High school government and history teacher Gary Blenner may be a longtime contender to be elected California secretary of state this year. Nevertheless, he crosses another political pink ceiling in the Golden State.
Blenner is the first known gay Green Party candidate to qualify for a California statewide primary race. He is one of five statewide LGBTQ nominees this year.
“I haven’t received any negative feedback about it. I haven’t received any positive feedback either. I’m running on my ideas,” said Blenner, 55, who lives in Antelope, outside Sacramento. . “I’ve always been interested in running for secretary of state. One of my areas of interest is electoral reform.”
Another Green Party member, Veronika Fimbres, a transgender nurse from San Francisco, is running in the primary race for California insurance commissioner. She is one of eight challengers vying against gay insurance commissioner Ricardo Lara (D).
Four years ago, Lara became the first LGBTQ person elected to statewide office from the Golden State. He had a bumpy first term and faces a tough re-election campaign.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, an independent, is running against Attorney General Rob Bonta. And gay Los Angeles City Comptroller Ron Galperin is now seeking election as State Comptroller.
He is one of four Democrats seeking an open seat as Comptroller Betty Yee is removed from office this year. Among the quartet are former San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen, currently a member of the state Equalization Board, and State Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), while Republican Lanhee Chen is also fighting to survive. in the primary and qualify for the November ballot.
California’s first known candidate for a statewide position was Tony Miller, a gay man nominated to fill the vacancy created when March Fong Eu resigned as secretary of state. He lost his 1994 run for a full term. Two decades later, fellow gay Democrat John A. Perez, then Speaker of the Assembly, failed to become the comptroller of the state.
Blenner faces an uphill battle this year as he runs against Secretary of State Shirley Weber, the first African American to hold the statewide position. Governor Gavin Newsom has tapped the 2020 former Democratic Assemblyman from San Diego to fill the vacancy created when he nominated Alex Padilla as California’s first Latino senator to the U.S. Congress. Padilla and Weber are now seeking full terms this year in their elected positions.
With four Republicans and one independent also in the June 7 primary ballot for secretary of state, Blenner hopes his GOP opponents will eventually split the vote of their party members enough to allow him to be one of the top two voters to advance to the November ballot. He is part of the Left Unity Slate which the statewide Green Party formed this year along with the Peace and Freedom Party.
To do so, he plans to run cable TV ads aimed at voters in select cities across the state, such as San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, who could support his platform.
“What I’m fighting for in my candidacy is to try to open up the process and not stop people from voting,” Blenner said. “I want to give people realistic choices about how to vote in the future.”
He is a big proponent of preferential voting, noting that its use not only benefits candidates from all political parties, but also reduces the cost of holding elections. And he wants to change the way campaigns are funded.
“It’s important to get PAC and corporate money out of campaign finances,” Blenner said, referring to political action committees. “I would like something in our state constitution that puts an end to corporate personality.”
He also supports a proposed ballot measure that would change the way members of the State Assembly are elected. Rather than having 80 separate seats in the Assembly, the idea would be to create eight large regional constituencies where 30 candidates would be elected to serve, bringing the number of Assembly members to 240.
“It would result in coalitions to govern, not just coalitions to get elected,” Blenner explained.
He pointed to a Democratic lawmaker’s failed attempt this month to try to ban cities from using ranked ballots, like San Francisco and Oakland, as an example of how some Democrats want to restrict the right to vote. vote.
“What I would say to Democrats is if you vote for the Democratic Party because you think it is pure idealist and progressive, they are not. You should consider the Green Party as the real progressive alternative in the state of California,” Blenner said.
Born in the Queens borough of New York, Blenner moved at age 13 with his parents to Fremont in the Bay Area. He graduated from UC Davis in 1988 with a double major in political science and history.
After two years at Lincoln Law School, a private college in Sacramento, Blenner dropped out to become a teacher and earned a master’s degree in education from National University. He has taught in the San Juan Unified School District since 1994.
He first came out as gay to a friend when he was 26, having led a closed life until then. He joined the Green Party after the 1988 midterm elections, although registered as a Democrat from 2012 to 2016 in order to vote for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) as he sought the presidential nomination of left.
He is currently the co-coordinator of the Sacramento County Green Party, having helped revive the local chapter of the party.
This isn’t Blenner’s first time running for public office, but it is as an openly gay candidate. Blenner twice ran unsuccessfully for county supervisor in 2012 and 2016.
In 2006, he was elected to the school board of the Sacramento County Central Unified School District, but lost his bid for re-election four years later.
“I think I was defeated in part because I took the position that students needed to be exposed to LGBTQ+ ideas in the Grade 10 health and safety curriculum. Evangelical groups didn’t like that” , recalled Blenner, who also tried to get his board of directors to pass a resolution in favor of same-sex marriage amid the 2008 election fight over Proposition 8, which banned such marriages in California until then be overturned by the courts. “My neighborhood was more conservative than it is now.”
To learn more about Blenner, visit his Facebook page.
Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com on Monday mornings for Political Notes, the blog’s online companion. This week’s column previewed the second round of Tuesday’s Assembly Special Race in San Francisco.
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