Races around the country could have significant impact on climate, landscape for LGBT equality
Lisa Keen | Keen News Service firstname.lastname@example.org
For hard-core political junkies in the LGBT community, there’s a lot to worry about in the Nov. 2 voting — and not just because there’s the possibility of Republicans taking over the U.S. House and Senate.
A number of races around the country could have significant impact on both the climate and the landscape for LGBT civil rights nationally.
This report identifies 13 of the most important outcomes to keep an eye on next Tuesday and weighs their outcomes to reflect how much impact they could have on the LGBT community efforts to achieve equal rights.
A cumulative score of 100 means the political landscape and climate remain relatively favorable for LGBT civil rights concerns. A zero would signal a significantly unfavorable change.
The current status would rank a score of 80; but the latest poll predictions signal a drop to 60.
1. Control of the U.S. House: Democrats currently hold 255 of the 435 House seats. It takes 218 or more to hold the majority. As of last week, the New York Times-FiveThirtyEight number cruncher was forecasting Republicans would take the majority with 230 seats, leaving Democrats with only 205. Loss of Democratic control in the House means many things: Pro-gay measures have no chance of passage; anti-gay measures do.
2. Control of the U.S. Senate: Democrats currently hold 57 of 100 seats and need 50 to retain the majority (with Democratic Vice President Joe Biden as Senate president).
As of last week, the New York Times-FiveThirtyEight number cruncher was forecasting Democrats would retain the Senate with 51 or 52 seats, to the Republicans 48 or 49. That’s still not a large enough majority for Democrats to break filibusters, but at least it cuts off the ability of Republicans to press for passage of anti-gay measures.
3. Democrats keep New Hampshire House and Senate: This bellwether state enacted a marriage equality law just this year and already three bills have been filed seeking repeal in 2011. Meanwhile, the Democratic majority in both the state House and Senate are in peril
Nov. 2, says Rep. Jim Splaine, the openly gay state legislator who authored the marriage bill in the House.
Only two of seven Republicans who supported marriage equality were defeated in the primary, but the margins of victory on the marriage equality bill in 2009 were razor thin, and Splaine himself is retiring at the end of this year. If Republicans do take back the majority in the legislature, a repeal bill has a strong chance of succeeding. Polls indicate the results Tuesday are simply unpredictable.
4. New Hampshire retains Democratic governor: Now, imagine the New Hampshire legislature passes a bill to repeal its one-year-old marriage equality law and sends it to the governor’s desk. If incumbent Democrat John Lynch is there, it’s very likely that he’ll veto it. But if Republican challenger John Stephen is there, he’s promised to sign it. Polls give Lynch a good chance of hanging onto the job.
5. California elects Democratic governor: Republican Meg Whitman unabashedly opposes same-sex marriage and voted for Proposition 8. (She favors civil unions.) Democrat Jerry Brown, the state’s attorney general, supports same-sex marriage and has refused to defend California’s same-sex marriage ban — Proposition 8 — in the landmark lawsuit now before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Whitman has criticized Brown for his position, and some speculate she could — if elected — intervene to enhance the appeal against Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling that the measure is unconstitutional.
The team challenging Proposition 8 says it is not concerned about that and, truth be told, the 9th Circuit will have heard the appeal long before the next governor takes office. But the position of the next governor could have some influence if and when the full 9th Circuit and/or the U.S. Supreme Court hear the case. And, legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky notes that, if the 9th Circuit should dismiss the appeal for lack of standing by the current appellants, Whitman “could make a motion in federal court to have the judgment set aside.” Polls call this a toss-up with Brown having a slight edge.
6. California elects Democratic attorney general: Republican Steve Cooley has also criticized Attorney General Brown for refusing to defend Proposition 8 in court. If elected, he, too, could ask to have a 9th Circuit decision set aside, should it rule that proponents of Proposition 8 lack standing. Cooley could also play a pivotal role in the approval of a future initiative should No on 8 activists need to overturn the anti-gay marriage law by ballot measure. Cooley says he would go to bat for Proposition 8; his Democratic opponent, San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris, says that, because Proposition 8 has been declared unconstitutional, the attorney general should not appeal it.
Cooley has a slight lead in the latest polls.
