Sheila Kuehl

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Sheila Kuehl
Sheila Kuehl.jpg
Member of the California Senate
from the 23rd district
In office
December 4, 2000 – December 1, 2008
Preceded by Tom Hayden
Succeeded by Fran Pavley
Member of the California State Assembly
from the 41st district
In office
December 5, 1994 – December 4, 2000
Preceded by Terry Friedman
Succeeded by Fran Pavley
Personal details
Born Sheila Ann Kuehl[1]
(1941-02-09) February 9, 1941 (age 73)
Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Residence Santa Monica, California
Alma mater UCLA (B.A.)
Harvard Law School (J.D.)
Profession Attorney
Sheila Kuehl
Born Sheila Ann Kuehl[1]
Other names Sheila James; Sheila James Kuehl
Years active 1950s – Present

Sheila James Kuehl (born February 9, 1941) is an American politician, and a former child actress. She most recently served as a Democratic member of the California State Senate, representing the 23rd district in Los Angeles County and parts of southern Ventura County. A former member of the California State Assembly, she was elected to the Senate in 2000 and served until December 2008. She is currently a candidate for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors 3rd District.

Early life and acting career[edit]

Kuehl was born Shiela Ann Kuehl[1] in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her father was Catholic and her mother was Jewish.[2] As a young actress with the stage name Sheila James,[1] Kuehl played Jackie, Stuart Erwin's tomboy daughter, in the television series, Trouble With Father, later retitled The Stu Erwin Show. She is better known for her portrayal of the "irrepressible" Zelda Gilroy in the CBS television series, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. The running gag was Zelda's roaring crush on Dobie and his resistance to her advances. The program spawned two sequels, an unsold television pilot, Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis? (1978) and TV movie Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis (1988). In these, Dobie had married Zelda and had a son named Georgie, who was much like Dobie had been at his age. Kuehl reprised her Zelda role in both updates.

James appeared in other television series, including the NBC family drama National Velvet. She appeared as Lt. Nancy Culpepper in the 1963 episode of McHale's Navy entitled "The Happy Sleepwalker". When The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis ended in 1963, James was cast as a model on an episode of ABC's The Donna Reed Show. She appeared on CBS's The Ed Sullivan Show with part of the cast of Petticoat Junction as the fourth member of "The Ladybugs", a take-off on the Beatles. In the episode "The Ladybugs", she portrayed their friend Sally. She was also in two episodes of CBS's The Beverly Hillbillies as Virginia "Ginny" Jennings.

James co-starred with Kathleen Nolan, formerly of The Real McCoys, in the short-lived ABC television series Broadside, a female version of the hit show McHale's Navy, during the 1964-1965 season. After the show's cancellation, she got a job as a campus adviser to student groups at UCLA and eventually became an associate dean of students. At age 34, as Sheila Kuehl, she was admitted into Harvard Law School, where she excelled. She was elected class marshal and president of law school student council. In 1978, her final year at the law school, she chaired the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the 1953 graduation of the first group of women to be admitted to the law school. That same academic year, she became the first woman to win "Best Oralist" in the law school's prestigious Ames Moot Court Competition, judged by a panel including Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.[3]


Kuehl was elected to the California State Assembly in 1994, becoming the first openly gay person elected to the California legislature. She was later a founding member of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus. She served as Speaker pro tempore during the 1997–98 legislative session, becoming the first woman in California history to hold the position. After three terms in the Assembly, she was elected to the California State Senate in 2000, beating Assemblyman Wally Knox in the Democratic primary and becoming the first openly gay person elected to the Senate.[4] Re-elected in 2004 with 65.7% of the vote, she was repeatedly voted the "smartest" member of the California Legislature.[5]

In 2004, Kuehl authored Senate Bill 1234, an omnibus act intended to protect Californians from hate crimes, which the bill defined as criminal acts committed in whole or in part because of the victims' actual or perceived disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or association with persons with any of those characteristics. The bill targeted crimes, not First Amendment-protected speech. It also protected illegal immigrants from deportation due to reporting hate crimes, increased civil protections from discrimination, and provided for law enforcement training concerning crimes against homeless persons and law enforcement response to homelessness, bill was later enacted into law.

