Lots of gay Assembly candidates–on the GOP side

If you’re looking for a gay candidate to vote for in this fall’s California
legislative races, there are several out there. But they’re more likely to
be Republicans than Democrats.

GOP voters nominated five openly gay candidates in Assembly races. But all
five will face general elections in urban districts with heavy Democratic
registration advantages. This group includes William Chan in Sacramento (AD
9), Ralph Denney in northern San Diego (AD 76), Brenda Carol Green in South
Central Los Angeles (AD 48), Mark Patrosso in San Jose (AD 23), and Steven
Mark Sion in West Hollywood (AD 42). Only Denney and Sion ran opposed, but
each won by at least 10 points.

By contrast, Democrats, who traditionally are far more supportive of gay
causes, will only have two openly gay candidates in California legislative
races this fall (Assembly incumbents John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, and Mark
Leno, D-San Francisco).

Elena Popp–the lesbian candidate that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and
Transgendered (LGBT) Caucus chair Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los
Angeles, endorsed to replace her–came in third in the Democratic primary.

The only other openly gay non-incumbent seeking a Democratic nomination,
Palm Springs Mayor Ron Oden, also lost in AD 80. The Senate currently has
three openly gay Democrats: Christine Kehoe of San Diego, Sheila Kuehl of
Santa Monica and Carol Migden of San Francisco–but none have to run for
re-election this year.

All five gay GOP Assembly candidates will be endorsed by the California Log
Cabin Republicans, according to the group’s director, Jeff Bissiri. Bissiri
admits they will face a tough time this fall, running in districts where
Democrats hold a registration advantage varying from 54 percent to 20
percent. In 2004, Democrats took these seats by an average margin of 71
percent to 22 percent. This year, AD 23 will feature a rematch between
Patrosso and Assemblyman Joe Coto, D-San Jose, who trounced the Log Cabin
candidate by 39 points in 2004.

“We understand that it’s an uphill battle in the elections,” said Bissiri.
“But they have the bully pulpits through the election.”

However, some in the GOP vigorously oppose log cabin candidates. The writers
of the hyper-conservative Free Republic Web site characterize the Log Cabin
Republicans as “an [organization] shoving homosexual agendas on the GOP.”
For Patrosso’s race in the AD 23, where he ran unopposed, Free Republic
urged readers to either write in a candidate or not vote.

Mike Spence, president of the conservative California Republican Assembly,
said that his group did not get involved in the races the Log Cabin
candidates won. They only endorsed one, picking Sion’s opponent, former
police office Clark Baker, in the 42nd. However, he questioned whether
someone could be both gay and conservative.

“I haven’t met a social liberal who was a fiscal conservative yet,” Spence

Sion, 43, described himself as a limited-government conservative who is very
concerned about illegal immigration. On the all important gay-marriage
question, he said that he supports “full and equal rights” for gays and
lesbians, but is not necessarily worried about whether the word “marriage”
is attached to these rights.

Denney, 52, largely echoed these positions. He’s a former Democrat who said
“the party left me” around 1976. While he also supports “full and equal”
rights, he espouses a more incremental approach designed to avoid a backlash
and address the thorny problem of Proposition 22, the 2000 initiative that
stated, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in

“The attempt to pass gay marriage was a cynical attempt to embarrass a
governor who, up until that point, had been recognized by Equality
California and the Human Rights Campaign as the most gay-friendly governor
in history,” Denney said.

“To suggest that Dolores Huerta, Alice Huffman, the California Council of
Churches, all of the civil rights groups, all the parents and children who
supported the effort, and I are being cynical doesn’t even merit a
response,” Leno replied. “What is cynical is Republicans running gay
candidates specifically and only running in districts where they will not
have a possibility of winning.”

Leno added that he believes the LGBT Caucus to be a Democratic
caucus–especially considering the complete lack of support among legislative
Republicans on issues important to gay people.

No matter what happens in November, however, the Log Cabin Republicans say
they are here to stay. The group ran 11 legislative candidates in 2004–both
Denney and Green lost Senate GOP primaries. They won six nominations, though
only one was a contested race. These wins, possibly because so many
California districts are safe Democratic seats, have allowed the group to
put together a growing roster of seats on state and county Republican
Central Committees.

It is no coincidence that the relatively gay-friendly Schwarzenegger is the
most successful Republican in recent California history, Bissiri said, even
as he goes against the divisive politics that have served the GOP well
elsewhere in the country.

“The Republican Party in California will be a permanent minority party if
we adopt that model,” Bissiri said.

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