Pam Spaulding

HRC releases endorsements, mum on NC U.S. Senate race

Filed By Pam Spaulding | April 28, 2008 4:28 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: 2008 Election, HRC, Jim Neal, Kay Hagan, North Carolina, U.S. Senate

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) put out its first wave of endorsements as it touts its Election 08 website, where voters can

gauge the political landscape of each state, donate to candidates, access the latest news and information on LGBT issues in the campaigns and view a report card on where the candidates stand on key issues in the race for the White House.

Curiously, HRC has decided to keep its powder dry on the U.S. Senate race here in NC, not endorsing either Jim Neal or Kay Hagan. I think it's unfortunate based on the clear differences between the candidates in their approaches to LGBT issues in this campaign. First, what Joe Solmonese and Paul Begala said about this year's races...

Democratic strategist Paul Begala joined Solmonese on the call and discussed the state of the national electorate and stressed the importance of electing pro-civil rights leaders.

"The political tides have shifted in our direction but were not taking anything for granted this year," Solmonese told reporters. "Since 2004 we've held key votes in employment non-discrimination and hate crimes legislation. HRC working from the ground up to increase our margin of pro-equality leaders in Washington."

Begala said the tide in favor of LGBT equality is being pushed by an "all out rejection" of the Bush Administration and its failures. He claims Sen. John McCain is following right in Bush's footsteps.

What do people think of when they think of the word "change," Begala asked. "Is the mental image you conjure up a 70-year-old white man who's been in Washington for 30 years?"

OK. Pro-equality. That would suggest someone who is ready, able and willing to tell voters how they would advance LGBT rights in the Senate. Kay Hagan's campaign hasn't done that despite repeated polite public attempts to get her on the record on legislation. Not just me, mind you, but the LGBT press here.

Even when I saw Hagan's communications coordinator Colleen Flanagan in person at the BlueNC blogger gathering yesterday (many pro-LGBT candidates were there, including Jim Neal), she didn't say when or if Hagan would issue any positions on:

1. Federal hate crimes legislation.
2. Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
3. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
4. The Uniting American Families Act (H.R. 2221, S. 1328)
5. The federal Defense of Marriage Act
6. Whether her view that the definition of marriage should be left up to state law can be reconciled with 1967's Loving v. Virginia, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidated state bans on interracial marriages and whether that should have been left a state matter.

This is basic stuff. Sen. Hagan has in fact sponsored anti-discrimination measures at the state level, but for whatever reason, she can't manage the gumption to state her positions on the above for publication. A simple "Yes" or "No" would have been clear. Follow up questions to the campaign were not only not answered, but not acknowledged in any way, as I said above.

If HRC is looking at who would be the best candidate on our issues, we already have a non-responsive fossil sitting in that seat right now -- Elizabeth Dole. No matter what you think of Jim Neal, he has been both responsive and clear on our issues, and Kay Hagan has been MIA.

It's not as if NC politicians have been running away from LGBT issues in this cycle to play it safe, in fact, I've found the opposite to be true -- candidates for statewide office are ready and willing to be interviewed on LGBT issues for the Blend, including Lt. Governor candidates Dan Besse, Pat Smathers and Hampton Dellinger. (Besse's appeared recently, Smathers is slated for this week, and I hope to get to Dellinger soon). I think there are some myths that need to be broken down about this state -- candidates in NC don't need to campaign from the LGBT support closet.


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For HRC not to endorse the openly gay candidate is beyond the pale. Do they not care one whit about our community? First, ENDA shoves trans folk out of the community. Then our own community members can't even get endorsed by the organization self-charged with creating change in politics.

*sigh*

I'm so glad you didn't go down the "he should be endorsed because he's gay" path, Pam, even though that's a lot of what I'm feeling right now. And apparently Bil is too. But it shouldn't be enough to get an endorsement.

He's clearly better on the pieces of legislation HRC is working to get passed, so I'm wondering what the hold-up is.

HRC's at least consistent on it. Back in 2000 they endorsed Rep. Mary Bono, who had a ZERO on their Legislative scorecard over an African-American gay man who had the support of the ENTIRE Democratic establishment in California by the name of Ron Oden for a Palms Springs area congressional seat.

Ron Odenn's now mayor of Palm Springs.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | April 29, 2008 11:14 AM

What we have here is a contested primary between a candidate who has sponsored state level non-discrimination legislation and an openly gay candidate who has taken stronger public stands on a range of GLBT issues.

At this point there does not seem to be a clear indication of whether Neal or Hagan has the best chance of winning the nomination.

HRC should not be expected to endorse a candidate simply because he is gay. It is the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund's stated purpose to elect openly GLBT candidates and they have not yet made a decision on endorsing Neal.

It is not unusual for advocacy groups to factor in viability and other political considerations when making endorsements and that may be what HRC is doing here.

It is not unusual for advocacy groups to factor in viability and other political considerations when making endorsements and that may be what HRC is doing here.


If "viability" is a consideration for endorsements (maybe to an extent, if there were 4 or more primary candidates, that would make sense), then LGBT candidates would always be at a disadvantage there.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | April 29, 2008 12:08 PM

Alex, are you saying that viability should not be a consideration for endorsement? That would make no sense.

