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    Breaking California’s Lieutenant Governor Glass Ceiling

    By Louise “Lou” Fischer–

    It’s been almost 2 years since the 2016 presidential election, and some of us are still sitting shivah (mourning) over the defeat of Hillary Clinton (we were robbed!). While we didn’t get the woman who beat the “winner” by over 3 million votes, we have some incredible women running for local, state and federal offices in 2018. As I stated in a previous column,            ( ), the election of Donald Trump galvanized the women’s movement, the result of which is a beautiful blue wave of Democratic women running for office throughout the country.  Many are first-time candidates and two notable women, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, defeated 20-year Congressional male incumbents in their respective primaries.

    In November, Americans could elect over 100 women to the U.S. House of Representatives; the addition of 30–40 new women would shatter the record of 1992’s “Year of the Woman.” 2018 is clearly a backlash to President Trump’s election. As English playwright William Congreve said in 1697, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” We’re not just scorned, we’re more furious than anything hell or the devil himself could cook up.

    This November, we can shatter a glass ceiling right here in our own backyard. California has never elected a woman Lieutenant Governor. We were taunted in 2009 with a temporary appointee, Mona Pasquil, but she only served for 174 days. This is our chance: former Ambassador to Hungary and longtime Democratic activist, Eleni Kounalakis prevailed over a crowded field of 11 candidates in a top-two primary and will be competing against Democratic State Senator Ed Hernandez in November. As this is not an endorsement column, which would require an equal-length rebuttal, I’ll keep the Bay Times publishing staff out of trouble and suggest that you make your own decision in this race, but the words “glass ceiling” are in the title of this article … just saying.

    Eleni Kounalakis, a 5’2” (in heels!) dynamo who lives here in San Francisco, was born and raised in Sacramento. The daughter of Greek immigrants, she was the first member of her family to graduate from college. Her father built a successful real estate construction business where Eleni worked for many years. She served as a 5-time delegate to the Democratic Convention and is close friends with 2 of our political “sheroes,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. 

    President Obama appointed Kounalakis as ambassador to Hungary in 2010, where she had a front-row seat to the takeover of the country by an autocratic demagogue, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who proceeded to consolidate power within his base, call into question the freedom of the press and set limits on judicial independence. Does that sound familiar?   

    I recently caught up with Kounalakis—in a crowded room of tall people, two 5’2” women will invariably find each other—and spoke with her about the campaign, goals for California and where I can get authentic moussaka in San Francisco. (I never did get the answer to that last question.)

    Lou Fischer: What made you decide to run for office?

    Eleni Kounalakis: On the night of the November 2016 election, not only did we fail to break the ultimate glass ceiling, but it also felt like the floor fell out from under us. I knew I had to come off the sidelines and get into the game. As a mom and hardworking activist for marriage equality and gender and racial equity, I have worked throughout my life to fight for equal rights. The role of Lieutenant Governor is a natural fit; I will fight hard for equality for all Californians in policy, government, and every aspect of society. We need champions and advocates to ensure people from marginalized communities have a voice in our state government.                

    Lou Fischer: So what does the Lt. Governor do anyhow?

    Eleni Kounalakis: California’s Lt. Governor chairs the Commission for Economic Development, serves on the UC Board of Regents and the CSU Board of Trustees, and is one of three members of the State Lands Commission. I’m a committed environmentalist, so I chose to run for this seat to do my part to combat climate change and fight against the Trump administration’s plans to expand offshore oil drilling.

    Lou Fischer: What are your goals if (when!) you win in November?

    Eleni Kounalakis: I managed a very successful real estate construction business. I know what it takes to fund and build housing efficiently. I will work to address the affordability crisis in California by advancing policies that increase the supply of affordable housing while protecting our environment. As the first woman to be elected Lt. Governor, I will use the office as a bully pulpit to help ensure women have equal pay and equal treatment in the workplace and that our legislators provide universal healthcare to our people and affordable higher education for our students. I will fight to bring down the cost of a UC and CSU education. I am the only candidate in this race to pledge not to vote for tuition increases for California’s kids.

    Lou Fischer: You know the Bay Times is an LGBT newspaper, so as the song goes, “What have you done for us lately?”

    Eleni Kounalakis: I am very proud to be the first U.S. Ambassador in Budapest to march in the Pride Parade and the first to contribute cultural funds to support Budapest Pride Week, which provided an extra layer of protection for the organizers. I am proud to have the support of Equality California, Stonewall Democratic Club, your very own Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club and Stonewall Democrats in this race.

    Lou Fischer: California is one of 22 states that have never elected a female governor. Do you think we will finally get that chance in 2026, or are we doomed to members of the Boys Club for the foreseeable future?

    Eleni Kounalakis: Incredible women are stepping forward to run for office at all levels. I hope we see a growing number of women in our state legislature and Constitutional offices, and yes, as Governor. I’m proud to be an Emerge sister, and part of this powerful network of women supporting women running—and winning. We need more women in office, especially women of color and those from marginalized communities.

    This interview has been edited for length and the limits of the author’s memory, which diminished in direct proportion to the amount of white wine consumed.

    Louise (Lou) Fischer is the Immediate Past Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and has served as an appointed and elected Delegate for the State Democratic Party. She is a proud graduate of the Emerge California Women’s Democratic Leadership program, was a San Francisco Commissioner and has served in leadership positions in multiple non-profit and community-based organizations.