Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Political Notebook: Gay Republican runs for Assembly in San Diego


GOP Assembly candidate Ralph Denney. Photo: Courtesy Ralph Denney
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Ralph Denney, unlike in years past, finds himself the lone gay Republican running for a state office in the 2010 elections. He is unopposed, so far, in his party's primary for the 76th Assembly District seat in San Diego.

He is likely to face off against former San Diego City Councilwoman Toni Atkins, an out lesbian who faces token opposition in the Democratic Party's primary race this June. While the seat is considered reliably Democratic, and Atkins is seen as the surefire winner in the November general election, Denney said his entrance in the race is more than quixotic.

By becoming his party's nominee, Denney automatically gains a seat on both the Republican central committee in his county and on the statewide party committee. It is one of the reasons why he has entered the Assembly race twice before when he ran both times against the eventual winner, Democrat Lori Saldana.

"There are a lot of reasons. One of the reasons is to show you can be a conservative and gay," said Denney, 55, who owns a small tax practice and is the chief financial officer for a small business in Encinitas. "Another is it gives me a platform from which I can reach out to both the Republican Party and the gay community on issues that are very important."

Plus, "I don't get into a fight I don't intend to win," added Denney, whose first run for public office was in 2004 when he ran for state Senate and "was trounced" in the primary by a retired judge who is now one of his biggest supporters.

Atkins seems unfazed by having to face another gay candidate in the general election. She said she knows Denney from her days on the council and noted, "I tend to get along quite well against my opponents."

Denney has lived in San Diego for 11 years, first in the North Park district and currently in Hillcrest where he rents. He adopted his niece, 29-year-old June, and nephew, 28-year-old Lee, when they were 12 having raised them from a young age. His daughter has made him a grandfather four times.

Single and a member of the Bears of San Diego, Denney has had a long involvement with the gay Log Cabin Republicans group. He was a founding member of the San Diego chapter and was involved in the political organization's effort to defeat Proposition 8, the ban against same-sex marriage adopted in 2008.

At the time he was running for Assembly against Saldana, whom he criticized for not speaking out more strongly against the anti-gay measure.

"I advocated very strongly against Prop 8," he said. "The 76th District is the only district outside San Francisco where Prop 8 failed by a 2 to 1 vote, including a majority of Republicans voting against it."

The San Diego LGBT community's embrace of Democrats whose support for LGBT rights is only lukewarm, at best, is a major irritant of Denney's, who supported San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders when many gay voters did not. The Republican, who has a lesbian daughter, went on to be a vocal supporter of marriage equality and testified on behalf of the plaintiffs in the federal case seeking to overturn Prop 8.

"One of the frustrations I have with the community here is they accept that all Democrats are their friends and their heroes. It simply is not true," said Denney, known for being outspoken not only against the other party but also anti-gay Republicans.

When he first ran for Assembly in 2006 he faced attacks from write-in candidate Kim Tran, an evangelical Christian upset at both Denney's and Saldana's support of same-sex marriage and abortion rights. She also accused Denney of trying to hide his being gay since he did not disclose his sexual orientation or affiliation with Log Cabin on his Web site.

"It never became an issue for most voters or most Republicans in this district. They don't care who might be lying in my bed," said Denney.

Two years later he wrote on his campaign site that he didn't want to be pegged as a "gay advocate" nor have people vote for him (or against him) because he is gay, but that he does stand "as proof that a gay man can hold faith to Christian values and beliefs, to be true to himself, and also be a true Republican and fiscal conservative."

In that year's GOP primary, Denney beat Tran by a wide margin, garnering 59 percent of the vote while she received 40 percent. As he runs for the seat again this year, Denney still shies away from being pegged as a gay advocate.

"Am I a gay advocate? Some say I am. For me it is not because I am gay, it is because it is the right thing to do," he said of his speaking out for LGBT rights.

He won't know until March if he will face an opponent in the GOP primary. There are some segments of the party who oppose his candidacy.

"There are still religious extremists who are desperately trying to find someone to run against me in this race," he said. "I will never be able to convince them. We as a community will never be able to convince them."

During past election cycles anywhere from four to five Log Cabin members ran for state offices. Most ran in Democrat leaning districts and did so in order to obtain positions among the Republican Party apparatus.

