Hillary Clinton backs Eleni Kounalakis for California governor

After her friend and former boss lost the presidential race in 2016, Democrat Eleni Kounalakis remembers Hillary Clinton urging women to run for office.

It was a pivotal moment that inspired Kounalakis to run for lieutenant governor of California in 2018, a position that now forms the basis of his recently launched campaign for become the state’s first female governor.

That effort will be bolstered Thursday when Kounalakis is expected to announce an endorsement from Clinton, who says she wants to help her friend “break California’s glass ceiling.”

“Eleni has proven herself to be a fierce leader,” Clinton said in a statement praising Kounalakis for education, the economy and access to abortion. “It’s the California way, and in 2026 it will be the Eleni Kounalakis way.”

With Governor Gavin Newsom out of office after 2026, the race for governor is expected to attract a wide range of contenders hoping to lead the nation’s largest state. Democrat Betty Yee, the former State Comptroller, said she planned to show up. Democratic Atti. General Rob Bonta said he was thinking about it.

But Kounalakis was the first to officially launch a gubernatorial campaign when she announced it last month. Now, she follows up with high-profile mentions that also include the support of former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer of California, another barrier breaker. Boxer and Senator Dianne Feinstein became the first woman elected to represent California in the Senate in 1992.

“Endorsements like that show she has the traditional party luminaries who are women on her side,” said Kim Nalder, professor of political science at California State University, Sacramento. “These are important endorsements.”

Although Kounalakis is unknown to many voters, Nalder said, endorsements from well-known Democrats such as Clinton and Boxer will help boost her credibility with the state’s majority Democratic electorate.

“The fact that this is happening relatively early shows that she’s probably making moves to try to weed out other potential candidates,” Nalder said.

The ties between Kounalakis and Clinton go back decades. Kounalakis’ father, Sacramento developer Angelo Tsakopoulos, was a major donor to President Clinton who attended a state dinner and spent the night at the White House in 1997.

Kounalakis helped raising funds for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008 then worked for her when Clinton was Secretary of State and Kounalakis was Ambassador to Hungary. In 2016, Kounalakis was California co-chairman of Clinton’s presidential campaign, helping raise funds and advising on foreign policy.

“I could go all the way back to 1992, when Hillary Clinton first inspired me,” Kounalakis said Wednesday in an interview with The Times.

She recalled the downfall that year when Clinton said she “could have stayed home and baked cookies” but pursued a legal career instead.

“Even though she had to apologize for the comment, for many years afterwards, for a child like me, I took it as permission to go out and do greater things in the world,” Kounalakis said. .

The inspiration she took from Clinton grew over the years and became transformative after she lost the presidential race to Donald Trump.

“This catastrophic election has affected me like so many women,” Kounalakis said. “When Hillary stood up and said, ‘Women of America, go run for office,’ I was one of thousands of women, a record number of women across the country, who stood up and showed up.”

In 2018, Kounalakis became California’s first female lieutenant governor. It’s a low-key post, but she’s used it, in part, to advance women’s issues. She played a big role in the campaign for Proposition 1 last year to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution and wore a white suffragette when she became the first woman in the history of California to sign a bill while Newsom was traveling out of state.

Los Angeles Times

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