The race for second place

California may elect its first woman lieutenant governor

Senator Liz Figueroa

Senator Liz Figueroa

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Mary Carey—the porn star turned recall-era gubernatorial candidate—announced this week that she will not be pursuing California’s second-highest elected office.

Carey—legally Mary Cook—had declared her intention to run for lieutenant governor, after dropping $5,000 at a Republican fund-raising dinner at the White House in June.

But last week, Mark Kulkis, president of Kick Ass Pictures, the Los Angeles company that puts out Carey’s XXX-rated videos, told SN&R that running a statewide campaign without a political party as backer is daunting.

“It’s just too impossible,” said Kulkis, who was Carey’s campaign manager in 2003.

Carey would have shone a light—albeit, a circus-tent spotlight—on a race that is usually overshadowed by the campaign for governor.

However, the race may now receive more high-minded attention, because, in these early months, it is shaping up to be a race about gender.

Senator Liz Figueroa, D-Fremont, has begun her campaign by focusing on the fact that she would be the first female to hold the office.

“It’s a win-win. I would be not just the first woman, but the first Latina,” Figueroa said, adding that she sees herself as a role model for a segment of the population that does not perceive itself as well-served in Sacramento.

Some politics-watchers say it’s a campaign strategy that could serve Figueroa well.

“Women can sometimes capitalize on their outsider status,” said Kimberly Nalder, who teaches political science at California State University, Sacramento.

Bruce Cain, director of the University of California, Berkeley, Institute of Governmental Studies, said the time may be ripe for a woman to use her gender to her advantage.

Senator Jackie Speier

“The progress of women in higher office has mysteriously screeched to a halt since 1992,” he said. “Women haven’t slid back, but they just haven’t moved forward.”

Currently, no statewide elected offices in California are held by women.

“It’s kind of a weird thing that in California, which is generally seen as a progressive—a forward-thinking—state, that we haven’t had a woman lieutenant governor, or governor,” Nalder said. “It’s still a boys club at this point.”

But in the June primary, Figueroa will face Senator Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco, who, too, would be the first woman to be elected lieutenant governor.

“I’m defining myself in a different way,” Speier said last week following a fund-raiser she attended with Gloria Steinem, perhaps this country’s most well-known feminist. “I think there are bigger issues than gender in this election.”

Speier hopes to refocus the state’s No. 2 political job on issues of education.

“I want to transform that office into something meaningful for the voters of the state,” she said, adding that she would aim to be a “guardian for higher education.”

Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, too, said the office provides an “extraordinary opportunity to drive public policy.” He is the only Democratic candidate with statewide name recognition. But as of the most recent campaign-finance filings with the secretary of state’s office, he also had the least cash on hand. As of June 30, Speier has nearly $2 million in cash, almost twice as much as Garamendi and Figueroa combined.

On the Republican side of the race, state Senator Tom McClintock is the biggest name. McClintock ran for governor during the recall election and took in 13.5 percent of the total votes cast.

Some see the lieutenant governorship as a springboard for higher office.

“While it’s not, in and of itself, a powerful position, it does give you a stepping stone,” Cain said. “It gives you a statewide audience.”

Only two of California’s 45 lieutenant governors, one of whom was Gray Davis, have gone on to win election to the governor’s office. Seven others assumed the governorship because of a death or resignation. Those are decent odds that make the lieutenant job a serious one—one too serious, some say, for a candidate like porn star Carey.

“I don’t think she wants to be taken seriously,” Nalder said. “She’s just trying to sell more thongs.”