBTQ+ people across the country die every year of tobacco-related causes.

Initial signers of OUT Against Big Tobacco’s pledge not to take tobacco industry campaign contributions include:

  • Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach)
  • Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine)
  • Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)
  • Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona) 
  • Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas)
  • Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach)
  • Annie Cho, candidate for Assembly District 38
  • Supervisor Matt Haney, candidate for Assembly District 17
  • Daniel Hertzberg, candidate for Senate District 18
  • Mayor Christy Holstege, candidate for Assembly District 42
  • Bilal Mahmood, candidate for Assembly District 17
  • Mayor Lily Mei, candidate for Senate District 10
  • Caroline Menjivar, candidate for Senate District 18 
  • Andrea Rosenthal, candidate for Assembly District 36
  • Rick Chavez Zbur, candidate for Assembly District 50

“For decades, Big Tobacco has used their profits to place themselves as friends of our community. This year we are kicking them OUT; out of our Pride, out of our organizations, and out of our politics,” said Equality California Program Manager, Dr. Shannon Kozlovich. “We are calling all 2022 California State legislative candidates to stand with us and pledge to run tobacco free campaigns.

“The tobacco industry is killing our children, killing people of color, killing people that have underlying health conditions. We have to take a stand by not accepting tobacco contributions!” said Senator Lena Gonzalez.

In California’s 2020 Senate and Assembly election cycle, tobacco companies spent $6 million on campaign contributions, while spending millions more lobbying against legislation to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products — products disproportionately targeted towards LGBTQ+ people, people of color and our young people. 

“The tobacco industry serves no purpose other than to make people sick. Tobacco money is not essential for people to win” states Senator Scott Wiener. 

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California Politics

California voters in a new poll say society will completely break down

QUESTION: Agree or disagree: I am worried that a complete breakdown in American society could happen in my lifetime

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Graphic courtesy of Probolsky Research

NEWPORT BEACH – A new poll released last Thursday by Probolsky Research found that a near majority of California voters think that a complete breakdown in American society could happen in the next couple of decades or so where no one shows up to work, armed mobs roam the streets, and the government cannot continue to operate.

QUESTION: Agree or disagree: I am worried that a complete breakdown in American society could happen in my lifetime where no one shows up to work, armed mobs roam the streets, and the government cannot continue to operate.

The results are even more dramatic among Republicans, 69% of whom say they are worried, and those fifty and older who say American society is on the brink. Black voters too.

Full majorities in Los Angeles County, the Central Valley and Northern California also believe Californians are doomed, as do a majority of those who prefer to speak Spanish.

The multi-mode poll was conducted by telephone and online among 900 California voters from November 12 – 18, 2021. A survey of this size yields a margin of error of +/-3.3% and a 95% confidence level. This survey question was not sponsored by a third party, the results are being released for public interest.

Probolsky Research which conducted the poll is a non-partisan Latina- and woman-owned research firm with corporate, election, government, and non-profit clients.

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California Politics

Assembly Speaker strips Evan Low of committee chair- no reason stated

Speaker Anthony Rendon under fire from LGBTQ, diversity groups for sidelining one of California’s top gay legislators

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Assemblymember Evan Low (Screenshot via KGO-TV 7 ABC News Bay Area)

SACRAMENTO – The Speaker of the California Assembly Anthony Rendon (D-Los Angeles)  abruptly stripped Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell) of both of his positions as chairman and member of the Assembly’s Business and Professions Committee Wednesday without a stated reason.

In a letter to Sue Parker, the Chief Clerk of the Assembly, Rendon named Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto) as Low’s replacement without explanation. Low, who has served as chair of the committee for the past five legislative sessions, offered no direct comment instead stating in a release via his office; “It has been an honor to serve as chair of the Assembly’s Business and Professions Committee, where my colleagues and I crafted legislation to help small businesses, combat the opioid crisis, implement a system to regulate legal cannabis, and work with Governor Newsom to protect patients and health professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Low serves as Chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus and Vice Chair of the California API Legislative Caucus, his removal brought immediate condemnation from groups aligned with those marginalised communities.

We are deeply disappointed to see Assemblymember Low removed as Chair of the Assembly Business and Professions Committee without any explanation. At a time when the API community faces a surge in hate, violence and discrimination, and state legislatures across the country relentlessly attack the LGBTQ+ community, Assemblymember Low has provided critical representation for our communities in Sacramento,” Equality California said in a statement. “He has chaired the B&P Committee for the last five years with policy-driven and solution-oriented leadership. Removing Assemblymember Low as chair is an unfortunate example of people of color — especially API people — being sidelined from leadership roles despite demonstrated success and a commitment to strengthening and diversifying the Legislature.”

The Washington D.C. based non-profit OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, a 48 year-old group that has chapters in all 50 states, dedicated to advancing the social, political, and economic well-being of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, tweeted their displeasure:

Assembly sources told the Blade over the past two days that Rendon’s actions appear to be politically driven retaliation stemming from several factions who had approached Low to campaign for the Speaker’s gavel this past summer, unhappy with Rendon’s handling of the legislative calendar as well as his handling of certain matters on the Democratic agenda.

One source pointed out that “stripping him [Low] of his chair was ridiculous and a petty move that smacked of revenge on the Speaker’s part given that he [Low] has held a personal fundraiser for Rendon and raised $120 thousand for the Speaker.”

A legislative staffer speaking to the Blade on background Friday said that the optics of the Speaker’s action was terrible. “You remove the gay lawmaker who heads the LGBT caucus and vice-chairs the Asian-PI caucus without reason? Look its clearly revenge- but Evan told those people he wasn’t going to do an end run on the Speaker and he didn’t.”

“Speaker Rendon has the right to replace any committee chair, but he also has the responsibility to explain why. To remove Evan Low – the only out LGBTQ AAPI committee chair in the Assembly – from his position without explanation is problematic, especially with no other LGBTQ people serving as chairs. At a time when the LGBTQ community and the AAPI community face increasing harm, we need more bold leadership like Evan Low’s, not less.”

Annise Parker, LGBTQ Victory Institute President & CEO

Movement is afoot inside Assembly circles as disbelief is turning to anger. Another source speaking to the Blade on background said that the Speaker’s action looks like it will backfire. “I’ve heard that some are saying they will go on the record in the next week- and some are really pissed off. He’s [Rendon] annoyed the Black caucus, now the Asian caucus- the people thinking about to go on the record, that momentum is building.”

The Speaker is not commenting nor making public statements as of Friday. One source told the Blade that a prominent non-profit leader had texted Rendon expressing grave concerns over what appeared to be a capricious move in removing Low and received no answer other than “Message received.”

One of oldest LGBTQ non-profit political groups, The Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee (BAYMEC) a four-county LGBTQ political action committee (PAC) which has been advocating for the civil rights of LGBTQ people since 1984 in the central coast counties of San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Monterey, took to Twitter expressing its outrage.

The Bay Area Reporter noted that the Sacramento Bee first reported about Low being stripped of his chairmanship. His being removed means he no longer chairs any committees, as per Assembly rules its members are only given one chairmanship per legislative session. Low remains a member of the communications and conveyance; elections; governmental organization; and higher education committees.

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