Friday
November 10, 2006
SGN.org
Volume 34
Issue 45
 
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Democrats make great gains in state House, Senate
Democrats make great gains in state House, Senate
The SGN speaks with ERW about the unprecedented effort by the region's LGBT community

The voters turned out anti-Gay legislators in Washington State on Tuesday, November 7th, and added to the Democratic majority in the legislature. As of SGN press time, the Democratic majority increased by six in the Senate and seven in the House.

The news was equally good for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community in the Supreme Court races, where incumbents who had a track record of support for the LGBT community or who had voted in support of marriage equality were returned to the court.

The picture couldn't be better at the federal level, where Democrats took control of both the House and the Senate.

However, working behind the scenes and in partnership with the other organizations, Equal Rights Washington made great strides in helping to increase the political power of the Democrats in Olympia.

This week, the Seattle Gay News spoke with ERW's Advocacy Director Josh Friedes about the unprecedented elections and what role the region's LGBT community played in the outcome of Tuesday's election.

SGN: What role do you think that ERW played in the outcome of the elections in our state?

JF: I am very proud of the work that Equal Rights Washington did and what other GLBT organizations did and what GLBT individuals did in support of equality candidates. The ERW PAC spent $125,000 in support of electing equality-minded candidates and there were other important organizations raising money for candidates and campaign expenditures like Fighting for the Majority, who did a phenomenal job. I think - collectively - we made a significant impact on elections.

A couple of specific elections worth noting are, of course, the Jamie Pedersen race, where I think the GLBT community helped Jamie win the primary and -- perhaps -- were even responsible for that win. I am very proud that ERW has 4,000 advocates in the district and we worked tirelessly to make sure that they knew that we had endorsed Jamie and how important it was to have another voice in the legislature who could speak from personal experience as a member of the GLBT community. So, I think that was a race where we played a huge role.

I think - over on the Eastside - ERW played a significant role in the Rodney Tom race. We really wanted to see Rodney Tom be the next Senator. He is fantastic in his own right, plus he was challenging a real leader of the anti-Gay movement in Washington State, Luke Esser. We put a lot of resources into that district. We formed a [political action committee (PAC)], called Save the 48th , working in coalition with Planned Parenthood and Ceasefire. We did an independent expenditure campaign on behalf of Rodney Tom and - in addition to that - we worked to get our members in the district to not only vote for Rodney, but to volunteer on his campaign and to get families and friends involved in campaigning and donating to the campaign. So, I think we played an important role in that district.

One of the races that I am very proud of is the Steve Hobbs race. A lot of people didn't think it would be possible to unseat Dave Schmidt in the 44th District. ERW looked at Steve and saw that he was a very, very, good candidate - dedicated to working hard toward winning. We were happy to back his candidacy, both by maxing out our giving to his campaign and, also, by getting our member mobilized in the district.

Similarly, Eric Oemig in the 45th District is another district where we put a lot of work in. We organized a House party and did a day of door knocking with his campaign. That was a wonderful victory, because Eric Oemig was going up against Toby Nixon for an open seat. Of course, Toby Nixon voted against the Gay Civil Rights Bill. Claudia Kauffman is another district where we did an independent expenditure campaign; that's the 47th. That was a huge victory. We also did independent expenditure work in the 45th. We did this work by contributing money to other political action committees. So, those are a few the races where I think we had a very, very, significant impact.

A lot of thanks has to be given to all of the people who volunteered on campaigns and, also, all the people who contributed to the ERW PAC and other equality minded PACs because money matters in campaigns. We were able to get a lot of money where it was needed. Another great thing we were able to do - working with the Stonewall Democrats in Washington State -- is that we were able to call all ERW advocates in targeted districts to make sure they knew who was endorsed; to ask them to get their family and friends to support equality candidates. I think we made a difference in some of these races that were pretty close.

SGN: Do you think the fact that we raised so much money, speaks to the clout of the LGBT community?

JF: After the loss of the Anderson case, there was a realization that if we were going to move forward with protecting GLBT families and individuals, we were going to need to work with the legislature in a way that we hadn't previously. That meant building relationships through electoral work. I think that after the Anderson case, people just got into the trenches and worked in a way that way have not done in the past. I think it quickly paid off.

I think we are building relationships with legislators as we work side by side with them in order to get them elected. We were able to engage with them to have meaningful conversations about being GLBT people. We were able to develop relationships with coalition partners in a way we have not been able to do in the past. Once we started raising a lot of money, organizations starting taking notice of what we were doing. We have found ourselves working much more closely with labor unions, the Progressive Majority, the choice community than we have in the past. I hope those will be long standing relationships with our coalition partners so we can continue to work on issues of mutual concern. There are so many intersections in the work we do around healthcare, employment issues, reproductive freedom and rights and I think we will move forward in a much more powerful way as a result of the way we worked in coalition during the election cycle.

