Monday, June 10, 2024







        There was rejoicing among California feminists earlier this year as they examined the list of candidates to succeed Gavin Newsom as California governor in 2026.


        That was because the early batch of candidates for months has been an almost all-female group, with Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis the first to declare, three years before the vote. Then Toni Atkins of San Diego, the former longtime president of the state Senate got in early this year. A couple of months later, they were joined by Betty Yee, the former state controller. Through this time, the only announced male candidate has been Tony Thurmond, a former Democratic assemblyman from Richmond and current state schools superintendent.


        But that female-dominated list won't stay intact for long. The closer the June 2, 2026 primary election gets (it’s now less than two years off), the more male prospects seem to appear.


        Thurmond, however, still remains the sole male making his ambitions official.


        But with an open seat at stake, the fieldwill not long lack a significant corps of men.


        One strong possibility is Rob Bonta, a former longtime Democratic legislator from Fremont first appointed state attorney general by Newsom in 2021. Bonta won election on his own the next year. Unlike other possibilities, he faces a key question: Should he risk entering a very crowded race where he’s not a lead-pipe cinch to even make the November 2026 runoff ballot or do the safe thing and easily win reelection to his current job?


        If Bonta runs and wins, he would become the first governor married to a member of the Legislature, as Bonta’s wife Mia was elected to his seat after he moved up, now representing Oakland and Emeryville in the Assembly.


     Bonta would continue Newsom’s emphasis on trying to solve the state’s housing shortage, the exact level of which is uncertain as Newsom has employed multiple, widely varied, numbers. But Bonta, who has sued many cities to force housing quotas upon them, would probably be tougher in this area than any other current gubernatorial prospect.


        Another possible male candidate is Xavier Becerra, the current U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. Becerra, who preceded Bonta as attorney general, has been quietly efficient in the cabinet, but would be out of a job if President Biden loses this fall.


        Becerra spent 25 years in Congress from East Los Angeles before ex-Gov. Jerry Brown tapped him as California attorney general in 2017, when current Vice President Kamala Harris stepped up to the U.S. Senate. He won election on his own the next year. Becerra, a tough voting rights advocate while attorney general, might have problems in a big Democratic field, but also might attract most Latino votes in a group that otherwise may not include significant Hispanic candidates.


        A wild card, and perhaps the best bet among today’s possible candidates to make the runoff is Chad Bianco, the ultra-vocal conservative sheriff of Riverside County.


        Bianco, the only Republican currently known to be considering a run, might be able to duplicate the achievement of current Senate nominee Steve Garvey and consolidate Republican and right-leaning voters with no party preference into a bloc large enough to match the followings of major Democrats seeking a runoff slot.


        Bianco became a hero to some conservatives as one of several “scofflaw sheriffs” refusing to enforce Newsom’s 2020 pandemic-induced stay-at-home orders or any masking mandates.


        Currently he’s among the leading law enforcement figures backing an initiative that aims to roll back some of the criminal justice changes wrought by the 2014 Proposition 47, blamed by many police for increased shoplifting and other property crime because it reduced felony prosecutions. 


        Of all these figures, Kounalakis, Yee, Becerra and Bonta have previously appeared on statewide ballots, usually an advantage when running for governor or the Senate. And Kounalakis, daughter of wealthy Sacramento developer Angelo Tsakopoulos, will have virtually unlimited funds, as she did when running for her current office.


        So it’s anybody’s guess who might emerge as the leader in this race, but for sure the campaign no longer shapes up as an all-but guaranteed win for one of the woman candidates.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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