CDT Analysis: In previous elections we have endorsed progressive women (and especially women of color) candidates and elected officials as part of ensuring our state legislature is more reflective and representative of our communities. Gender equity continues to be a priority for CDT, and the recently heightened awareness and action around sexual harassment and abuse of power by male State Senators and Assemblymembers highlight how this will be a key lens through which we make endorsements in 2018.
By Kevin Modesti
December 25, 2017
In the month since Raul Bocanegra became the first California politician knocked out of office by this year’s wave of sexual harassment scandals, four Democrats have shown interest in running in a special election to fill his Los Angeles-area Assembly seat. Three of the four candidates are women. So are several other rumored candidates.
It’s probably not a coincidence.
If 2018 shapes up as a good time for women to run for office, then it stands to reason that elections for state legislative offices will be the most promising place for women to run. Accusations of predatory behavior toward women by politically powerful men have focused on the state capitol in Sacramento. The theory goes that voters will see putting more women in power as part of the solution — or at least as a way to register disgust.
That theory will face its first test in the April 3 special-election primary in the northeast San Fernando Valley district that Bocanegra represented until his Nov. 27 resignation and a yet-to-be-scheduled special election in the west Valley district of Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, who announced Dec. 8 that he will step down after being accused of sexual misconduct by several women.
Women — and men — who want to see more gender parity in California politics scored one victory this month when Wendy Carrillo defeated fellow Democrat Luis Lopez by 7 percentage points in a special election to fill the L.A.-area Assembly seat formerly held by now-U.S. Rep. Jimmy Gomez. Some analysts think being a woman helped Carrillo to win.
But women have a long way to go if the goal is literal equality. Women hold 18 of California’s 80 Assembly seats and nine of the 40 state Senate seats. That’s 22.5 percent, even lower than the 24 percent of state legislative seats nationwide that are held by women, according to statistics from Emily’s List, the Washington, D.C.-based political action committee that works to elect Democratic women.
For 2018, the enthusiasm of women to compete in the California legislative primaries June 5 is evident in the lists of candidates who have already filed statements of intention to run with the Secretary of State’s Office. In districts entirely or partly in Los Angeles County, for instance, women comprise 45 percent of candidates for the state Senate (compared to 37 percent of primary candidates in those districts’ latest elections in 2014) and 28 percent of candidates for the Assembly (compared to 23 percent in 2016 primaries).
They include Democrats Patty Lopez, who held the office in 2014-16; Marlin Medrano and Bonnie Corwin in the race to succeed Bocanegra in Assembly District 39. Other candidates in that race so far are Democrat Antonio Sanchez, Republican Ricardo Benitez and the Green Party’s Steve Correa. Other women are considered possibilities to run.
In Dababneh’s Assembly District 45, Democrat Samantha Stevens has declared her candidacy, So have three men, Democrats Ankur Patel and Jesse Gabriel and Republican Republican Justin Clark. Stevens, a political consultant, begins a “Dear Friends” message on her campaign website with a gender-themed appeal.
“For over 30 years in government and politics, I’ve been inspired by courageous women who have had the determination and foresight to run for office against the odds and make a difference. Now, the time is right for me to join them,” writes Stevens, who was one of 140 women in California government who signed an October open letter decrying sexual harassment in the capital.
Other notable state legislative elections involving women in Southern California so far:
- Three Democratic women are in the race for the open seat in state Senate District 22, representing parts of the San Gabriel Valley. One is Susan Rubio, ex-wife of former Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, whom she accused of physically assaulting her when they were married.
- Three women, two Democrats and a Republican, are challenging Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach, in District 74.
Having more women candidates could make Assembly and Senate races a center of what many political professionals say will be a new Year of the Women in U.S. politics, a predicted response to the harassment scandals as well as Hillary Clinton’s loss to President Trump. The first Year of the Woman was 1992, when the election of four women to the U.S. Senate was attributed to backlash from the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court despite sexual-harassment allegations. California became the first state to elect two women senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.