Former state Senator and Assemblywoman Betty Karnette dies at 89

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the date of Karnette’s death.

Longtime Long Beach resident and former California legislator Betty Karnette died Wednesday morning at St. Mary Medical Center. She was 89.

Karnette, a middle-school teacher in South Gate, entered politics in the early 1990s and was elected to the California Assembly in 1992. Two years later, she was defeated by Steve Kuykendall. In 1996, Karnette was elected to the California State Senate and served until she was termed out in 2004, when she was succeeded by now-U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal.

She finished her political career with another stint in the Assembly from 2004 to 2008.

“Other than my wife, Betty was my biggest supporter,” said Congressman Lowenthal. “She encouraged me to run for every office I’ve held. She was my pal. When we were both in office we always tried to sit together on the plane between Sacramento and Long Beach. We spoke all the time—argued some, but we were always on the same side.”

In the highly competitive and rarely companionable world of politics, Karnette was unique, said Lowenthal. “While so many others were trying to get to higher office and trying to amass more power, Betty was more interested in helping people and being nice. She was always nice. But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t tough. In a war, you would always want her in the foxhole with you.”

Born in Paducah, Kentucky, Karnette married her husband Dick and moved around the country for a bit before settling in Long Beach where the couple and their daughter Mary lived for about 50 years in their home in the Wrigley neighborhood.

Karnette is survived by her daughter and a niece. Her husband preceded her in death in 2016. No plans have been decided yet about funeral services.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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