Political Notebook: Career trajectory has Assemblyman primed to be next speaker
by Matthew S. Bajko
From the get-go, the political career of gay state Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) has mirrored that of lesbian state Senator Toni Atkins (D-San Diego).
It is a fact Gloria readily acknowledges, crediting her for giving him his start in politics when Atkins, in 2005, named him a San Diego housing commissioner.
"She appointed me to the city's housing council, and I have made a career of following Toni Atkins ever since," Gloria told the Bay Area Reporter one rainy morning in February during an interview at coffeehouse Spike's in San Francisco's gay Castro district.
In 2008, he succeeded her on the San Diego City Council in the District 3 seat, centered in the southern California city's gay-centric neighborhoods of Hillcrest and University Heights. Both served as interim mayors after scandals led the elected occupants of the position to resign, Gloria from August 2014 through March 2015 and Atkins during the last six months of 2005.
Last year, with Atkins termed out of her 78th Assembly District seat and running for a state Senate seat, Gloria entered the race to succeed her in the Legislature's lower chamber. With her endorsement, he faced only token opposition from a Republican opponent in the heavily Democratic district.
"I tried to debate my opponent," said Gloria. "I was delighted that he challenged me to debate and then he was a no show. I had a lovely, lengthy conversation about my constituents' needs."
Similar to Atkins, who by the end of her first term was named majority leader of the Democrats in the Assembly, Gloria has also been tapped for a top party post as a freshman lawmaker. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) in December named Gloria as one of two assistant majority whips, tasked with helping to count votes for legislation. (Atkins was first named majority whip shortly after being elected in 2010.)
"That was entirely up to the speaker. I told him I am here to help," said Gloria when asked if he had sought out to be part of the leadership. "I like being part of a team. I found success on the city council being a team player. I told him I would be happy to serve wherever I can be most successful."
His trajectory up the Democratic Party leadership ranks leads to the inevitable question if Gloria, 38, will vie for the speakership himself. In May 2014 Atkins became the first lesbian, and only second out lawmaker, to become Assembly speaker, serving in the powerful position until March of last year.
The answer depends, in part, on how long Rendon remains in the Assembly; under the state's term limit rules, he could retain his seat through 2024. As for Gloria, should he opt to run for and serve all of the 12 years he is allowed to as a state lawmaker in the Assembly, he won't be termed out until 2028.
Asked if he was interested in being speaker one day, Gloria replied, "I don't know about that. It is a tough job," noting he knew from experience having served as president of the San Diego City Council. (It is one area where his resume diverges from Atkins, who never served as council president.)
When asked about possibly running for mayor of San Diego in 2020 when Kevin Falconer, now serving his second four-year term, will be termed out of office, Gloria didn't rule it out.
"If you had asked me before the whole disaster of November, I would have said, 'No,'" replied Gloria, referring to the election of Donald Trump as president. He added he is "lucky" in that he does have "good options" in terms of his political future.
For now, Gloria said he is "really enjoying" serving in the Assembly, adding that, "I came to the Capitol to do important things," pointing, in particular, to the bill he has co-authored with gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) to amend the state laws that criminalize HIV transmission. "On the city council you find out very quickly the state is really important."
Named chair of the Assembly's Select Committee on Housing Affordability for the Middle and Working Class, Gloria has also made addressing the state's housing crisis a top concern.
"My focus is on middle class and workforce housing. These are folks who will never qualify for Section 8 housing because they make too much money but they are also housing insecure," said Gloria, who is single and lives in San Diego's Mission Hills neighborhood.
A native of San Diego, Gloria graduated from the University of San Diego and worked for the county Health and Human Services Agency. He also served as district director to Congresswoman Susan A. Davis .
(A Democrat, Davis will turn 73 in April and is regularly rumored to be thinking of retiring. When she does, Gloria is well positioned to run for her seat, potentially becoming the second gay man among California's congressional delegation, though Atkins has also been floated as a potential successor.)
He is the Assembly's first Native American, Filipino, Puerto Rican, and Dutch gay member. His maternal grandparents were Native American and white but identified as Caucasian, while his paternal grandfather was a member of the Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, of which Gloria is an enrolled member.
"My grandparents come from all over the world," Gloria explained.
His mixed ancestry has benefited him in unlikely ways at the ballot box, with some voters selecting him thinking he is Latino. Others have checked off his name believing he was a female candidate.
"Because of my last name, people have thought it was a woman's name," said Gloria. "The council field I ran in in 2008 was devoid of women. But some people, when I would knock on their front door and meet them, would say I am voting for that Gloria woman."
Political Notes, the notebook's online companion, will return Monday, March 20.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail email@example.com.