I recently had the chance to talk to Steve Hildebrand, the Deputy Campaign Manager for the Obama Campaign and the highest ranking gay staffer for the campaign.
Steve has spent more than twenty years organizing some of the most targeted and high profile political campaigns in the nation and is recognized as one of the best political strategists in the United States. Working extensively in South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota, Steve has managed races and ran two political parties. He served as Midwest Political Director for the DNC during the Clinton re-elect in 1996 and as Political Director at the DSCC in 97/98. In 99/2000, Steve ran the Iowa caucuses for Vice President Gore and ran the Women Vote! Program for EMILY's List in 2000. He managed Senator Tim Johnson's campaign in 2002 and Senator Tom Daschle's campaign in 2004. In 2007, decided to serve as the Deputy Campaign Manager for Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
The full interview, with discussion ranging from LGBT voter outreach to Anti-Gay Marriage Amendments to a fully-inclusive ENDA, after the jump.
Waymon Hudson- Florida is a battleground state, and it has been reported, a top priority for the Obama Campaign. How does LGBT voter outreach play in to that? Are there specific LGBT "get out the vote" efforts?
Steve Hildebrand- There are many LGBT organizers in the state- but we always need more. Voters of all backgrounds have a tremendous amount at stake in election- whether it be in foreign policy, the economic crisis, or whether issues are gay-related- there is a lot a stake. People have to get involved and make sure their issues are answered.
WH- Florida is facing a dangerous "Marriage Protection" Amendment that would not only ban same-sex marriage, but also roll back domestic partnerships and benefits (much like what happened in Michigan). While the campaign has said Obama does not support this (and other state amendments like California and Arizona), will Obama and his top level surrogates be talking about this during campaign stops? It seems like Obama taking a strong stand on this would make the point to many in the community that he will be a strong supporter of the LGBT community once elected.
SH- Obama is very clear that there should not be any amendment that writes discrimination into the constitution. He has made the fact that he does not support these amendments very clear. That being said, he is running for national office. He feels it might not be appropriate for him to tell Floridians how to vote since he is not a Floridian. But that being said, there is no question where he stands on it.
WH- HIV/AIDS is a huge issue in Florida and around the country. What is Obama's plan domestically to combat the rising rates of infection?
SH- Awareness and education are critical. Prevention is key- through education and regular testing. Barack is one of the few political figures to have taken an HIV/AIDS test in public, both in Africa and LA, which has a huge impact to encourage testing. We have to find the funds to fight HIV/AIDS- we have to make sure drugs are available to those that can't afford them so they can live a strong, healthy, dignified life. And we have to educate that this is not just an LGBT disease; all communities are affected by HIV/AIDS.
WH- What important LGBT issue could he act on quickly if President, what would be most likely to pass?
SH- There are a lot of important issues, but if I advised Barack, I would say to seek passage of an Employment Non Discrimination Act. Jobs and employment security is vitally important to LGBT Americans and no one should be afraid to lose their job because for their sexual orientation. That is a vital piece of legislation that could affect huge numbers of LGBT Americans and a basic right no one should be without.
WH- Would he sign a non-inclusive ENDA or hold out for a fully-inclusive one? Would he actively lobby for a fully inclusive ENDA?
SH- Barack has made it clear that gender identity and expression are vital parts of any legislation passed, especially ENDA. He solidly supports a fully-inclusive ENDA.
WH- There have been reports of voter suppression (McCain and RNC emails confusing voters, new Florida voting laws) which could harm both Obama and the fight against Amendment 2 and other anti-LGBT legislation around the country. How is the campaign combating these tactics?
SH- Well first, shame any Republican who wants to suppress votes. Political games should never be played with the right to vote. Democrats need to find any way possible- through early voting, absentee ballots- to make sure the basic right to vote is upheld. That may not suit Republicans, but it is important to give more opportunities to vote- better voting hours, vote by mail options. It should be easier, not harder to vote. Every vote needs to be counted.
WH- Immigration Equality for LGBT couples is an important issue in Florida and around the country. What would Obama do to help keep bi-national LGBT couples, many who are forced to split or leave the country since there is no national recognition of same-sex relationships, together?
SH- Barack does not feel like he gets to decide what a family should look like. Families should stay together. There are complications with immigration issues, but there are ways to work that out legislatively, to help work towards the opportunity for couples to stay together. Barack has been speaking with the Human Rights Campaign and other groups to talk about how that issue can be solved quickly.
WH- Would Obama put LGBT people in high level administration positions?
SH- Barack would run his administration the way he has lived his life and run his campaign. Diversity is important to him, and to Michelle- it is critically important to him that he hears different voices and different opinions. Barack has always sought out different opinions in his life and would continue to do so once in office. There would definitely be strong LGBT voices in his administration.
WH- Is there anything else you'd like to tell LGBT voters?
SH- This election is in a dead heat- people's involvement is vital. There is a lot at stake. We need a strong advocate in the White House, an advocate like Obama- certainly not someone like McCain and Palin. As a gay American, I want a strong advocate for my issues, for the things that are important to me and my rights. I get that with Obama, but not with McCain/Palin.
People need to participate. If you are not registered to vote, do it, register. If people you know aren't registered, walk them through it. Time is running out to make sure your voice is heard. Get out, volunteer, give what you can, but most importantly get out and vote.
For information on how to register to vote, get an absentee ballot, or check your voter information, go to VoteForChange.com.
For more information on the Obama Campaign, visit BarackObama.com.