California Democrats sweep back into state offices
Gavin Newsom, a Democrat was elected governor of California last week. From Feb. 12 to March 11, 2004, under his direction, the city of San Francisco issued marriage licenses to 4,000 same-sex couples despite it being illegal at that time to do so at both the state and federal levels. | Jae C. Hong/AP

SAN FRANCISCO – If former California Lieutenant Governor – and now Governor-elect – Gavin Newsom has his way, California will continue to be among leaders in the fightback against the Trump administration on issues including immigration, health care, the environment and more.

On the night of Nov. 6, in Los Angeles, as he celebrated his decisive 59.4 percent victory over Republican John Cox, Newsom told supporters, “It’s been a tough two years, but tonight America’s biggest state is making the biggest statement in America!”

He added, “We’re saying unmistakably – and in unison – that it’s time to roll the credits on the politics of chaos and the politics of cruelty… Now is the time for decency, for facts, for trust, and now is the time for truth … And to those agents of anger determined to divide us instead of unite us, it’s time to pack it up and for you to pack it in.”

Newsom, who has been California’s Lieutenant Governor since 2011, served as Mayor of San Francisco from 2004 through 2010.

During his campaign he emphasized issues including the fight against homelessness, protecting immigrant families and defending California’s status as a sanctuary state, expanding health care for all and reducing income inequality.

Newsom has a history of taking bold and innovative steps. During his time as San Francisco mayor, he set the struggle for marriage equality on the path to ultimate success when he broke the law by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Newsom also led his city in creating the country’s first universal health care system, in which all residents could enroll regardless of immigration status.

Taking Newsom’s place as Lieutenant Governor will be Eleni Kounalakis, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Hungary during the Obama administration. She proudly describes herself as the daughter of an immigrant farm worker from Greece who later founded what’s now one of the state’s largest housing development firms. She herself rose through the ranks there, ultimately becoming the firm’s president. She has served on various governmental commissions in California, been a member of the California Democratic Central Committee, and worked in political campaigns including Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Controller Betty Yee, and Attorney General Xavier Becerra – all Democrats – each won reelection with over 60 percent of the vote, while newcomer Fiona Ma, a Democrat and former state Assemblymember, won election as Treasurer by a similar percentage.

Two state offices are still being called “close contests” by the Secretary of State.

Democratic former state Senator and Assemblymember Ricardo Lara and former Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner – a Republican now turned Independent – are contesting the office of Insurance Commissioner, with Lara holding a slim 50.8 to 48.2 percent lead.

Lara, elected to the California Assembly in 2010 and to the state Senate in 2012, has been a champion for progressive health care legislation, including introducing a 2017 bill, together with state Sen. Toni Atkins, that would have created a single-payer health system for the state. The bill passed the Senate, but never came up in the Assembly.

He has also pressed for the state’s Medi-Cal program (California’s Medicaid) to be available to undocumented immigrants. Three years ago his Senate Bill 4, to provide Medi-Cal coverage for all undocumented children, was signed into law by Gov. Brown.

In endorsing Lara, the California Labor Federation called him “a champion for health care for all,” defending the Affordable Care Act and standing up to “Big Pharma and the millionaire medical establishment” in the fight to lower health costs.

Poizner served as Insurance Commissioner from 2007 to 2011 while Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor. A Republican then, he is now running as an independent. The California Labor Federation pointed out that as Schwarzenegger’s Insurance Commissioner, Poizner “regularly sided with special interests like the insurance industry and against working people.” During an unsuccessful run for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2010, he made strong statements against undocumented immigrants.

In the other close contest – one of several Democrat vs Democrat contests under California’s “top two” primary rule – Marshall Tuck and former state Assemblymember Tony Thurmond are vying to become the next Superintendent of Public Education. At the moment Tuck leads Thurmond by 50.6 to 49.4 percent.

Thurmond was elected to the state Assembly in 2014, and before that had served on the West Contra Costa County School Board and the Richmond City Council. Among his goals: increase investment in public schools, lower class sizes, support teachers and get better funding for preschool and after-school programs. Thurmond sees quality education for all children as vital to ending the school-to-prison pipeline. Among his endorsers: the California Labor Federation and California Teachers Association.

Tuck, on the other hand, is a former Wall Street investment banker who later headed several charter school chains and was supported in his election bid by the California Charter School Association.

Democrats also won supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature, and a number of candidates with significant labor movement ties won election or re-election.

Among them is newly elected state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, who served for nearly a decade as secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles Federation of Labor, and is currently vice president of the hospitality union UNITE HERE International, representing hospitality workers in the U.S. and Canada. She won her election by nearly 63 percent. Durazo is also co-chair of the AFL-CIO’s Immigration Committee and a vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Another is state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, who was re-elected with a 67 percent majority. A former leader in the United Food and Commercial Workers union, she served as the first woman president of the California Labor Federation from 2004 until she was elected to the state Senate in 2014.


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.