Metro Weekly

LGBT Legislative Hopefuls across the nation – The Election Issue

Meet the 14 LGBT candidates you should watch for on Election Day

map-of-us-rainbowIn politics, the saying goes, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. It’s an adage entirely appropriate for the LGBT community, often attacked by politicians at every level of government without the political means to defend itself.

While the support of straight political allies has been essential to advancing equality, having an LGBT voice present at negotiations can significantly alter the dynamic. Getting LGBT people into the decision-making process is the best way to ensure our rights are protected and extended.

Still, there has been a sea-change in how influential the LGBT community has become in little more than a decade. Same-sex couples were the “bogeyman” of the 2004 election. Twelve years later, and both Clinton and Trump are making direct appeals to the our community.

The Victory Fund, which helps LGBT candidates reach political office, has endorsed 147 candidates for political office this cycle. We asked the organization to highlight ten candidates in races that are being closely watched as voters across the country head to the polls come Nov. 8.

“These spotlight candidates have the opportunity to make an outsized impact on equality,” says Elliot Imse, the organization’s communications director. “What that usually means is they are running for a high office, such as governor, U.S. Senator or U.S. Congressperson. Or it means they are running in a state with few or no LGBT lawmakers, or in low-equality states — states where they could make a real difference if they were elected and able to influence policy legislation.”


Jim Gray

Office Sought: U.S. Senate

State: Kentucky

The idea that Kentucky, one of the 10 most religious states in the country according to Gallup, would have an LGBT candidate running for Congress is breathtaking. Yet former Lexington Mayor Jim Gray is doing better than many had hoped in his bid for former presidential candidate Rand Paul’s Senate seat. Were Gray to pull off the upset, he would become the second openly LGBT senator in history, after Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin. “Traditionally, conservative states usually don’t put forward statewide LGBT candidates,” says Imse. “It’s been particularly interesting because the fact that Jim Gray is LGBT has really not been the focus of many of the attack ads … [and he] has an appealing message that has been resonating well with the people of Kentucky.”

Matt Heinz

Office Sought: U.S. House

State: Arizona

Heinz, a physician and former state representative, is seeking the congressional seat once held by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The district’s Republican incumbent, Martha McSally, is a first-term representative who won her seat by only 167 votes. That’s why Democrats are aggressively targeting the district, and believe Heinz is essential in their efforts to take back the House. “Arizona is a ‘low-equality’ state,” says Imse. “And we know that the more LGBT lawmakers we have from low-equality states, the more likely it is that LGBT equality pushes forward.” Were he to win, Heinz would become only the third openly LGBT representative from Arizona, after U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema and former congressman Jim Kolbe, who held this very seat.

Angie Craig

Office Sought: U.S. House

State: Minnesota

If Democrats ever hope to gain control of the House, they must win Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District. There, businesswoman Angie Craig is running against Jason Lewis, a conservative radio host nicknamed “mini-Trump” for his comments about women, LGBT people, and people of color. “It’s incredibly important that Angie Craig wins,” says Imse, “not just for LGBT people, but for all Americans, because Jason Lewis is opposed to equality for all people. [Angie] is an incredible candidate, she’s done extremely well, and is a ‘natural’ in a lot of ways, and we think she’ll be victorious.”

Denise Juneau

Office Sought: U.S. House

State: Montana

Denise Juneau, who currently serves as State Superintendent of Public Instruction in Montana, became the first Native American woman elected to statewide office in her 2008 victory. She hopes to reach the same milestone on a national level. While most Democrats would write off deep-red Montana as a lost cause — let alone one who is lesbian — Juneau has garnered a lot of attention during the course of her campaign. Notably, incumbent Ryan Zinke, who should really have no trouble coasting to reelection, has begun attacking Juneau aggressively in ads. This may indicate that he believes the race is closer than expected. Imse says a Juneau victory would be significant, as Montana is another “low-equality” state that lacks legal protections for LGBT people.


Brady Piñero Walkinshaw

Office Sought: U.S. House

State: Washington

Due to the nature of Washington State’s primary, two Democrats will face off for the Seattle-based 7th Congressional District. One of those candidates, Brady Walkinshaw, would be the first LGBT Latino member of Congress if elected. “Brady would bring a progressive voice to Congress, but would be concerned about issues other than LGBT rights,” says Imse. “He would be an important voice for a lot of progressive causes that many LGBT people care about, including the environment, climate change, and gun violence prevention.” Despite his political record, Walkinshaw may have an uphill battle among die-hard liberal voters: his opponent, fellow State Rep. Pramila Jayapal, has the backing of Bernie Sanders.

Tina Podlodowski

Office Sought: Secretary of State

State: Washington

Despite its Democratic tilt, Washington’s Secretary of State has been Republican since 1964. Some people even consider the office a Republican “legacy seat.” But Democrat Tina Podlodowski has no intention of letting incumbent Kim Wyman coast to reelection. Podlodowski would become one of only a handful of LGBT people to be elected to such a high-ranking position in any state. “Tina is very much focused on voting rights, civil rights, and ensuring that all Washingtonians are able to access the ballot box,” says Imse. “About a month ago, we also found out that the Secretary of State’s office, under Kim Wyman’s leadership, allowed some voter website data to be vulnerable to hackers. While there’s no evidence it was hacked, [Tina’s campaign] discovered the vulnerabilities, and quickly alerted the proper people so it could be fixed.”

