Anti-gay tactics still exist, but a record number of LGBT candidates are making an impact across the country
Lisa Keen | Keen News Service
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dallas Voice has recently learned that Gary Stuard, Green Party candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, running against Republican incumbent Pete Sessions, is gay. Watch for an interview with him in the Oct. 14 issue of Dallas Voice.
Republican supporters of a Congressional candidate dubbed a “mini-Trump” in Minnesota used a family photo of his Democratic lesbian opponent to draw attention to “her female marriage partner and their four teenage sons.”
Democratic opponents of a gay Republican candidate for sheriff in Arizona ran an ad that claimed, “We can’t trust him with our kids.”
In Oregon, threats and taunts against incumbent Gov. Kate Brown, a bisexual, have escalated in recent months over her calls for tighter gun controls, prompting an increase in her security detail.
And a story in the conservative Des Moines Register characterized Iowa’s openly-gay Republican candidate for the state senate as a 50-year-old man “living with his mom” and described his Democratic opponent as having a “muscular campaign organization.”
But while anti-LGBT sentiments and tactics might still be in evidence these days, there is much to be appreciated for how matter-of-factly the sexual orientation of most LGBT candidates is being regarded.
A record number of LGBT people are running for seats in the U.S. House this year. Of the 12 openly-gay U.S. House candidates, six are incumbents expected to easily win re-election. Of the six newcomers, only one is said to have a good chance at winning.
Add to that at least 21 openly-LGBT people running for state senate seats, 61 running for state house seats, one candidate for governor and four candidates for other statewide offices, at least 53 candidates for local offices and 17 candidates for seats on various state and local courts.
Add them all together for a total of 170 — a new high, compared to 152 in 2012 and 164 in 2010.
Here’s a look at some of the most high-profile races involving LGBT candidates next month:
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown
Brown, who identifies as bisexual, took office in February 2015 when her predecessor resigned amid scandal. She’s considered a safe bet to keep that job. A Portland-based polling firm found her eight points ahead of Republican challenger Bud Pierce in early September.
Brown was previously secretary of state; Pierce was an oncologist.
Despite the good poll numbers though, there have been some troubling moments for Brown this year. Earlier this month, pro-gun demonstrators burned her in effigy, and the Oregonian reports that Brown’s security detail has been increased. The paper reported that someone posted a message on Twitter, calling Brown a “sexually confused progressive” and blaming her for the death of a man who joined a group trying to occupy a federal wildlife refuge in the state. Another threatened an “attack” on her house in response to a ruling by a state labor commissioner who ordered a bakery to pay $135,000 to a same-sex couple for refusing to sell them a wedding cake.
Six new candidates for Congress
In addition to Jim Gray of Kentucky who is running for the U.S. Senate, six LGBT challengers are running for seats in the U.S. House this year. Most of them are considered long shots, but Angie Craig in Minnesota has the best chance of getting there. Her race is polling as a “toss-up,” according to RealClearPolitics.com.
Craig, a vice president of global human resources for a medical devices manufacturer in St. Paul, left that position to run for Minnesota’s 2nd District seat in the U.S. House. Craig’s website bio features a photo of her, her wife, and their four boys.
She’s the Democratic Farmer Labor Party candidate for a seat opened up by retiring Republican John Kline, and she’s running against a former talk show host, Jason Lewis, whose provocative statements prompted The Atlantic magazine to dub him “Minnesota’s mini-Trump.”
Among other things, Lewis has argued that, “Gay couples are no more discriminated against than the polygamist, the drug user, or the loan shark.”
One state GOP official used a photo of Craig’s family to solicit attendance to a Lewis fundraiser, noting that Craig is “liberal and this is her family. She and her female marriage partner and their four teenage sons.” Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund President Aisha C. Moodie-Mills said Angie Craig’s family photo was used “to attack both her and LGBT families” and that the GOP state official’s decision to do so was “more indicative of the hate her opponent Jason Lewis spreads, than it is of politics for LGBT candidates nationwide.”
Craig has raised almost $1.5 million for her campaign, according to Federal Elections Commission records. Lewis has raised $369,000.
Washington State Rep. Brady Walkinshaw, 32, is running for the state’s 7th District seat in the U.S. House against another progressive Democrat, State Sen. Pramila Jayapal. Jayapal got twice as many votes as Walkinshaw during the primary, but, as one of the top two vote-getters in the nine-person field, Walkinshaw advanced to the general election.
Oklahoma State Sen. Al McAffrey is making a second run for a U.S. House seat to represent Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District. He won this year’s Democratic primary, despite a recount to challenge his 40-vote margin of victory. But he’s got a tough race now against a well-funded one-term incumbent Republican.
