Ricardo Lara Could Be California's First Out Statewide Official

Ricardo Lara

California could elect its first openly gay statewide official this fall in Ricardo Lara, who was one of the top two finishers for insurance commissioner in the state’s primary Tuesday.

Under California’s “top two” system, the two leading vote recipients in the primary, regardless of party, advance to the general election. Tuesday night, Lara, a Democrat who is currently a state senator, was running second to Steve Poizner, a former state insurance commissioner and former Republican, now an independent.

With 22 percent of precincts reporting, Poizner had 43.6 percent of the vote and Lara 38.3 percent, with all other candidates far behind, assuring Poizner and Lara will vie for the office in November, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor and longtime LGBT ally, was the top finisher in the governor’s race, with 34 percent of the vote late Tuesday. But in the fall, he will not face fellow Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles, as some observers had expected. The second-place finisher was John Cox, a Republican businessman supported by Donald Trump, with a hard line against unauthorized immigration. The winner in November will replace Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who is retiring.

In other major California races, longtime U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, also an ally, easily finished first in her primary, but who she’ll face in November remained open to question late Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times. Kevin de León, a state senator and fellow Democrat, has been expected to finish second and advance to the general election, but Republican James P. Bradley could edge him out, the Times reports.

In the 41st Congressional District in Southern California, incumbent Democrat Mark Takano, the only openly gay person of color in Congress, was leading Republican challenger Aja Smith in early returns, but because of the top two system, they’ll face off again in November.

Mark Leno, a former California state senator trying to become San Francisco’s first gay major, was neck and neck with London Breed early Wednesday. The San Francisco race is not a primary; the winner will become mayor, succeeding Ed Lee, who died in December. After the sorting of ballots in which voters ranked their choices, Leno stood at 50.42 percent to Breed’s 49.58 percent, according to Equality California, which had endorsed him. “Tonight, we are cautiously optimistic that Senator Mark Leno may finally break San Francisco’s rainbow glass ceiling,” said Equality California executive director Rick Zbur in a press release. “We’re proud to have stood with him in this critical race and look forward to the final results.”

In San Francisco's ranked-choice system, voters select their top three favorites. “The candidates with the least votes are eliminated in rounds until there's a winner,” explains San Francisco TV station KGO. Leno was holding on to his lead later Wednesday morning.

In other states holding primaries Tuesday, with more conventional systems than California’s: In New Jersey, Julia Fahl pulled off a surprising upset in the small, artsy town of Lambertville, on the Delaware River, winning the Democratic mayoral primary over David DelVecchio, who has been mayor for 27 years. There is no Republican candidate, so she’s assured of election in November.

In Iowa, state Rep. Liz Bennett, an out lesbian, had no opponent in the Democratic primary and in November will face George Olmsted, who was unopposed in the Republican primary.

Also in Iowa, one of the most anti-LGBT members of the U.S. House, Republican Steve King, easily won his primary in the Fourth Congressional District, but some observers think the winner of the Democratic primary, J.D. Scholten, could beat him in November. Scholten is a former minor league baseball pitcher who has gotten some national attention with his entry into politics. He’s also an LGBT ally. “I stand for equality and civil rights for ALL, without hesitation and without caveats,” his website states under the “LGBT Rights” heading. “No one should be discriminated against because of who they are when it has no impact of the lives or well-being of others. That is not what this country stands for.”

In Alabama, Neil Rafferty, a gay man running for state House in the Birmingham-centered 54th District, appeared headed for a runoff with Jacqueline Gray Miller in the Democratic primary, AL.com reports. With most precincts reporting, Rafferty had 48 percent of the vote, but he would need more than 50 percent to avoid a runoff. Miller had 28 percent. There is no Republican running, so the winner of the runoff will succeed Patricia Todd, the only out state representative, who is not seeking reelection. Another out candidate, Felicia Stewart, running for state House in the nearby 46th District, was unopposed in the Democratic primary and will face incumbent Republican David Faulkner in November.

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