Chuck Wolfe

Will DC's Old Boy Network Block First Openly Gay US Senator?

Filed By Chuck Wolfe | July 16, 2011 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: old boy network, perfect candidate, Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin

Early money is often a strong predictor of success in electoral politics. old-men-talking.jpgThat's why the impressive second quarter fundraising numbers just released by Rep. Tammy Baldwin give many people hope that she will become America's first openly LGBT senator next year. With more than $500,000 raised in Q2 - most of it in June alone - and an impressive $1.14 million in the bank, Baldwin has proven she can raise the money necessary to win the open Wisconsin Senate seat long held by her friend, Sen. Herb Kohl, who announced his retirement last May.

The LGBT community, women's groups and progressive allies across Wisconsin and America will have Baldwin's back in this fight, but some political elites in Washington are casting about for an alternative, unconvinced an out lesbian can win. They're wrong to wonder, and it's time we called out that kind of political homophobia.

Baldwin made history in 1998 as the first openly LGBT candidate to win election to Congress as a non-incumbent, and that honesty has been the hallmark of her career in the House. She's earned her reputation as a fighter for Wisconsin's working families, for expanded access to health care and fairness for America's farmers, but she has also never failed to speak up and speak out for women and LGBT Americans - not only as an ally, but as an authentic voice for whom the dream of full equality is personal.

Most politicians try to avoid tough fights, but whether the issue was jobs, health care, LGBT equality or protecting a woman's right to choose, Baldwin has stood up and asked her House colleagues to do the same, even when some begged their leadership to avoid tough votes before a reelection campaign. "They should choose another profession," Baldwin told Roll Call last year, when it was reported some Democrats feared voting on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act.

That brand of boldness and honesty sometimes scares the professional political class - people whose jobs often drive them to embrace a kind of safe, bland candidate whose political positions are poll-tested and certified controversy-free. These weathervane politicians aren't leaders - they'll point in any direction the wind blows.

Old boy network politics hasn't changed much in Washington, a town famous for trading in secrets and rumors. So when I hear that some straight white males in the Democratic Party are calling around to recruit a Wisconsin candidate that looks a little more like them, it's clear they're still willing to cast aside even compelling leaders like Baldwin - all because they don't match up with some calcified version of the perfect candidate. If the old boy network gets its way, they'll steer resources toward a candidate who won't offend, but who'll be far less likely to fight.

Baldwin's deep experience, strong commitment and bold vision qualify her to represent Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate. Her obvious fundraising prowess and demonstrated nationwide support over the past month are an unmistakable signal to the professional political class that she'll fight harder than most to win this race and make history as the first woman from Wisconsin, and the first openly LGBT American, to serve in the Senate.

It's time our Senate looked more like America; it needs more dedicated public servants like Tammy Baldwin, whose honesty, drive and passion are the same qualities that distinguish us as Americans and shape our national character. Her unique life experiences and unprecedented perspective will enrich the great debates of our time.

Now the old boys must step aside, take their thumbs off the scale, and let Democracy work for all Americans.


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I believe you are right. I think Tammy's election to the U.S. Senate will be the biggest, most significant non-event of the year. Her constituents like her and trust her, and that's that.

Tammy was in our home for an event last year, I am proud to say, and never have I encountered such a down-to-earth politician who possessed real humility and interest in others. I am so excited for her, and for Wisconsin's excellent judgment!

Sadly, I think Chuck is exactly right. The old boy network cares far more about running someone they think can win than about who's actually most qualified for the job. I predict we'll see some as-yet unknown Democrat run against Tammy Baldwin in the primary and that person will win because the Democratic Party and its donors will pour massive amounts of money into the straight candidate's campaign to prevent her from getting the nomination.

It's what Democrats do, after all. Anyone and anything which is seen as potentially negatively impacting the Party in any way will be ignored, defunded, and thrown under the bus by the Democratic Party leadership and their big-money donors...just ask any trans person.

Sucks, doesn't it?

Wisconsin is a caldron of political emotions right now. It will be interesting to see how the recall efforts against 9 state legislators plays out over the next few weeks, and perhaps recall of the Governor next year. If the Democrats don't win there, then Baldwin will have a very tough time in a Senate race.

jimtoevs@yahoo.com | July 17, 2011 2:38 PM

Come on, Rebecca! Smearing "the Democrats" with a broad brush is extremly counter-productive. Of the four openly GLBT Members of the U. S. Congress, ALL are Democrats. Rep. Tammy Baldwin is a DEMOCRAT. DEMOCRAT President Barrack Obams has done more to advance LBGT Equality in two and one-half years than all of the previous Presidents did in the last two hundred years.

The Democrats are NOT "they", or "other". The Democrats are tens of millions of individuals who share a few common political beliefs, as opposed the the Republicans, who likewise share a few common political beliefs.

Rather than playing the victim role and pointing fingers, we who are members of the LBGT Community need to grow up politically, realistically appraise which political party and which candidates support full LBGT Equality, and then commit time, energy and dollars to helping elect those candidates.

As Sen. Bernie Sanders has stated so well, the 2010 Election once again proved that, "elections have consequences." So, who do you want as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rebecca? Nancy Pelosi or John Boener?

Jim Toevs

I think history teaches us the opposite lesson, Jim. Democrats avoid standing up for their stated principles, and almost always go for what's easiest and and most beneficial to the Democratic Party, not what's really best for their constituents or what they promise to do at election time. They flock to where the money and the media attention are and avoid fighting for the little guy who really needs them most.

Look at New York, where the wealthy and politically potent gay community got plenty of support from that state's Democratic Party for marriage and at exactly the same time you heard not a peep about the fact that New York's transgender community was being quietly thrown under the bus for the fourth time in the last decade.

Or how about the US Senate, where they're holding hearings on DOMA this week, while transpeople in 35 states (not to mention gays and lesbians in 29) can still be fired from their jobs and if they are tenants thrown out of their homes just for being transgender? Not only don't we hear anything from Congressional Democrats about ENDA anymore, but neither Obama nor Debbie Wasserman-Schultz could be bothered to mention ENDA, or even just the goal of workplace equality, in their Pride month proclamations.

Interesting how we keep hearing they're focusing on jobs, jobs, jobs...but when it comes to our community, it's all about money, money, money. In this economy, as badly as LGBT workers are hurting right now, that's not just bad form, it's a disgrace, and rather effectively puts the lie to the inclusive rhetoric they drag out every time they're stumping in our community for votes, volunteers, and campaign cash.

The truth could not be more clear. Just like with the GOP, for Democrats it's not about what's right for the country, it's about what's best and most profitable for the Democratic Party and their campaign coffers.

Unfortunately, just like in New York and many other states, LGBT American workers don't represent enough votes and cold hard cash for the Democrats in Congress to fight for us. The solution is not the lesser of two evils, but to start running real progressives who will actually stand up and fight for the values they say they believe in when they're looking to court our support at election time.

The Tea Party has the wrong politics, but the right idea. It's time to start kicking out the cowards and replacing them with real advocates. It's time we started reminding Democrats in Congress why they're called "representatives" in the first place.