LGBT candidates win big
by Lisa Keen
A first-ever openly gay person elected U.S. senator, the largest ever number of openly lesbian and gay people elected to Congress, three new leaders at statehouses, the first-ever openly transgender person elected to a state legislature, and the first openly LGBT candidates elected in numerous states.
And after a week of counting votes, it also appears that Arizona voters will send the first openly bisexual person to Congress.
That's just a snapshot of what made Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund President Chuck Wolfe call November 6 a "breathtaking leap forward."
Election Day 2012 contests for LGBT candidates spanned 37 states, including such conservative bastions as North Dakota and West Virginia. They included victories in seven out of eight federal office races, 71 out of 94 state offices, and 40 out of 50 local offices.
Of 152 LGBT candidates on the ballot last week, 77 percent (118) won, while 22 percent (33) lost. One local election race is still pending. By comparison, in 2010, 65 percent (106) of 164 openly LGBT candidates won, according to the Victory Fund.
There were many historic firsts this year, including the high-profile victory of Representative Tammy Baldwin, overcoming a multi-million-dollar super PAC campaign against her by right-wing operative Karl Rove, to become the first openly gay person elected to the Senate.
"It goes right up there in history with Ed Brooke of Massachusetts," said longtime gay Democratic activist David Mixner. Brooke, a Republican, became the first African American elected to the Senate, in 1966.
"Words almost can't describe the barriers this has broken down and it is a moment in the institution of the U.S. Senate that will be forever remembered," said Mixner. He said Baldwin's victory was in large part due to her being "a really great candidate who worked her ass off."
But he also said Baldwin's victory and that of so many others November 6 was a "shift in attitudes" of American voters about LGBT officials and issues.
In California, teacher Mark Takano became the first openly gay person of color elected to Congress, winning a seat representing conservative Riverside, California.
The LGBT community also celebrated the elevation of four of its own to positions as state legislative speaker of the House – two new to the position and two re-installed.
Oregon state Representative Tina Kotek, 46, who has been serving as the House Democratic leader, is now in a position to become the state's first openly gay speaker and, thus, the first lesbian to head a state legislative chamber anywhere in the country. Kotek, a three-term representative of North Portland, helped pass legislation in 2007 to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. Her areas of focus have been education, health, and fighting hunger.
State Representative Mark Ferrandino, 35, a Democrat representing Denver, was the unanimous choice of the Democratic majority in Colorado's 65-member House of Representatives. Ferrandino will receive the gavel in January from outgoing Republican Speaker Frank McNulty, who killed a civil union bill poised for passage by sending it back to committee last May. Openly gay Colorado state Senator Pat Steadman was a potential candidate for president of that body but was beat out by a strong LGBT civil rights supporter, John Morse, from conservative Colorado Springs.
And two incumbent speakers will hold onto their positions: Rhode Island Speaker Gordon Fox and California Speaker John A. Perez.
Fox, re-nominated House speaker November 9, was at the center of controversy recently for setting aside a marriage equality bill and pushing instead for a civil unions bill. The bill passed and represented a step forward for the state, but many LGBT activists were sorely disappointed at Fox's tactical decision – to push for what he knew would pass, rather than insist on full equality. Fox, 50, represents Providence and is an attorney. He was first elected to the House in 1992, was elected majority leader in 2002, and was first elected speaker in 2010.
California Assembly Democrats unanimously chose Perez to serve as speaker again. Perez, a 43-year-old union organizer from Los Angeles, was first elected speaker in 2010, becoming the state's first openly gay speaker.
In Washington state, openly gay state Senator Ed Murray was chosen Tuesday to lead that chamber, becoming the second out gay person to lead a state Senate.
The first openly gay speaker of any state legislative chamber in the country was Allan Spear. Spear, a staunch leader for LGBT civil rights, led the Minnesota Senate from 1992 until 2000. He was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the nation, having come out two years after his first election to the state Senate in 1972. He died in 2008, from complications of heart surgery.
In other historic election news November 6, Democrat Stacie Laughton became the first openly transgender person to be elected to a state legislature, winning a seat representing her hometown of Nashua in the New Hampshire Statehouse. Laughton, who owns and operates a small business selling environmentally friendly products, had already been elected to public office once, serving on the Nashua Board of Selectmen. Her issues of focus have been helping the homeless and supporting a proposed commuter rail.
The Victory Fund, which helps direct funding to openly LGBT candidates, did not include Laughton on its list of endorsed candidates but issued a statement celebrating her historic victory. Laughton lives with her campaign manager and former wife Lisa Laughton.
Almost as remarkable as the first transgender election was the election of openly gay candidates in North Dakota and West Virginia. Democrat Joshua Boschee won a seat to the North Dakota Statehouse, being the top vote-getter (3,411 votes) out of four candidates for two seats representing North Fargo. Boschee, a native of North Dakota, has been involved in city, community, and LGBT institutions. And Democrat Stephen Skinner, an attorney and founder of Fairness West Virginia, a statewide LGBT civil rights group, beat his Republican opponent by 699 votes – less than 1 percent of the 7,475 cast in the House of Delegates race – to become the state's first openly gay legislator.
And the list goes on. Other standout LGBT candidates on November 6:
Following her primary campaign for the Texas Legislature this summer, Democrat Mary Gonzalez identified herself as a pansexual and ran unopposed in the general election, securing a seat representing El Paso. On her campaign website, she noted that she is board co-chair of Allgo, a "statewide queer people of color organization" and has been involved with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Democrat Jacob Candelaria, 25, won a New Mexico state Senate seat representing Albuquerque in his first run for public office. After winning 69 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, he was unopposed for the seat from the heavily Democratic district November 6 and became the first openly gay man to be elected to the New Mexico Legislature.
Angie Buhl, 27, won re-election to her state Senate seat in South Dakota, representing Sioux Falls. Before her first election in 2010, she worked as a consultant to Equality South Dakota. She beat her competitor by winning 2,973 votes, or 55 percent of the Senate voting district. The Argus Leader newspaper characterized Buhl's race as one of the "most hotly contested legislative match ups this year." Her opponent was another Democrat who had held the seat until 2010 and ran as an independent to oppose Buhl in the general election. The newspaper endorsed Buhl.
Democrat Kay Floyd took 69 percent of the vote to win her Oklahoma City district Statehouse seat held by openly gay politician Al McAffrey, who is now in the state Senate.
Marcus Brandon, who in 2010 won his first-time run for state representative in North Carolina, becoming the state's first openly gay member of the House, won re-election unopposed November 6.
Lesbian Kate Brown won re-election as Oregon's secretary of state, despite a well-funded Republican challenge.
Kyrsten Sinema was declared the winner of a congressional House seat representing the Mesa, Arizona area Monday, becoming the first openly bisexual person elected to Congress. "We are thrilled that Kyrsten Sinema will be bringing her passion for the needs of the people of her district, as well as those of LGBT people nationwide, to Washington," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. Sinema has served as a member of HRC's Arizona steering committee.
At deadline, biotech manager Steve Hansen was awaiting results of a tally of 4,000 remaining votes in his race for the Sacramento City Council. As of November 13, he was 108 votes ahead of opponent Joe Yee.
Throughout 2012, the Victory Fund tracked a total of 177 LGBT candidates in all in 2012, though 25 of those lost their primary races earlier in the year.