State Sen. Steven Bradford launches 2026 campaign for California lieutenant governor

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SACRAMENTO, California — State Sen. Steven Bradford is officially launching his campaign for California lieutenant governor, entering a relatively sparse field as other Democrats jockey for the state’s top job.

Bradford, from Gardena, has spent 15 years in the state Legislature and become known as an outspoken critic of the criminal justice system. He’s one of two state lawmakers to have served on California’s first-in-the-nation reparations task force, and this year is a leading champion of reparations bills in the Capitol.

California’s lieutenant governors have little power, but the position is often seen as a stepping stone to higher office. Gov. Gavin Newsom held the job for eight years before his election to the governor’s office, and current Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis is a frontrunner in the crowded field to succeed him in 2026.

Bradford told POLITICO he has no interest in eventually running for governor, and that he’s focused on what he can do as lieutenant governor, including serving as a full voting member of the state’s higher education systems.

“A lot of people hear this job title and think it’s a really sexy position,” he said. “But it’s really in the weeds.”

At least half a dozen other candidates have also opened fundraising committees for the 2026 lieutenant governor race, but before Bradford, only state Treasurer Fiona Ma had officially launched a campaign. Ma, who has held that statewide job since 2019, has a slight advantage over Bradford when it comes to name recognition.

Bradford started his political career as a Gardena City Council member, and since being elected to the state Assembly in 2009 has held many leadership positions, including as head of the Senate public safety committee.

He currently serves as chair of the prominent Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee.

As a college student, Bradford said he was mentored by California’s first Black lieutenant governor, Mervyn Dymally, whose son attended school with him at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

The senator attributed his political career to Dymally, who at the time, was a member of Congress.

“I went to school to be a doctor,” Bradford said. “I met him in my senior year and he encouraged me to get involved in my community, and I switched my major to poli sci.”

Bradford said upon the launch of his campaign Monday that Californians are struggling, and he wants to address issues like housing costs, the mental health crisis, gun violence, homelessness, underfunded schools, climate change and the cost of living.

“While California has led the nation on enacting smart, forward-thinking policies, the reality is that we must do more to solve our many challenges,” he said in a statement.

This is the first race Bradford has run outside of his district and he will need a significant war chest to mount a statewide campaign to reach California’s 20 million registered voters. At the end of 2023, Bradford had $457,000 in his lieutenant governor campaign account and a total of $190,000 in two other state campaign accounts.

Ma’s latest fundraising figures, filed in February, showed her holding more than $3 million cash on hand.