Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton won't seek state Senate seat in 2022 due to redistricting

Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton will not run for a state Senate seat next year, as the new legislative districts approved by California’s redistricting commission this week indicate Palm Springs and other west valley cities won’t hold another Senate election until 2024.

Middleton, who was first elected to the Palm Springs City Council in 2017 and became California’s first transgender mayor this month after rotating into the position, announced her plan to run as a Democrat for the state Senate in October.

However, California’s new legislative maps — finalized by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission late Monday — have thrown a wrench into Middleton’s political ambitions, at least temporarily.

The Coachella Valley’s current state Senate district — represented by Republican Melissa Melendez, who is unable to run again due to term limits — covers all nine of the valley’s cities, as well as southwestern parts of Riverside County, including Temecula, Lake Elsinore and Wildomar.

The new map gets rid of that district entirely, instead splitting the Coachella Valley into two state Senate districts.

Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Palm Desert, La Quinta, Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells will fall into the new Senate District 19.

Meanwhile, Indio and Coachella have been drawn into the new Senate District 18, which covers eastern Riverside County, Imperial County, a sliver of eastern San Bernardino County and the entire southern boundary of San Diego County. That district will hold its next election in 2022.

The timing issue is largely unavoidable for California’s state Senate districts, which have elections on four-year cycles. Palm Springs’ current Senate district last saw a general election in 2018 (followed by a special election won by Melendez in May 2020), meaning its next one would typically be in 2022.

But the maps approved by the commission place many of the valley’s western cities into a Senate district that last held its election in November 2020, creating a situation in which some voters have to either vote two years earlier or later than usual.

The commission tries to avoid the dynamic as much as possible, though redistricting Commissioner J. Ray Kennedy has said the two scenarios, referred to as deferral and acceleration by redistricting experts, are “inevitable to a certain extent,” especially given California’s rapid growth in certain regions.

Palm Springs’ Senate district is one of the most evenly split between those who last voted in 2018 and in 2020. A deferral report submitted to the redistricting commission this week shows 51.5% of the new district's voters most recently had a general election in 2020, while 48.5% of them most recently voted in a general election in 2018.

Middleton still planning Senate run in 2024

Middleton, who accrued a long list of endorsements from well-known figures such as former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis during her brief campaign, told The Desert Sun that she had mixed emotions about the delay.

“On one hand, I’m thrilled to be able to concentrate on city council responsibilities,” Middleton said. “There's every reason to believe I’ll be able to fill out my entire term on city council (through 2024).”

“At the same time, the Senate campaign had gotten off to a really nice start,” she continued. “I was absolutely thrilled with the endorsements that we’ve received. Fundraising was starting to move in a really positive direction, and the themes of the campaign were ones that I think were resonating with people.”

Middleton said she still plans to run for the local Senate seat in 2024, and she expects the new Senate district, which includes the San Gorgonio Pass cities of Banning and Beaumont and extends north to Apple Valley and Barstow, will be a competitive one.

“This is going to be an almost evenly drawn district between Republicans and Democrats,” Middleton said. “As we're used to in the desert, it is going to be an enormous district geographically. I didn’t know it was possible to get much bigger than we already were, but we did.”

Middleton added she was disappointed to see the Coachella Valley’s state Senate and congressional districts split, arguing the valley should have been kept intact as a single “community of interest.”

“(But) that die has been cast, and it's now time to move forward and makes sure that our region and our community gets the resources that we need from state and federal government,” Middleton said.

Instead of campaigning in 2022, Middleton said she will still be supporting other Democratic efforts, including the campaign of Palm Springs Councilmember Christy Holstege, who announced her run for Palm Springs’ state Assembly seat earlier this year.

“I think most of the energy here for Democrats is going to be focused on making sure that we do everything we can to retain a majority in the Senate and in the House (in Washington),” Middleton said.

It’s unclear whether other candidates eyeing the local Senate district will wait until 2024 or possibly run for something else. La Quinta Councilmember Steve Sanchez, who announced his campaign for the Senate seat in July, did not respond to a request for comment.

Tom Coulter covers politics. He can be reached at or on Twitter @tomcoulter_.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton won't run for state Senate seat in 2022