Thursday, November 4, 2010

Election Results: The Good, The Bad, and the Inspiring

As election results continue to roll in, PFLAG’s policy team have already begun looking ahead at what the next two years will mean for our country and the progression of our legislative priorities. With Republican gains larger than many predicted leaving moderate candidates left by the wayside in the tense political climate our country finds itself in, our federal government looks to have become more polarized than ever before. Despite what will present itself as a challenge in the coming years, PFLAG is thrilled to see so many LGBT friends and allies emerge victorious as the dust settles on a rough and tumble campaign season. We’re inspired to work with these individuals along with our PFLAG community to educate the country as a whole on why the issues we support are not only important, but necessary in promoting civil rights for all Americans.

Here’s the good news:
• David Cicilline will become the fourth openly gay member of the House of Representatives, joining Tammy Baldwin, Barney Frank, and Jared Polis in the 112th congressional session. The 49-year-old mayor of Providence survived an anti-gay leafleting attack in the final hour before the polls opened on Tuesday.

• Jim Gray, a 57 year old millionaire construction magnate and vice Mayor in Lexington, Kentucky ousted incumbent Jim Newberry for mayoral control in the city.. Gray is the first gay mayor elected in Lexington, which holds close to 300,000 people.

Congressman Barney Frank (MA-04) was easily re-elected despite recent concerns and polls showing a narrowing gap between him and the 35-year-old opposing him, Sean Bielat. Frank has held the seat for 19 years and remains one of the most powerful members of Congress, sponsoring critical legislation like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

• Laurie Jinkins became Washington’s first openly lesbian state legislator on Tuesday with her election to the Washington State House. She will be a strong influence and excellent advocate for movement towards marriage equality for the state, with a bill that could possibly arrive in the next legislative session.

• Victoria Kolakowski is the first openly transgender judge elected in America. Kolakowski is a lawyer and administrative law judge with over 20 years of legal experience ran for Superior Court Judge in Alameda County, California. She competed yesterday in a run-off election against John Creighton, the Deputy District Attorney for the county.

• Both California and Maryland gained a number of openly gay and lesbian lawmakers within their State legislatures. In Maryland, the caucus is poised to help pass marriage equality legislation, which the reelected Governor Martin O’Malley has vowed to sign.

And now for the bad news:
• Russ Feingold lost his bid for re-election after a slight resurgence in polls late in the game against Republican opponent Ron Johnson. Feingold has been a champion advocate for LGBT rights since entering the Senate from Wisconsin in 1992, casting one of the only votes against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) upon its inception.

• Patrick Murphy lost an important House seat in Pennsylvania to the former holder of the seat before him, Mike Fitzpatrick. Murphy, a veteran of the Iraq war who served overseas for seven months following September 11th, was a key advocate supporting repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

• An average of 54 percent of the electorate decided not to retain Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and associate justices Michael J. Streit and David L. Baker, all of whom recently judged in favor of marriage equality for the state in Iowa. Bob Vander Plaats, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate, acted as spokesman for the campaign to rid the state of the judges. However, the replacements are determined by the Governor of the state, and depending on the timing, that decision could be left up to lameduck Democratic Governor Chet Culver.

• The New York State Senate is headed for a 31-31 tie, with Republicans decreasing the Democrats’ narrow majority in the State Chamber by 1. This proves significant for a prospective marriage equality vote, which many are expecting to occur in the next session. If proposed legislation were to come to a tie in the State Senate, the responsibility to cast the tie-breaking vote would fall with newly elected Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy, who recently publicly stated that he would cast a vote for marriage equality. However, getting an even partisan vote will prove difficult, as last year’s vote yielded a 38-22 decision opposed to reform. An important “yes” vote was lost in Brian Foley, a Long Island Democrat who strongly favored marriage equality.

In short, the midterm elections were a toss-up. While we lost many fair-minded Representatives in the House, we did see some hugely historic gains at the local level. We must recognize -- despite the gains and losses we’ve witnessed in the midterm elections – that our work is far from over. We must continue to do what we as PFLAGers have always held true – supporting our communities when it’s necessary, educating those who may be misinformed about LGBT issues, and advocating for rules, policies and laws that help advance equality forward. Everyone here in DC will continue to knock on the doors of Congress to talk about the legislation most important to our families, but we cannot do this work without your help! Please be sure to schedule an in-district meeting with your new or old elected officials today to make sure that they know about the issues most important to you and your families. If you need some ideas as to how to set-up a meeting, or what you should talk about, please be sure to check out our resource, Bringing the Message Home, and feel free to contact us if you have specific questions. Only together can we ensure that our elected officials are informed and ready to make the right decisions that will advance equality for everyone across the country.

This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.

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