In 2006, Kuehl sponsored a bill to prohibit the adoption by any school district in California of any instructional material that discriminates against persons based on their gender or sexual orientation.[6]

Throughout her career as a legislator, Kuehl took a leadership role on health care policy. Her foremost objective was securing passage of legislation to establish a single-payer health care system in California.[7] SB 840 passed both houses of the legislature in 2006, but was vetoed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; it was reintroduced in 2007 and again passed the state Senate, with a vote pending in the Assembly.[8] SB 840 passed both houses of the California legislature in August 2008 and was, again, vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

Kuehl was criticized by some for regressing reform of California paternity law.[9][10]

Announced intention to vote no on healthcare plan[edit]

On January 28, 2008, The New York Times reported that Kuehl planned to vote against a health care plan sponsored by Governor Schwarzenegger and supported by a majority of Democrats in the Assembly, while opposed by a majority of Republicans. Her opposition along with the opposition of Senator Leland Yee led the Times to predict that California's widely touted healthcare bill – widely but inaccurately called "universal" coverage – would be effectively killed.[11] However, by the time the bill came to the Senate Health Committee, chaired by Kuehl, all but one of the Democratic Senators on the Committee had grave doubts about the bill and, after an eleven hour hearing on the bill and an intervening week to caucus, on January 28, 2008, one Democrat voted yes, three abstained and three (including Kuehl), along with all Republicans, voted in opposition.

Career after legislature[edit]

In 2008, Kuehl left the California state legislature as the result of term limits, after serving eight years in the Senate and six years in the Assembly.

In 2009, she was a member of the California Integrated Waste Management Board. In 2010, she started Kuehl Consulting and served on the board as a member of the Public Policy Institute at Santa Monica College.

Since 2010, Kuehl has hosted "Get Used To It", a national cable show originating in West Hollywood on LGBT issues and people.

In 2013, she announced that she will be a candidate in 2014 to replace Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who will be termed out.


  1. ^ a b c d Interview with Sheila James Kuehl (Digital). Archive of American Television. 2013. 
  2. ^,,20092334,00.html
  3. ^ Diliberto, Gioia (December 2, 1985). "Sheila Kuehl, the Brainy Bird on Dobie Gillis, Likes to Lay Down the Law as a Professor". People Magazine. Retrieved 2009-10-21. 
  4. ^ Dunlap, David W. (14 November 1994). "THE 1994 ELECTION: HOMOSEXUALS; Gay Politicians Cite Gains Amid Losses". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 September 2011. 
  5. ^ "Out's Power 50: Sheila Kuehl". Retrieved 2008-06-02. 
  6. ^ Christie, Jim (April 7, 2006). "California braced for battle over gays in textbooks". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2007-07-29. 
  7. ^ "SB 840 The California Universal Healthcare Act". June 12, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-29. 
  8. ^ "SB 840 Passes Senate Floor, Heads to Assembly Health". June 7, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-29. 
  9. ^ Welch, Matt (February 2004). "Injustice by Default - How the effort to catch "deadbeat dads" ruins innocent men's lives". Reason. Retrieved 2007-07-29. 
  10. ^ Sealey, Geraldine (October 2, 2002). "Duped Dads fight child support". ABC News. Retrieved 2007-07-29. 
  11. ^ McKinley, Jesse (2008-01-28). "California Governor’s Plan for Health Care in Trouble". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-01-28. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Terry Friedman
California State Assemblymember,
41st District

Succeeded by
Fran Pavley
Preceded by
Tom Hayden
California State Senator,
23rd District

Succeeded by
Fran Pavley