Tommy Greene

Office Sought: State House

State: Ohio

Ohio is one of the states where Democrats have been gerrymandered into an almost permanent minority. But an open seat in the Cleveland area could be a small step on the party’s journey back from the political wilderness. Tommy Greene, who previously worked for Equality Ohio, is facing off against Dave Greenspan in one of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee’s “Essential Races” of 2016. “[Greene] would be only the second LGBT representative in the state legislature, so he could make a significant impact in the state,” says Imse. “Ohio is a swing state that should have more protections for LGBT people than it does.”

Jane Campbell

Office Sought: State House

State: North Carolina

A 25-year retired Navy veteran, Jane Campbell was prompted to run for the State House after her representative, John Bradford III, helped to draft, sponsor and pass North Carolina’s anti-LGBT HB 2 law. She has made repealing the law one of her major priorities, and hopes to pass legislation to provide greater statewide protections to the LGBT community if elected. “If elected, Jane would become the only LGBT representative in the state legislature, which makes this race especially significant,” says Imse. He adds that Campbell’s presence would provide a missing voice from a community that has been ignored and, most recently, targeted by state lawmakers pushing an anti-LGBT agenda.

Beth Tuura

Office Sought: State House

State: Florida

Currently, Florida only has one openly LGBT lawmaker, but Victory Fund hopes to quintuple that number this year, including backing Beth Tuura in the race for an Orlando-area House seat. “Her district is home to Pulse nightclub, so it’s incredibly significant to have an openly LGBT candidate running in District 47, where a few months ago the LGBT community faced one of the biggest massacres in its history,” says Imse. “She’s running against an incumbent who’s a big supporter of the NRA, and that has become one of the signature issues in the campaign. Beth is running so she can go to Tallahassee and put forward gun violence prevention measures, as well as emphasizing women’s health and LGBT equality at the state level.”

Ken Keechl

Office Sought: State House

State: Florida

Another Florida candidate, Ken Keechl is running in a Fort Lauderdale-based district. Keechl was Broward County’s first openly gay county commissioner when he won his seat in 2006, where he helped push through LGBT nondiscrimination protections. He faces an uphill battle, running in a GOP-leaning district against incumbent George Moraitis, who has a long record of anti-LGBT positions. A win for Keechl would be significant, says Imse, because he has a strong history of pushing forward equality legislation, and, even more importantly, getting it passed.

Running Red

Few have been more vocal about the need for bipartisan support for pro-LGBT legislation than the Log Cabin Republicans. Their president, Gregory T. Angelo, is fond of pointing out that many of the LGBT community’s significant victories have been achieved only when advocates work with their conservative brethren — including the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act, and the Senate passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

This election cycle, Log Cabin has endorsed 22 candidates for election or reelection, in an effort to grow the ranks of pro-equality Republicans in Congress. Two of those candidates — Paul Babeu in Arizona and Clay Cope in Connecticut — are openly gay, and, if victorious, would become the first out LGBT Republicans to be elected to Congress.

Babeu, a sheriff in Pinal County, Ariz., is seeking an open seat in Congress that covers the bulk of eastern Arizona. Cope is the first selectman of the town of Sherman, Conn. — a position he has been elected to multiple times — and initially beat a long-serving Democratic incumbent to win the seat. He is now challenging Rep. Elizabeth Esty for her northwestern Connecticut seat.

“In both Babeu and Cope, you have openly gay Republicans who have already won elections,” says Angelo. “They are proven commodities. They haven’t come out of the blue and decided to run for office. You see they’re ‘proven,’ in that voters believe in and support both candidates to vote them into office time and again. They are not running just to be the ‘gay Republican’ member of the House of Representatives,” Angelo says. “They are running because they want to be change agents in Washington, D.C., and represent the people of their district, who have had representation by Democrats exclusively for some time. And by Democrats who have towed a liberal line, rather than keeping the best interests of their district at heart.”

Uphill Battle

It would be remiss to omit the presence of two transgender women on Tuesday’s ballot. Democrat Misty Snow, running in Utah, is challenging Sen. Mike Lee, a favorite of the Tea Party. Democrat Misty Plowright, running in Colorado’s 5th Congressional District, is taking on U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, another anti-LGBT conservative. Both women are running in areas historically hostile to Democrats.

Given the uphill nature of their bids, it’s not surprising that neither has been endorsed by national LGBT organizations like the Human Rights Campaign or the Victory Fund. But Mara Keisling, executive director of the nonpartisan National Center for Transgender Equality, says both women should be praised for stepping into the political fray.

“If they were to win, it would be amazing,” she says. “It would mean whenever people were talking about us, there’d be one of us at the table. That’s always spectacular…. That they were gutsy enough to stand up is great, and hopefully it will inspire other candidates to run in the future.”

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