I am among the many trying to read the tea leaves of the Nov. 2 mid-term elections. Some, such as openly gay Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart, note that CNN's small exit polling sample indicated that 31 percent of the 3 percent of self-identified lesbian, gay and bisexual voters cast their ballots for Republicans in the House, compared to 19 percent in 2008. To my knowledge there is no data explaining why there was such an uptick in gay GOP votes. From my POV, I can imagine some non-political gays who parachuted into a political conversation at Starbucks in West Hollywood who no doubt heard how intensely disappointed LGBT Democrats were in President Obama and the Democratically-controlled Congress and possibly construed that meant giving the other guys a chance.
Or, as Capehart and others suggest, LGBTs could possibly just be voting their pocketbooks just like other Americans, angry at what they perceive is a bad economy caused or continued by the Obama administration - despite Rachel Maddow's best attempts to explain how much Obama and Congress had actually accomplished - including saving the country from another Great Depression.
Recriminations abound - questioning the effectiveness of the national groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, for instance, piled onto squabbling over what tactic to take now with the Democratic Party. But other than a few conscientious gay reporters getting quotes from Log Cabin Republican Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper (pictured here with RNC Chair Michael Steele) and GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia, I have seen little discussion about how best to reach out to the Republican Party. It's as if, in one fell swoop on Election Night, the most vocal activists in the LGBT community forgot that Ted Olson and Dan Woods - straight attorneys leading the constitutional challenges to Prop 8 and Don't Ask, Don't Tell - are Republican.
However, perhaps because of a presumption that all Republicans are automatically antigay, the GOP side of the aisle is largely ignored when lobbying, according to gay Republican friends in DC. And there appears that full equality is the only litmus test that matters, leaving little room for creative growth. I remember former California Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg's answer when I asked why she didn't call her expansive domestic partnership bill a "civil unions" bill since that's what it was. She said she was basically giving her concerned colleagues "cover" to vote for the bill: they could tell their constituents that they had already voted for domestic partnership registration and this was just an expansion on that. It worked and the bill passed - though Equality California had to ensure the re-election of those in tough districts - which they did. To borrow a phrase from the HIV/AIDS field, that “harm reduction" approach later enabled EQCA to pass two marriage equality bills. R. Clarke Cooper is using the “harm reduction” method to help his party catch up. It helped LCR elect 12 of their 17 endorsed candidates. Cooper also says he has the votes to pass repeal of DADT in the lame duck session.
I conducted this interview for a story for OUT Q News - and you can go here to hear the entire interview - as well as for an analysis for Frontiers In LA and LGBT POV, which are forthcoming.
KO: What's your reaction to the election?
Clarke Cooper: A relatively positive one - on the macro scale that there's actually a return to basics and for that - what I've talked about in the past is the core conservative bookends of individual liberty and individual responsibility. How does that translate into what we saw last night? That translates into a number of voters - obviously a majority of them - turned out to say that they wanted to see more responsibility for their own funds, for their own budgets and more accountability coming from the government.
And so I do see it as a positive for us and for all Americans - that the message was received by the incoming leadership. There is a very humble acceptance speech by John Boehner, who will be the new Speaker of the House - and his urging that is time to get to work. He, today, along with the Republican Whip - who will be the Majority Whip probably - stated how humble they were and that they wanted to continue to listen to Americans. I thought it was very interesting that the press releases that came out from our partisan collegiate today - they didn't even use the word "Republican." There was an issuance of statements that "all Americans" - which is something that we've encouraged from Log Cabin's side - that our Leadership take a macro viewpoint. So if he Republican Party can start the new Congress by focusing on issues that meet the needs and concerns of everybody - regardless of their sexual orientation, they they're off to a right start.
As far as to any legislation or issues that would be specific to our community as far as equality measures, there are opportunities there, as well.
KO: How's that? What opportunities? What about the concern that people were nice to get elected but their principles tend to be antigay?
CC: You hit a good point. This is something that is not unique to any political party. This is part of political pragmatism that's out there and what you're referring to is something that we have said amongst our party faithful – and not just within Log Cabin – but within the party writ large is: as we're educating fellow Republicans that orientation is not a choice, that we are children of God just like they are. One starting point is: if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. And so it is up to the Leadership to help maintain control and balance within the party and that they stay mission-focused.
If the Republicans in the new Leadership can stay mission focused on securing achievable, successful legislative measures that are uniting and not divisive and don't target a particular community like say ours, then they will be successful. But there is that risk, of course.
There's still going to be some members of the party that they're personal beliefs or opinions that are antigay - but then there are those in the Democrat Party, as well. The Republican Party is just late in catching up to realizing that, on a whole, it is a diminishing political return and not only that - it is wrong to target a particular population of people - it's un-American.
KO: What is your relationship to the Leadership - meaning Boehner and Cantor, in particular? And Mike Pence and Kevin McCarthy - who are more of the Tea Party people? Seems there's going to be a little bit of a civil war within the Republican Party now and that business about maintaining the mission focus is going to be a little bit more difficult than the unified front that we all think of when we think of the Republican Party.
CC: Exactly. And that is a really tough job for soon-to-be, presumably Speaker Boehner. Compared to him, I have a very easy job. I have an advocacy position within the party, I have an educating position and Republican members of Congress know they can come to us and without being laughed out of the room, they can ask basic questions of "What does it mean to be gay?" "Is it a choice? "How do you all feel about a particular position on a particular piece of legislation?" So compared to the new leadership, we've got it easy.
