Al McAffrey, the first out legislator in the Oklahoma House and Senate, runs for U.S. Congress
When Oklahoma state Sen. Al McAffrey finished in second place in his June primary race for the nomination for U.S. representative from the state’s 5th District, it was the first time the openly gay politician hadn’t won an election with at least a 10-point margin.
After the primary, McAffrey said he knew what mistakes he made and put new campaign staff in place for the August runoff.
“We assumed people knew us,” he said. “They didn’t.”
Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District covers a much larger area than his current state senatorial district. This larger district includes three counties — Oklahoma County, which includes Oklahoma City, and Seminole and Potawatomi counties. Potawatomi County just barely touches Oklahoma County on its southeast corner and Seminole is to the east of Potawatomi.
Although his senatorial district is the largest portion of the congressional district, the votes he earned there weren’t enough to win the primary.
In the runoff, McAffrey targeted the neighborhoods that voted for the candidate who came in third, sending mailers and block walking. That strategy worked. His opponent picked up few votes and McAffrey won the runoff by his usual, comfortable 10 percent margin.
McAffrey said he knows he has a tough race ahead; the district hasn’t had a Democratic congressman in 40 years. But he sees this as a good year for Democrats in Oklahoma.
“The governor’s race is neck-and-neck,” he said.
Republican Gov. Mary Fallin is facing a stiff challenge after several controversies including a botched execution and her refusal to extend benefits to same-sex spouses of National Guard troops, a decision that was overturned by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Democrats gaining votes at the top of the ticket should help in down-ballot races including his, McAffrey said.
His campaign is budgeted at $750,000. Money for his race is coming from around the country. A fundraiser is planned in San Francisco and another in D.C.
“Tulsa’s been a big help,” McAffrey said.
So has Dallas. Last spring, a big fundraiser was held at the Round-Up Saloon featuring actor Leslie Jordan. Local entertainer Mark Alan Smith performed and morning show host Ron Corning emceed.
One source of income that won’t be helping in this campaign is the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, although “They endorsed me in the past,” McAffrey said.
Victory Fund doesn’t comment on races where they haven’t endorsed a candidate.
While running as an openly gay man in Oklahoma could have a negative impact on his election, McAffrey doesn’t see it that way. One bit of advice he got from Victory Fund before his first race was to be open and honest about who he is.
“I ran as openly gay for state rep in 2006 and for state senate in 2012,” he said. He said his constituents appreciate that he’s open and honest about who he is, and his colleagues in the legislature found “We’re not any different than anyone else.”
In both the state House and Senate, McAffrey was effective in derailing any anti-gay legislation that was introduced. He said none of the “bad” bills ever made it to the chamber floor.
McAffrey believes he can energize his liberal downtown Oklahoma City district and get Republican votes from those who won’t vote for a Tea Party candidate. He’s already preparing for a move to Washington by selling the mortuary business he has owned for more than a decade.
While McAffrey won’t be representing Texas, he and his partner, David Stinson, are in Dallas often. If he wins, he wants the LGBT community to feel like representation is close by.
“Our door’s always open,” he said. “You have a friend in Oklahoma.”
He said leaving the state Senate was a tough decision because he’s enjoyed serving there, but the open U.S. House seat presented a unique opportunity.
He said Oklahoma won’t be losing LGBT representation with his departure. Kay Floyd, a lesbian who replaced him in the House, is running for his Senate seat and favored to win.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 19, 2014.