Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton announced Monday she is running for the state Senate, looking to fill a spot in the 28th District that will not have an incumbent in the race.
The district currently includes parts of the Coachella Valley but could change after redistricting. Republican Melissa Melendez currently holds the seat but will not be eligible due to term limits. Her campaign website indicates she may run for Lieutenant Governor in 2022.
“In the state Senate, I will work to return our state and country back to a place where a crisis — whether it be a pandemic, wildfire, or earthquake — is not an opportunity for partisanship but for us to work together to save lives,” Middleton said in a news release announcing her candidacy. “In our state, it is always going to be not if, but when and how bad is the next emergency.”
Middleton is the second member of the Palm Springs City Council to announce a bid for a higher office. Mayor Christy Holstege announced her bid for the State Assembly in July. Holstege could face incumbent Chad Mayes for that role. Middleton could face La Quinta City Councilmember Steve Sanchez, who announced in July he would seek the Senate seat.
Middleton made history in 2017 when she was elected to the Palm Springs City Council, becoming the first transgender person in California history elected to a non-judicial position. If elected to the state Senate, she would be the first openly transgender state legislator in California’s history.
She has a long history in public service. Before her election to the City Council, Middleton served as a member of the Palm Springs Planning Commission, chairwoman of the Organized Neighborhoods of Palm Springs (ONE-PS), and interim executive director of the Desert LGBTQ Center.
In April 2019, California Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Middleton to the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), which provides pensions to 1.9 million people and health benefits to over 1.5 million people with investment assets exceeding $450 billion. She serves as chair of the organization’s Risk & Audit Committee and vice-chair of the Governance Committee.
All of that came after she retired from a 36 year-career with California’s State Compensation Insurance Fund. Her first job in government entailed performing workers’ compensation audits in the factories and meat-packing plants not far from where she grew up. At her retirement, she was the senior vice president of internal affairs; she also chaired the California Fraud Assessment Commission.
Middleton is a first-generation college student who grew up in a working-class community in East Los Angeles. She graduated from East Los Angeles College, UCLA, and USC, receiving her master’s in public administration from USC. She has earned awards from the California Workers Compensation Institute, Palm Springs Pride Association, Equality California, Democratic Women of the Desert, SAGE/LGBT Senior Advocates, Desert LGBTQ Center, and the California State Legislative LGBTQ Caucus.
Middleton and her wife Cheryl have been together since 2000. They married in 2013 shortly after moving to Palm Springs. Middleton is the parent of two educators.