In addition to incumbent U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, there are two new openly-gay candidates for Congress in Arizona on Nov. 8 — a Republican and a Democrat, running in separate districts.
Former Arizona State Rep. Matt Heinz, an emergency room doctor at Tucson Medical Center, is running for the state’s 2nd Congressional District House seat, currently held by former Air Force Col. Martha McSally, “the first woman in our nation’s history to pilot a fighter plane in combat and command a fighter squadron.” Heinz is the Democrat. An independent poll released Sept. 26 shows Republican McSally with a 19-point lead.
In Congressional District 1, openly-gay Sheriff Paul Babeu of Pinal County is the Republican, running seven points behind the Democrat for an open seat. Babeu’s campaign seems hobbled by news that he approved of the use of controversial discipline measures against students at a school he ran for at-risk youth in Massachusetts. An attack ad from Democrats focuses on that scandal and says, “We can’t trust him with our kids. How can we trust him in Congress.”
In Connecticut, openly gay Republican Selectman Clay Cope of Sherman, a Texas native and Donald Trump supporter, is out to unseat Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, of the state’s 5th Congressional District. Esty earned a perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign for her voting record.
And in Kentucky, openly gay Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, a Democrat, has taken on Republican incumbent U.S. Senator Rand Paul. Gray told the Washington Post that his being gay has not been an issue in the campaign, but he’s also trailing 12 points behind Paul, according to the most recent poll.
Statewide races: old and new
There are some familiar names and some new ones among the 87 known openly LGBT candidates running for statewide offices next month.
In addition to Kate Brown in Oregon, there’s Democrat Tina Podlodowski, a long-time lesbian politico, running to become Washington’s secretary of state. Podlodowski left a successful career at Microsoft in 1995 to win a seat on the Seattle City Council. She’s up against an incumbent Republican.
Toni Atkins is another well-known lesbian politico running for statewide office. She served as California Assembly Speaker of San Diego, but is now running for the seat representing Senate District 39. Because she won more than three times the votes her Republican challenger did in this year’s open primary, Atkins is considered likely to win on Nov. 8.
Daniel Hernandez made headlines five years ago as the openly-gay staffer who helped save the life of U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords following a mass shooting in Tucson. A Democrat, he’s now running for a state house seat against a Democratic incumbent and a Republican challenger. The top two vote-getters represent the district.
Less well-known is television producer and winter of three Emmys for sports coverage, Beth Tuura, a Democrat who is challenging a Republican incumbent for a House seat representing Orlando, Fla.
And another new name on the horizon is Sam Park, an attorney and the son of Korean immigrants who was born and raised in Georgia. He’s making his first bid for elected office, seeking a seat in the state house.
Local races to watch
Fifty-three openly LGBT candidates are vying for public office in local races, including two candidates for mayor — incumbent Alex Morse in Holyoke, Mass., and Kriss Worthington in Berkeley.
Meanwhile, Berkeley’s first openly-gay black city councilman, Darryl Moore, is fending off a challenge from Nanci Armstrong-Temple, who Bay Area Reporter says identifies as queer.
Next door, in Oakland, two other LGBT candidates are squaring off for one seat on that city’s Council: Oakland mayoral aide Peggy Moore is challenging incumbent Rebecca Kaplan for one of the city’s at-large seats.
Kimberly Alvarenga is running to be the first lesbian in 16 years to serve on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. And according to the Bay Area Reporter, her election could maintain an important part of LGBT history.
Since 1977, when Harvey Milk was first elected to the Board, “there has been at least one LGBT supervisor,” notes the paper. But new term limits are jeopardizing that trend. Plus current gay board member Scott Wiener is running for the state senate. That leaves lesbian union leader Alvarenga trying to fill the void. She is up against another union leader.
In Texas, Jenifer Rene Pool made history as the first openly transgender person to win a primary in Texas. She defeated a fellow Democrat and took 78 percent of the vote for a seat on the Harris County Commissioners Court in Houston. She’s now running against an incumbent Republican.
Not surprisingly, California has the most openly LGBT candidates (43), followed by Texas and Florida (with nine each), Massachusetts and Georgia (with eight each, and Washington state (with seven). Michigan has four.
“LGBT candidates are running strong races in parts of the country thought unviable just an election cycle or two before,” said Victory Fund’s Moodie-Mills.
Among the more “unviable” states where LGBT candidates are running this year are the solidly conservative Republican states of West Virginia, Montana and Wyoming.
Moodie-Mills said candidates in these more difficult environments “can make an outsized impact on equality if elected in November.”
“Voters are viewing LGBT candidates holistically — so qualified LGBT candidates with the right message can run competitively and win,” she said. “It is rarely easy, but we are making enormous progress, and it upends the narrative that LGBT candidates can only win blue or purple states and districts.”
© 2016 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2016.