Torie Osborn, a veteran gay activist, is campaigning for a new Assembly district that stretches from West Hollywood to Malibu. She's been lining up big endorsements, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

But Osborn is facing powerful opposition from an unexpected source: Assembly Speaker John Pérez. The speaker is backing Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, who plans to move from Marina del Rey into the new 50th district.

If neither side backs down, the contest could cost millions and drive a wedge through the L.A. Democratic Party.

“This is gonna be the most exciting Assembly race in Southern California,” said party chair Eric Bauman.

Osborn's supporters hope it doesn't come to that. They argue that a seat that includes West Hollywood should be represented by a gay person. (Butler is straight.)

“The way this district has come out — this area is really our area,” said Alisa Sommers, a gay activist in West Hollywood who is supporting Osborn. “The fact that Torie is a lesbian is important to me.”

Assemblywoman Betsy Butler

Assemblywoman Betsy Butler

The irony of the situation is that Pérez is also gay. But evidently he sees his first job as speaker as protecting incumbents, no matter their sexual orientation.

“The Speaker has chosen to declare his allegiance to his current members,” said former Sen. Sheila Kuehl, who is backing Osborn. “He has been, I think, very proud that the LGBT caucus is as big as it is. I would wish he would think about that in his allegiances.”

Much of Butler's current district has been drawn into the new 66th district, which is split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Butler apparently feels she stands a better chance in the 50th, which leans heavily Democratic.

Bauman, who is an adviser to Pérez, pushed back against the claim that the 50th ought to be represented by a gay person.

“It's not a gay seat,” he said. “There are many gay people in the Legislature now. That's a bogus argument.”

Bauman said that Osborn would make an “outstanding” legislator. But, he said, “I think it's logical for any leader of any Legislative house to protect their members first.”

There are other Democrats in the race, including Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom. West Hollywood Councilman Jeffrey Prang dropped out earlier this month, because he did not want to challenge Butler.

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