(KTXL) — California Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis is running to be the state’s governor in 2026, but voters may not be familiar with her.
Kounalakis, a Democrat, has served as lieutenant governor since 2019 when she won 56.6% of the vote, beating fellow Democrat State Senator Ed Hernandez, and won reelection last year with nearly 60% of the vote.
Kounalakis funded much of her initial campaign for lieutenant governor herself, donating more than $7.5 million of the total $11 million raised for her campaign. Hernandez, her opponent, raised around $4 million total during the same election cycle.
She was the first woman to be elected to that office, though Mona Pasquil was appointed to serve as acting lieutenant governor for several months in 2009 and 2010 after then-Lt. Governor John Garamendi was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
When Gov. Gavin Newsom is out of state, Kounalakis takes over as acting governor.
During one of Newsom’s trips in 2022, Kounalakis signed an eviction protection bill, becoming the first woman to sign a bill into law in California.
From 2010 to 2013, Kounalakis served as U.S. Ambassador to Hungary during the Obama administration.
Prior to serving as an ambassador, Kounalakis was president of ATK Development, a major Sacramento-based land developer founded by her father Angelo Tsakopoulos.
Kounalakis is the niece of George Tsakopoulos, who was the founder of Tsakopoulos Investments, which developed Bank of the West Tower along Capitol Mall in Sacramento.
The Tsakopoulos family is a major funder of the Democratic Party in California and at the national level.
Members of the family have donated more than $15 million to mostly Democratic candidates, committees and causes in the state since 2002.
Various family members have also donated over $4.5 million to mostly Democratic national efforts.
Kounalakis writes in her book, ‘Madam Ambassador,’ that she told Hillary Clinton of her desire to be an ambassador at a fundraising party held at her father’s house for Clinton’s first Senate campaign in 2000.
When Kounalakis was appointed ambassador, Clinton was then serving as U.S. Secretary of State.
In 2014, Kounalakis was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to chair the California Advisory Council for International Trade and Investment.
She also served as a member of California’s First 5 Commission and the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Autism.
Kounalakis and her husband, reporter Markos Kounalakis, have two children together, Neo and Eon.