by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Robin Brand, deputy executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, will be in Seattle for a June 14 event with local LGBT political leaders and supporters.
The Victory Fund describes itself as an organization that 'identifies, trains, and elects LGBT leaders to all levels of office, in every corner of America.'
It claims a 68% win rate for its endorsed candidates.
Brand is no stranger to Washington, having been executive director of the state's Democratic Party in the mid-'90s.
She spoke exclusively with SGN about the Victory Fund's strategy and how that will pay out in Washington state.
"We've endorsed over 100 candidates this year," she told SGN, "the most ever. We've endorsed three in Washington - Marko Liias, Jamie Pedersen, and Laurie Jinkins. She will be the first openly Lesbian member of the legislature. It's very exciting!"
Liias is running for reelection as a State Representative in the 21st District, as Pedersen is in the 43rd. Jinkins is running for an open House seat in Tacoma's 27th District.
"Washington state has a great history with LGBT electeds!" Brand said. "I remember Cal Anderson. And Ed Murray - he's kind of the patriarch of LGBT electeds."
"It will be interesting running under the new primary laws - the top two go to the general [election]," she added. "It will be a different dynamic than in the past."
Brand then outlined other races she believed were especially important.
"We have two great congressional candidates," she said. "David Cicilline, the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, and Steve Pougnet, the mayor of Palm Springs. That's a swing district where we think we have a good chance to pick up the seat."
"[Pougnet's opponent, Mary Bono Mack ] voted against 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal," Brand added.
Republican incumbent Mack, onetime wife of the late Sonny Bono and his successor in Congress, voted the Republican party line 89% of the time and earned an 84% approval rating from the Christian Coalition.
"There's also an important primary in Ohio," Brand told SGN. "Nickie Antonio will be the first openly Gay member of the Ohio legislature."
Antonio won her Democratic primary on June 8. No Republicans have filed for the seat, and an independent candidate withdrew from the race, meaning Antonio is certain to win the seat in November.
"We have a number of what we call 'building our influence states' - Washington, Colorado, and Maryland for example," Brand continued. "This also coincides with the next tier of states looking to expand relationship recognition."
"We've noticed that where you have five or more LGBT members in the legislature, that's where they've passed significant relationship recognition laws," she explained. "Colorado and Maryland are right at that threshold level."
Asked if she was advocating a state-by-state approach to marriage equality, Brand replied, "The Victory Fund itself doesn't advocate for policy issues, but we do see the value in working in states where you have two, three, four, five members [of the legislature]."
Brand is optimistic about electing LGBT candidates, and says she is not worried about the Tea Party, or what some have begun to call the "new right."
"It's clear there's frustration among all voters with economic issues, deficits, cuts in services - that's never good for incumbents. But I'm not convinced it's going to be anti-Democratic or anti-progressive," she said. "There's anger towards the direction the country is going, but I don't think it's partisan."
"We're continually electing LGBT candidates. We have really competitive races in Montana, Colorado, and Oklahoma - it's only going in one direction," Brand concluded.
Brand added that the Victory Fund also tries to build working alliances with other constituencies that might have compatible political goals.
"Labor, for example. In California, we've worked very well with the California Nurses Association. Washington is ahead of the curve a little bit on this issue," she told SGN.
"We're always looking for candidates who represent many constituencies. We support many candidates of color - a high percentage - our commitment to diversity is very strong," she added.
Asked what candidates could expect to get from a Victory Fund endorsement, Brand listed several benefits the Victory Fund offers.
"Our goal is to have openly Gay office holders in every state. There are still 18 or 19 without one in the state legislature. So one thing we do is to recruit candidates.
"We also train candidates. It's really very hard work. Our Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute has worked with hundreds of potential candidates. Sometimes after going through the training, someone will decide that being a candidate is not for them&
"We offer financial support. We offer technical support. Our team divvies up the candidates and we go and meet with them, and we ask them, 'How is the campaign doing? How many doors have you knocked on? How much money have you raised?'"
Brand told SGN that LGBT victories in any part of the country benefit the community even in places where LGBT voters are not very visible or well organized.
"There's no doubt that our successes in states like Washington and Vermont are moving the needle across the country. It impacts where we are nationally," she said
"How do we get more influential? Openly Gay candidates - that's an important first step for voters in supporting Gay rights. The voter might say, 'Well, I think he or she will do a good job, and that's more important than being Gay.'"
"That's especially important in the more conservative states," Brand added.
Brand herself is closely identified with the Democratic Party, having led the Washington state party - "Through its darkest years!" she chuckles. "I came in in 1995."
Almost all the candidates endorsed by The Victory Fund run as Democrats. Asked if they had written off the Republican Party, Brand replied it had not.
"We have endorsed Republican candidates - a couple of them, anyway - and we're looking to expand the number," she said.
"There's an openly Gay Republican running for Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts," she added, noting "There's a very different dynamic in a Republican primary."
Brand will be the special guest at a June 14 event at Marjorie's, 1412 E. Union Street, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The $50 ticket goes to support the Victory Fund's Leadership Institute.
Hosts of the event include Seattle City Councilmembers Sally Clark and Tom Rasmussen, Tacoma City Councilmember Ryan Mello, Port Commissioner Rob Holland, State Sen. Joe McDermott, State Rep. Marko Liias, Anne Levinson, Tina Podlodowski, Michael Mattmiller and Jay Petterson, Kevin Thompson and Greg Ratliff, and Brady Walkinshaw.
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