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Eleni Kounalakis launches 2026 California gubernatorial bid

The daughter of Greek immigrants is the first candidate to announce her bid to become governor of the country's most populous state.

(CN) — California Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis announced Monday she will run for governor in 2026 when incumbent Governor Gavin Newsom finishes his second and final term.

"Today I'm launching my campaign to become the next governor of the great state of CA," Kounalakis, a Democrat, said in a tweet. "My family & I owe everything to our state. I will fight fiercely to make sure EVERY Californian has the chance to walk the path of the CA dream just like I have."

Kounalakis, 57, is California's first elected female lieutenant governor, the second-highest executive office in the state. Should she prevail in the gubernatorial race in 2026, she'll be the first woman to head the nation's most populous state, which boasts an economy bigger than that of France or the U.K.

From 2010 to 2013, Kounalakis was the U.S. ambassador in Hungary — a period that saw the Central European NATO ally move rapidly to the nationalistic right under Prime Minister Victor Orbán. This prompted Kounalakis to publicly express her concern about the preservation of independent democratic institutions in the country.

"Hungary is an EU member state, it is a NATO ally, and it's very unusual that the United States would ever comment on the internal political affairs of a country fitting that profile, but we have," Kounalakis said at a talk at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business at the time. "How we work together and engage with them as friends has really been a delicate process."

Prior to serving as ambassador, Kounalakis managed the Sacramento-based land-development business her father, an immigrant from Greece, started in 1964. The company, AKT Development had developed over 60,000 homes and 30 million square feet of office space in Northern and Central California as of 2018, maintained a large commercial building portfolio and managed about 20,000 acres of farmland.

Her family's wealth reportedly helped bankroll her run for lieutenant governor in 2018. Last year she was reelected to the post with 60% of the vote.

"A proud mother, daughter, advocate, and leader, Eleni knows the struggles Californians face and has the experience and grit to bring meaningful change to her home state," according to her campaign website. "She is a fierce fighter and strives to build a future where everyone — regardless of race, class, or immigration status — has the same opportunity for a better future that she has had."

Follow @edpettersson
Categories / Government, Politics, Regional

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