It is going to be a difficult task for a John Boehner and others to actually keep the peace and keep the party focused because there are probably going to be some who might want to take a swipe or an incursion on our arm of the party. That said, what is different now in 2010 from past years is how present we are and how we have been not just in the room for election night parties - but actually available for consultation with members and staff.
So you asked about our access, fortunately before the election cycle, Log Cabin Republicans was already communicating with then the Minority Leader Boehner, himself, his staff, the Minority Whip Eric Cantor, himself, his staff. And then of course the campaign committee leadership folks - Chairman Pete Sessions over at the NRCC for the House, and then Sen. John Cornyn over at the NRSC over at the Senate. So the lines of communication are already established and that's a good thing because it would be very difficult for any advocacy group - I don't care what your support - if doesn't matter if you're the lobbyist group for snow tires or for dog food, it's really hard to build linkages after an election.
So we already have them and it's just a matter of keeping them warm and also keeping them on point. It is incumbent upon Log Cabin Republicans to be a constant reminder to leadership to not have any slippage or any rolling back on any equality measures that have been achieved and to seek opportunities where the Republican Party just might be able to get something out the door and have a tangible result that would be beneficial to the community.
KO - One of the things it seems to me you were "instructed" by President Obama to "get the votes" in order to pass the Don't Ask, Don't Tell amendment in the lame duck session. What was your reaction to President Obama telling you to get the votes, number one and number two, are you going to get the votes?
CC: Well, yes. For starters, we're going to get the votes. And as far as having the president pinpoint me on a particular vote on a particular issue in the senate, I did respectfully, but firmly, remind him that we had the votes prior to adjournment. We had the votes at the time. Both sides (?) move forward and start debate on the national defense authorization act - which includes the repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell amendment that the Senate Armed Services committee had passed earlier this year. So I reminded him of that and he just kind of groused and said - "Just get me those votes" – because the truth is - had Harry Reid played ball with Sen. McConnell, who is one of the folks I was hanging out with last night, we could have at least moved forward and maybe not have completed - I doubt, knowing the Senate that they could have completed that entire bill before the election. But they would have at least chopped enough wood - to use a metaphor - they could have gotten enough of it done - possibly even completed the repeal amendment. Now, unfortunately, they're going to come back for a lame duck and not just our issue, which we're focused on – but everything in that bill has got to be addressed now and that's going to be a real pain in the neck.
That said, we still have enough votes - we may actually gain additional votes because it is after the election cycle. There are a number Republicans who I know probably will be in a more likely position to be more publicly supportive of repeal now that the elections are over.
Another thing that may actually engender additional votes for Republicans is this report. There's a study that Sec. Robert Gates had actually commissioned back in March of this year and he asked his department to do a comprehensive review on how to implement open service - not if, but how to. And a number of Republican offices - and Democrats, as well - but the senators who've been very deliberative about this issue have said let's see this play out - let's see what comes out. I'm happy to say that the raw data that has been released or leaked by some defense civil servants - has been positive. And it's kind of what we all knew from an anecdotal stand point -at least folks like myself who serve in the military knew that it's no big deal. It's a big shrug of the shoulders. So that should be helpful. So I do feel confident - in response to President Obama's (laughs) task to me and to Log Cabin - we'll be able to deliver those votes and we may be able to deliver additional ones now than what were already lined up prior to adjournment.
Cooper followed up with an email noting specific legislation:
ENDA: Per the House Republican leadership staff, ENDA will likely come up during the lame duck session. As to when and where on the legislative calendar, we do not have an exact date. One could presume ENDA would be considered before Christmas. Log Cabin Republicans will work with the already established pro-equality Republicans to secure additional Republican votes and to whip their colleagues’ votes for “yes” on ENDA. As we’ve discussed, there is potential for additional support as ENDA can be sold to Republicans as a “pro-jobs” or “pro-employment” bill.
DADT: The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has become law for 48 consecutive years. Not passing it for the first time could carry a political price for both parties. Log Cabin Republicans advocacy for passage of DADT repeal in the NDAA will include highlighting the NDAA benefits for the military – from pay increases to new base facilities et al. My first post-election meeting with a potential Republican “yes” on repeal Senator is this afternoon. Further, the intense politics of Nov. 2 will be behind them, the Department of Defense study on open service will be due Dec. 1, and recent polling data reflects a majority of Americans are in support of open service. The climate of the lame-duck session could very well engender additional Republican votes in support of repealing DADT.
Tax Equity: This is the perfect issue for Log Cabin Republicans to take the lead on in the new Congress, given stronger Republican numbers and the incoming majority leadership in the House. There are a number of major businesses who have stepped forward on this issue, because the lack of equity actually hurts employers as much as it hurts employees in terms of their tax burden. Republican lead on addressing this inequity in the gay community could help build bridges with Republican members of Congress who do not have a positive history with our community.
Party Politics: Starting with our base of pro-equality Republicans in the House, Log Cabin Republicans will have to seek out opportunities to engender support from all elected Republicans and party leaders. Using points of common interest in advancing legislation beneficial to all Americans is a good starting point. Though a very tacit gain, for the first time in the history of Log Cabin Republicans, party leaders are actually giving us some credit for helping secure victories in this last election. It is also the first time social conservatives are willing to openly meet and engage with us despite threats from some of their constituent groups such as the Family Research Council demanding Senator Cornyn, Representative Sessions and Chairman Steele not work with Log Cabin Republicans. At a minimum, there is a general recognition that “times have changed,” and on a case-by-case basis there are some Congressmen who are waking up to the fact that one can be conservative and gay. It also helps that so many high level Republicans such as Dick Cheney, Ted Olsen, Ken Mehlman and Laura Bush have become conservative pro-equality voices. (Crossposted at LGBT POV)