Gay CA Republicans look to expand
by Matthew S. Bajko
Their party may have taken a drubbing in the Golden State last month, but gay Republicans in California see an opening in the GOP's dismal November election results.
Log Cabin California members are hopeful their pleas for the party to move away from divisive social issues, such as same-sex marriage and abortion, will now find a more receptive audience. They are also looking to expand their presence in the state and gain official recognition from the California Republican Party as a chartered club.
"I am hopeful we can make a lot of inroads and changes to the dialogue in terms of the marriage equality issue," said Jason Clark, a gay attorney who is the general counsel of the San Francisco Republican Party and an elected member of its central committee.
Clark ran against gay state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) in this year's election. Although he lost the race, Clark is now a delegate to the California Republican Party due to his candidacy for a state legislative office and can appoint two other delegates.
Several other gay Republicans ran for Assembly seats in southern California this year, and they also will serve as delegates and appoint other delegates. As such, they can influence votes at the party's conventions on such things as platform stances and who will be statewide chair. Current Chairman Tom Del Beccaro is stepping down next year.
"The chances are really good of electing a moderate chairman," said Clark, who serves as vice president of the San Francisco chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans.
Brad Torgan, who stepped down as president of Log Cabin's Los Angeles chapter and ran in the spring primary for an Assembly seat representing West Hollywood, agrees with Clark that the state GOP needs to rethink its political stances.
"It is time to both recalibrate the message as well as, in some respects, change the message," said Torgan.
He is less sure of just how ready party leaders are to embrace changes, though he does believe "there is at least a goodly portion of the party that does understand" change is needed and that Republicans need to speak to a more diverse pool of voters.
At the moment Torgan said the GOP, "basically, it speaks to old white guys. Until the party starts listening more and working more with those groups that it did poorly with, I think the problems will continue."
The diminution of the Republican delegation in the Legislature, where Democrats now hold supermajorities in both chambers, should propel GOP leaders to examine how to attract minorities and LGBT people, said Torgan.
The situation "bodes well not just for us but for some of the Latino Republican groups and Latino business groups," he said.
Looking toward the next round of state races in 2014, the GOP needs to recruit a more diverse group of candidates, said Charles Moran, a gay GOP political consultant who is chairman of California Log Cabin Republicans.
"We have to recruit qualified women, people of color, and gays and lesbians who will step up to represent the party. It is not going to be easy," said Moran, pointing out that Republicans "got shellacked" in last month's election in districts where "we shouldn't."
Gay candidates have made inroads with party leaders in California, securing backing for their campaigns. But gay GOPers have had less success in recent years with blocking the party's platform from containing anti-gay stances.
One way for Log Cabin to increase its influence is to become chartered by the state GOP. Doing so would provide the gay Republicans with designated seats on the state party central committee.
"It is time for us to be full members of the California Republican Party. Some of our members are the most active members of their local parties," said Mill Valley resident Fred Schein, who was elected last month as president of the San Francisco-based chapter and is an elected member of the Republican county central committee in Marin.
In order to be considered for chartership, Log Cabin California has to prove its statewide membership numbers at 200 and has to have established chapters in 10 of the state's counties. Each chapter has to have at least 10 members, and three of the chapters have to be chartered by their respective Republican county central committees.
Log Cabin has established chapters in six California counties, with the San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Los Angeles chapters having local chartered status.
The other chapters are located in San Diego, Riverside, Orange County, and Sacramento. It is looking at setting up new chapters in San Bernardino, Marin, Ventura, and Alameda counties, as well as in the Central Valley.
"For our organization over the next couple of years, we have to be focused on capacity building," said Scott Schmidt, a former president of Log Cabin's L.A. chapter. "We need to be making sure our chapters here in California are strong and standing on their own."
Heading up that effort will be Dan Brown, who stepped down last month as president of the San Francisco chapter but remains as vice chair of the statewide Log Cabin board. He expects to focus first on setting up a new chapter in Fresno to serve the southern counties of the Central Valley.
"Obviously, there are a lot of Republicans there. The Fresno and Modesto area has a decent size LGBT population as well," said Brown.
Depending on how the expansion effort goes, Log Cabin's first chance to seek being chartered will be at the state party's March convention. Its success could provide insight for the party's future, said Brown.
"In some ways our success will be indicative of how successful the party is going to be. If we can't reach out to these areas, it is going to be difficult for the party to do it," said Brown, who helped to revive the San Francisco Log Cabin chapter several years ago.
As Brown's successor, Schein hopes to continue to bolster the chapter's ranks. It currently has 31 members, some who live as far as Santa Cruz or in Contra Costa County.
"It has been growing slowly but steadily the last two years. I would like to see that continue," said Schein, 72, who is also vice president of SAGA North, the LGBT ski and snowboarding club.
Seeing Log Cabin members elected to public office in the Bay Area remains another top priority. To date it has been an elusive goal, as Democrats have strong electoral advantages in most local cities.
"To my knowledge Jason is the first openly gay Republican to run for any office in this city. We feel that is a real turning point in the political history in this city," said Schein. "We have to look at what offices or positions come open. We would always be on alert for an opening that we might be able to field a candidate for."