7. Iowa retains three justices: One of the smallest races in the country is getting big attention: the re-election campaigns of three Iowa Supreme Court justices. All three were on the seven-member bench that unanimously ruled in 2009 that the state constitution requires gay couples be treated the same as straight couples when it comes to marriage licensing.
Justices in Iowa are appointed by the governor but must stand for “retention” at the end of their first year and the end of each eight-year term.
Groups unhappy with the 2009 ruling have turned the retention election for Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit into a referendum on same-sex marriage. Those groups including the anti-gay American Family Association, the Family Research Council, and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). The Des Moines Register reported last week that NOM has spent $200,000 in television ads to oppose the justices’ retention.
Meanwhile, another coalition — a bipartisan one — has been formed to support the justices’ retention. It is headed up by Republican former Gov. Robert Ray and Democratic former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack.
As of Oct. 4, reports the Register, the contests are a toss-up, with 44 percent of 550 likely voters saying they’ll vote for retention, 40 percent against, and 16 percent saying they’ll retain “some.”
8. Cicilline wins U.S. House seat for Rhode Island’s 1st: David Cicilline, the openly gay mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, is given a 91 percent chance of winning the four-way race to represent Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District. For the LGBT community, it would mean a fourth openly gay member of Congress.
9. Pougnet wins U.S. House seat for California’s 45th: Steve Pougnet, the openly gay mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., is given less than a 3 percent chance of unseating incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack. But Pougnet has raised significant money and interest in his first run for Congress and Mack’s popularity has been waning since 2002.
10. Frank re-elected with 65 percent or more: Barney Frank is the Congress’ most veteran openly gay member — in seniority, experience and age. He’s now 70.
Massachusetts politicos who hope to take over his reign in Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional district are already starting to stage their practice runs. That includes Republican Sean Bielat, whose campaign slogan — “Retire Barney”— seeks to capitalize on the notion that Frank is old enough to retire. The polls don’t give him much of a chance to “retire” Frank this year — the New York Times-FiveThirtyEight number cruncher says Frank’s prospects for re-election are at 96 percent.
But it forecasts Frank will win only about 56 percent of the vote, and that’s down dramatically from previous re-election runs in the mid-terms, when he’s won re-election with 99 and 98 percent. In the presidential election years, Frank won with 78 percent in 2004 and 68 percent in 2008.
So, if Frank slips much below 68 percent this year, political pundits and potential challengers will almost certainly smell blood in the water, whether it’s there or not.
11. Maine elects Democratic governor: Equality Maine, the state LGBT civil rights group, says Tea Party Republican candidate Paul LePage would not only veto a marriage equality bill if one came to his desk, but “supports gutting the Maine Human Rights Act,” which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell is the polar opposite: According to Maine Public Radio, she would “restore the gay marriage law that was repealed by Maine voters last fall.” Independent candidate Eliot Cutler supports same-sex marriage, too. But guess who’s at the top of the latest poll? LePage. According to the Portland Press Herald on Oct. 22, a poll of 600 registered voters has LePage at 32 percent, Mitchell at 20 percent, and Cutler at 19. Twenty-one percent are undecided and the rest are promised to minor party candidates.
12. New York elects Democratic governor: Tea Party Republican Carl Paladino has turned this race into an interesting one. He is opposed to equal marriage rights for gay couples, doesn’t want his children to think being gay is “an equally valid and successful option” to being straight, and called gay pride parades “disgusting.” But the New York Daily News reported last week that he used to collect rent from gay clubs in Buffalo. As of Oct. 22, Democrat Andrew Cuomo has a 23-point lead over Paladino. And Cuomo would make a much different governor for LGBT New Yorkers. To put it in his own words, “I want to be the governor who signs the law that makes equality a reality in the state of New York.” Polls indicate an easy Democratic win.
13. Minnesota elects Democratic governor: LGBT interest in this race really began to escalate after the Target and Best Buy discount chains donated big money to a group called MN Forward, and MN Forward ran ads in support of Republican candidate Ted Emmer. Emmer’s website makes clear he opposes equal rights to marriage for gay couples and he led an effort in the state legislature to adopt a constitutional amendment to ban them. By contrast, Democrat Mark Dayton supports equal rights for LGBT people and his website includes a prominent and thorough discussion of that support. Polls indicate Dayton will be the likely winner.
© 2010 Keen News Service
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010