I also think that we worked very well with leaders in the Democratic Party. I think there is a greater respect and understanding of the capacity the GLBT can have in elections. I hope this will empower legislators to take stands on the issues. We hope they will begin entering into a dialogue about and, hopefully, move legislation.

SGN: The Supreme Court candidate Susan Owens was reelected, as were the other three incumbents who had been challenged by big money special interests. What's your reaction?

JF: There are so many great stories that come out of the '06 election, but one of the greatest - I think - is that justice is not for sale in Washington State. The electorate is very fair minded and very supportive of GLBT civil rights. Those justices who supported marriage equality through the writing of a strong dissent in the Anderson decision were rewarded with reelection. There was no backlash to their support for equality. In fact, I think there was quite the opposite. I think what we saw was voters who recognized that they did their jobs, that they should be respected for issuing a principled holding and that they should be returned to office.

The claims of the radical-right were unmet and rang hollow in the end. I think people are increasing realizing is what the radical-right does is capitalize on fear. In fact, they were not able to win in '06. They weren't able to win at the ballot box; quite contrary. Lets remember that we were supposed to be voting - according to the radical-right - on a referendum to repeal the anti-discrimination law. People said no to that. They refused to sign the petition. When we look at election results in the November election, what we see is that - in district after district - legislators who voted against the anti-discrimination law were turned out by their constituents.

People who we thought would be incredible difficult to unseat in Spokane; Brad Benson loses his seat. Bev Woods losses her seat. This is really exciting and some legislators that people thought that you could never even come close to - like Pam and Dan Roach - almost lost their seats. So, not only did the Democratic majority increase by what is estimated - presently - to be a 13 seat gain, but a number of anti-equality legislators almost lost their seat. They are going to have to think twice now before they take stands that are contrary to the needs of their constituents.

SGN: Three openly Gay legislators - Joe McDermott, Dave Upthegrove, Jim Moeller - won reelection. Jamie Pedersen was elected to the House in the 43rd. Now, Ed Murray takes Pat Thibaudeau's seat in the Senate. What do you think that means for our community and our ability to move our agenda in Olympia?

JF: We are blessed with having an incredible delegation, which is now made up of five GLBT members and we also have straight allies. I will always be grateful to our straight allies - many of whom are actually leaders working for equality for the gay community -- but their is no substitution for people being able to speak on the floor of the House in support of their own families; in support of their own needs. I think every time we elect a new GLBT legislator, we gain the opportunity to educate legislators in the way we couldn't do when the legislature was overwhelmingly straight. Even now, we are still an underrepresented minority in the legislature, but we are getting closer to appropriate numbers. I think it will be easier in the coming session to help legislators to understand the real life issues that Gay and Lesbian families and individuals face -- in significant part -- because Jamie and Ed and Joe and the others can talk about their lives and their experiences in a first-person way. There is no better way of educating legislators than having co-workers talking about their families. So, this is going to be very, very, powerful. For the advocacy community - for organizations such as ERW - it makes our lives so much easier because we have people in the state House with whom we have very, very, strong working relationships; who can help us do what we need to do in order to work with the various legislators. So, this is just really good news for the community.

SGN: What else do you want our readers to know?

JF: This election cycle went better than anyone could have possibly imagined. I know that the results are not yet finalized but it looks like the Democratic majority increased by six in the Senate and seven in the House. That is more of them in the two houses than anyone imagined. While ERW is, of course, a non-partisan organization and we work with all parities - not just Democrats or Republicans - the bottom line is that it has been the Democratic Party that has been moving forward on GLBT civil rights issues.

We now need to capitalize on this momentum and work to pass Gay rights legislation as quickly as possible. What people have to do now is congratulate their legislators who were elected, especially people who volunteered or donated. They need to let their legislator know that the reason they did this work was because of their support for GLBT civil rights.

We have to continue to build those relationship and we have to make sure that the next election cycle is just as good. That means that people have to immediately start getting back involved in helping to raise money for our political action committee and doing work in their local communities; getting involved with local party politics. We cannot stop now, we don't have the power we need to secure our full equality, but we are far better off today than I thought we were going to be with this election cycle.

One of the things to note in this election cycle is that a significant number of legislators who voted against the Gay Civil Rights Bill lost their elections. Only one legislator, who voted for the Gay Civil Rights Bill lost her election and that was Jan Shabro. She was a Republican and she lost to a Democrat who is supportive of GLBT civil rights. I think there is a very strong message that was sent to the legislature and that is that the voters of Washington are fair minded and there is absolutely no penalty to be paid for supporting Gay civil rights.

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