3 top Democrats say they’ll run for California governor in 2026

The 2026 California governor’s race is on — and it could be an all-women contest.

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That’s the takeaway now that three of the state’s top constitutional officers — Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, Treasurer Fiona Ma, and Controller Betty Yee — told a Sacramento Press Club audience Tuesday that they’d throw their hats in the ring.

“I’m in!” said Yee, the first to answer a forum question about whether the Democratic leaders would run for governor.

Both Ma and Kounalakis, to the delight of about 150 in the Press Club audience, also raised their hands and said, “I’m in!” as the crowd erupted in applause.

The three have all been mentioned as potential candidates for the top office in California once Gov. Gavin Newsom can no longer run, presumably making 2026 their next opportunity. In the 2018 election, Yee not only garnered more votes than any other candidate in California, but she also ranked as the nation’s highest Democratic vote recipient of the 2018 election.

Kounalakis, a former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, became California’s first-ever female lieutenant governor in November. And Ma — the first female Asian-American speaker pro tem of the California Assembly — racked up more votes in 2018 than any other California state treasurer in history.

The three discussed issues and mostly agreed on topics ranging from President Donald Trump’s relationship with California to their view of Newsom’s job performance to date.

But they differed on the issue of a “split roll” change in the landmark Prop. 13 property tax law, which may come before voters in 2020 and has attracted support from labor unions.

Kounalakis and Ma spoke favorably about the change, which could generate several billions of dollars annually in higher commercial property taxes. But Yee said she did not think it would be the most effective means of collecting revenue for the state.

And unlike Kounalakis and Ma, Yee has not yet endorsed Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) for president, saying that as a self-described “policy wonk,’’ she wants to hear more from all of the candidates before she supports a candidate.

Kounalakis and Ma can run for reelection in 2022, but Yee will be termed out.

Republican John Cox told POLITICO last month that he's not ruling out another run for governor. Newsom defeated Cox by a landslide in November, by a 62-38 percent margin.