Viability is a consideration for endorsement for every organization that has a PAC. What would be the point of contributing money to a candidate that has little or no chance of getting elected?

I am not saying that this is the case with Neal, but it should noted that the race is very close and that even the Victory Fund has not made the decision to endorse Neal.


There is a space, Michael, between "viability is everything" and "viability is nothing."

I'm just saying that what the DSCC implied when it sought out Hagan to run is that any gay man isn't viable. It's kinda hard to see what's so not viable about Neal other than that he's running against an incumbent.

If there's a strong case against his viability, fine. But if it's just "North Carolina would never go for a gay man," then I think that the HRC would do well to look past that.

Then again, they endorsed Lieberman. So who cares.

Pam Spaulding | April 29, 2008 12:34 PM

As I said over at my place:

On the metrics of HRC deciding who to endorse, I'm interested in the decision not to endorse anyone at all. An explanation into it would be worthwhile, as people should know what factors went into it because a gay candidate is involved. Otherwise you get what reaction you saw in that DKos thread. Some transparency can avoid blowback, but that's obviously not how HRC operates.

I'm not talking the dirty details or backroom squabbling (though I'm sure there was plenty of that), simple metrics and why, such as:

* it's a state a pro-equality candidate cannot win, in HRC's opinion (unless the pro-equality candidate has a ton of money to be viable at the outset, HRC won't stick its neck out; that cripples any candidate)

* because of the above, spending resources/an endorsement are not in HRC's interest, even given the existence of a known pro-equality candidate (gay or not). That means HRC's lobbying role supercedes its LGBT advocacy role (something we know has been problematic for some time).

* Lack of endorsement indicates neither candidate publicly promises to advance LGBT equality if elected. Obviously this isn't a factor; one candidate meets them (Neal), the other has so far refuse to publicly indicate ANY position. On that basis, there's a clear choice. Again, it doesn't matter whether the candidate is gay or not -- clearly you can be a self-loathing homo voting against your interests (we already have plenty of those on the Hill).

* Unknown factors that will never surface publicly -- certain important donor$ or people of influence like/dislike one candidate or another, possible conflicts of interest, pressures from external political forces (e.g., DSCC), etc. That leads to tin foil hat speculation and blowback, which in turn is exacerbated by HRC's silence.

Absent any meaningful explanations on an endorsement for a landmark federal race in a critical state about to vote next week, blowback is guaranteed? It's a PR anvil on the foot again.

Alex, I'm not saying that they should endorse Hagan because he's gay. I think they should endorse him because he has better LGBT-friendly positions than his primary opponent and he's gay.

Michael, I'd say that viability has some factor, but shouldn't be the determining factor. In this case, there's a clearly superior candidate that has an equal chance of winning. It's a no-brainer for an endorsement by HRC.

Pushing Jim off to the Victory Fund isn't right. That's almost like saying that HRC didn't endorse him because Victory can. After all if they split then we'd have two officially sanctioned "gay-friendly candidates."

It would be the same thing if HRC endorses Andre Carson here in Indiana. Carson hasn't done anything pro-gay, but State Rep Orentlicher has repeatedly pushed for our community at the Indiana statehouse. Carson, however, is the incumbent so I don't doubt which side of the fence they'll land on.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | April 29, 2008 1:20 PM

Alex,

If you are wondering "what's so not viable about Neal other than that he's running against an incumbent" check out Neal's FEC filing. He has a little over $18,000 in cash on hand and $120,000 in debt. Hagan has over $300,000 in cash on hand and $50,000 in debt.

That's a serious cash difference. That means that she has far more resources to put into her get out the vote efforts.

We may not like it, but the ability to raise money matters in running an effective campaign. Being able to raise money is a sign of viability.

Just a quick reminder that Jim Neal is a contributor to the Bilerico Project...

That's what I was sayin', Bil. I mean, pretty much. I don't think that his being gay should mean nothing at all - I think it is important. And I'd mean out n' proud kind, not larry craig kind.

Thanks, Michael. I'll check that out.

IMO, someone needs to take a long flat stick to the back of the heads of anyone working in the Communications department at HRC. After the ENDA debacle, the ongoing police intimidation issues at fundraisers, and now this... they're doing a terrible job of having a consistent message, or any message at all.

Like it or not, when the HRC decided not to endorse an openly gay and viable candidate for the US Senate, they need to explain themselves.

But I guess they're too busy sending me another personal note from Joe asking for my donation.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | April 29, 2008 3:04 PM

Bil,

I don't agree that this is a "no-brainer for an endorsement by HRC." If the goal of HRC's PAC is to help elect candidates who will advance GLBT civil rights, then viability has to be a key consideration.

My point in pointing out that the Victory Fund has not endorsed Neal is that the two gay national organizations with the most experience in electoral politics have not endorsed Neal. Concerns about his viability as a candidate may be part of that.

Exactly my point, Michael. Why aren't the two national LGBT orgs helping him be more viable? Both groups are flush with cash and could easily have helped him to raise even more funds. I'd like to know the reasoning behind this. As a perfectly acceptable candidate, why not use the community's expertise and assistance to help him attract even more voters?