By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Although the city may have to wait a few election cycles before it’s ready for a transgendered candidate, ready or not, lawmakers in Sacramento are learning to deal with the newly minted gay and lesbian caucus. With Goldberg and three additional out Assembly members, along with one lesbian senator, the Westside’s Sheila Kuehl, the LGBT community is seeing a host of pro-gay legislation cruising through the state’s halls of power. Goldberg is working on strengthening the state’s domestic-partnership laws, while San Francisco’s Assembly member Mark Leno is pushing an anti-discrimination bill that would protect people based on gender identity. With term limits looming, it is only a matter of time before any of the five begin to seriously consider a run for higher office — Kuehl, for example, is considered a strong contender for Henry Waxman’s House seat once the veteran congressman decides to retire.
According to Sean Cahill of the civil rights group National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the LGBT community has become the third most loyal voting bloc for Democrats, falling right behind African-Americans and Jews. Polls show about 5 percent of the electorate identifies as gay or lesbian, a number he thinks is an undercount. “It’s probably closer to 7 percent nationally,” Cahill said.
Armed with potential voter and donor numbers, the 2004 Democratic hopefuls have been stumbling over themselves to build early support in the LGBT community. The most successful has been former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who signed the state’s historic civil-unions bill. For more than a year Dean has been meeting with gay groups, forcing the other Democratic candidates to prove their queer mettle. John Kerry has been doing the LGBT political circuit as well, pointing out he was one of the few senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), while Dick Gephardt recently announced his openly lesbian daughter is his newest campaign staffer. Even Florida Senator Bob Graham, who’s been lukewarm at best on many gay issues, signed on to a bill that would end taxation on domestic-partnership benefits.
Despite having all those great gay staffers advising their bosses, the best way to bring the next set of tough issues to the table is getting people into office. “An elected official is going to be far more powerful than senior staff members,” Cecilia Estolano noted. “That’s just a reality of life.”
Dean Hansell agreed, arguing that the LGBT community should do more to groom potential candidates who already have areas of interest to better prepare them to run for office. He dreams of setting up a program at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, where young political hopefuls could be taught everything from holding a press conference to asking a donor for $1,000.
Estolano suggested that the approach could be even more basic. “Probably the most important thing about training programs is getting smart policy-oriented people to think, ‘I could be an elected official,’” she said. “To have somebody call you up and say, ‘You know, your name’s been given to me as somebody who folks think should really consider running for office.’ And I think a lot of really bright people who care about politics in the community don’t necessarily think that way.”
Jackie Goldberg is open to the idea of taking a more active role in preparing the next generation of gay and lesbian politicians. “In the era of term limits we all have to be getting people ready,” she said. “And, in fact, I just told my staff we have to look for who is going to replace me, because I’m at the halfway point.” But she warned she has little time for some gay or lesbian political hopeful who wakes up one day and decides they want to run for office. “We need people who are already developing a base. Then you have to have them come and ask to be mentored by us. But we’re going to ask you the first question: Are you in the public civic debate of the day? If the answer is yes, you can find a mentor in me.”
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