Denney said his being the sole gay GOP candidate this year is disappointing. He blamed it partly on Log Cabin's fiscal problems nationally and its decision to no longer fund a staff person in California who helped recruit candidates.

"Log Cabin seems to be extremely quiet this year, which is also a personal disappointment to me," he said. "I know there is a lot of turmoil in Log Cabin right now. However I can help to reorganize the organization, I would be happy to do so."

Charles Moran, a spokesman for Log Cabin, said the group decided to focus more on local municipal races this year rather than push its members to seek state seats. He said the group is also asking its members to run for county central committee posts.

"There are Log Cabin members all over the state running for city council and school board," said Moran. "We don't have as much money as we used to to throw around."

Moran also serves on the board of Log Cabin California and predicted the group would endorse Denney in his race.

"We will do an endorsement for him as we did in the past. He has been very stalwart in representing our issues in a place like San Diego," said Moran, a co-founder of the Dark Horse political consulting firm.

Denney plans to bring his son to next month's state Republican Party Convention, which will be held in Santa Clara March 12-14. The trip is one time where he bent his fiscal restraint.

"I am almost ashamed of myself because I paid the extra money to stay at the convention site," he said. "I am a Motel 6 kind of guy."

For more info about Denney and his Assembly campaign, visit

Kaplan mulls run for Oakland mayor

Rebecca Kaplan, the out lesbian who holds the at-large seat on Oakland's City Council, is mulling a run for mayor of the East Bay city. Elected in the fall of 2008, Kaplan has long been talked about as a strong candidate to run Oakland even before she won her citywide council campaign.

The news earlier this month that former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata was short on cash for his planned mayoral run opened the door for supporters of Kaplan to press her to seek the post.

In an interview with the Bay Area Reporter this week, Kaplan acknowledged she is thinking seriously about entering the race.

"I am being urged to run by a great number of people. I am taking that into consideration," said Kaplan.

Fellow Councilmember Jean Quan is already a declared candidate in the race. Donald Macleay is running as a candidate for the Green Party, which Kaplan left to join the Democratic Party when she sought her city council seat.

Recently Mayor Ron Dellums, who has had a rocky first term and was not expected to seek re-election, has hinted that he may in fact run again. Kaplan has had a close working relationship with Dellums.

Asked if she would opt not to oppose the mayor should he seek a second term, she was noncommittal about staying out of the race.

"I haven't ruled out anything at this point," said Kaplan.

Oakland changed the way it elects its mayor this year. Instead of conducting an election on the June primary, where the top two vote-getters would face off in a November runoff should no one receive 50 percent plus one of the vote, the city will institute an instant runoff vote in the fall. Voters will rank their top choices in the race, similar to how San Francisco conducts its city elections.

The filing deadline to enter the race is not until August, but Kaplan said to be successful she would have to enter the race by May should she decide to wage a campaign for mayor.

Oakland LGBT commissioners wanted

In the meantime Kaplan is looking for qualified LGBT people to serve on two public oversight committees. As Oakland's rep on the Alameda County Transportation Improvement Authority, Kaplan can appoint two people to serve on the body's citizen advisory committee. Those positions recently came up for renewal, and Kaplan is asking interested applicants to contact her office by March 15.

Kaplan is also looking for LGBT people interested in serving on the Paramount Theatre's board now that Dellums's slate of four nominees to that governing body has been put on hold.

As the B.A.R. reported last month, LGBT activists blocked the reappointment of current Paramount board member Lorenzo Hoopes because of his contributions to the Yes on 8 campaign. Due to the opposition, Dellums pulled all four of his nominations to the theater's board.

He recently met with a small group of LGBT activists and Kaplan about the potential of appointing an LGBT person to the board. Kaplan is now recruiting interested Oakland residents with backgrounds in event promotion, fundraising, or the arts to serve on the oversight panel. The mayor is expected to resubmit to the city council his nominations for the four open seats next month.

Kaplan can be reached by calling (510) 238-7008 or by e-mailing

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check Monday mornings around 10 a.m. for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column profiles two gay men with control over Russian River redevelopment funds.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail

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