House mid-terms: A sinking feeling

John Boehner

John Boehner

The mid-term election for Democrats is beginning to sound like the Titanic. The gigantic wonder that set sail in January 2009 is now sinking, the passengers are in a state of panic, and the rich corporations have taken all the lifeboats.

Pollster Peter Hart, speaking to the Harvard Institute of Politics this month, put it in numbers. He said Republicans would emerge from November 2 with 230 House seats. The New York Times’ political poll cruncher,, predicts 226. Sure, it will be a much smaller majority than the 255 Democrats have now; but, almost no one is predicting it will be anything but a Republican majority.

And the odd thing is Republicans are less popular today than they were two years ago, said Hart. Two years ago, Republicans were reviled as the party of President George W. Bush, who led the nation into two wars, a crippling deficit, and today’s crippled economy.

Republicans will take over the House, and maybe the Senate, said Hart, because November’s vote will be the great anti-government vote.

If all that polling and punditocracy prove true, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a long-time supporter of LGBT civil rights, will be replaced by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), whose Human Rights Campaign score is zero. And two other political zeros will aid Boehner: Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, and Republican Conference Chair Mike Pence of Indiana.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) will lose his chairmanship of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) will lose his chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) will lose his chairmanship of Education and Labor. All three had HRC scores of 100 in the last Congress. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Missouri), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, had a score of 45, which may not seem like such a loss. But his likely replacement, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), had a zero.

While the overall seat count will be the focus of greatest concern for civil rights supporters November 2, there are individual races where the LGBT community stands to lose some important allies.

One is Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.). Murphy, who is straight, went to the mat for legislation to repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy –and at a time when most political observers were saying there was little chance of success. He voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in 2007 and earned a 90 percent rating from HRC’s most recent Congressional Scorecard. HRC has contributed $8,500 in support of his re-election.

The NYT-threefiftyeight analysis says Murphy’s race is a toss-up against Republican former Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick winning. Fitzpatrick’s HRC rating, during his 2005-06 term was 63. While that is a significantly lower rating than Murphy earned, Fitzpatrick did vote against a federal amendment to ban same-sex marriage and for a hate crimes measure to include sexual orientation and gender identity. What cost him points was his failure to co-sponsor other legislation.

Of 37 House races that the NYT-threefiftyeight analyses identify as too close to call this week, Murphy’s race in Pennsylvania and five others involve incumbents with strong pro-gay voting records. Those other five incumbents, all Democrats, are Reps. Phil Hare (Illinois’ 17th Congressional district), John Hall (NY’s 19th), Michael Arcuri (NY’s 24th), John Salazar (Colorado’s 3rd), and Carol Shea-Porter (NH-1st). Hare earned a 100 percent score from HRC; Hall earned a 90, Arcuri an 85; and Salazar and Shea-Porter an 80. Just as many toss-up incumbents have scores in and around the freeze zone; so, positive positions on LGBT-related issues do not, in and of themselves, appear to sink incumbents. (The majority of toss-ups are between newcomers fighting for a vacant seat or a first-termer who has yet to be scored by HRC.)

The other “toss up” races involve candidates who earned an HRC rating of 70 or less, or have not yet been rated by the organization.

  • Arizona Democratic Rep. Harry Mitchell—HRC grade 70; HRC contribution $7,000- Mitchell voted for ENDA in 2007. In response to a question from the Arizona Republic newspaper, Mitchell said he supports Arizona’s same-sex marriage ban but opposes a similar amendment to the federal constitution. His opponent, Republican David Schweikert, said only, “Traditional marriage is the basis for a functional society.”
  • Iowa Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell—HRC grade 67; HRC contribution $7,000—Boswell voted for ENDA in 2007 but hasn’t co-sponsored any pro-gay legislation. His challenger, Republican Brad Zaun, says on his website that he’s “committed to defending the sanctity of marriage and family” and “will continue to oppose all attempts to redefine marriage as anything other than the sacred bond between one woman and one man.”
  • Texas Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards—HRC grade 60; HRC contribution $3,500—Edwards is not a strong supporter of equal rights for gays. He voted against ENDA in 2007 and this year voted against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The Dallas News calls him “among the most conservative” Democrats in Congress. But political leanings are relative. Edwards’ Republican opponent, Bill Flores, says he believes “there is one definition of marriage and that is between one man and one woman” and that he will “stand firm against any effort to change this or force Texas to recognize “gay marriages” in other states.”

Log Cabin Republicans have endorsed 14 Republicans running for the House. Six of them are incumbents with HRC scores, but only one of those six has a score above 50. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Florida’s 18th) earned a 70 during the last Congress. Reps. Judy Biggert (Illinois’ 13th) and Mary Bono Mack (California’s 45th) each earned a 55. Rep. Todd Platts (Pennsylvania 19th) earned a 45. Rep. Charles Dent (Pennsylvania’s 15th) earned only a 30. And Rep. Dave Reichert (Washington’s 8th) earned only a 25. All of these six are expected to win re-election.

But Log Cabin Republicans have endorsed a few Republicans who are in close races –and in some cases, in races against Democrats who have also been strong LGBT supporters:

  • Republican incumbent Joseph Cao of New Orleans (Louisiana’s 2nd) is polling behind Democratic challenger Cedric Richmond. Cao voted for the hate crimes bill in 2009 and co-sponsored Murphy’s bill to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Last month, Log Cabin presented him with the group’s “Spirit of Lincoln” award. But Cao’s tough race is probably not due to his pro-gay stance. He won his first term in 2008 with only 50 percent of the vote. And the Democratic challenger, Richmond, is also a strong supporter of gay civil rights. In 2001, before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned sodomy laws, Richmond sponsored a bill in the Louisiana legislature seeking to undo that state’s “crime against nature” law.
  • Hawaii first-term Republican incumbent Charles Djou is in a tight race to hang onto his seat. He supports the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and opposes even civil union recognition of same-sex relationships. But he voted for repeal of DADT and reportedly would support ENDA, although his name is not on the list of co-sponsors. He has earned him the endorsement of Log Cabin and GOProud, a conservative gay group. He’s up against Democrat Colleen Hanabusa, president of the Hawaii Senate, who has the endorsement of the GLBT Democratic Caucus of Hawaii and pushed to get a vote on a bill to provide gays in Hawaii with civil unions. (The bill was later vetoed.) Djou was harshly critical of that bill, saying it countered the majority vote to ban recognition of same-sex marriage. Hanabusa supports repeal of the federal DOMA and, in a survey by Progressive Democrats of Hawaii, said she would be a strong advocate in Congress for equal rights for gay and lesbian couples.
  • Nan Hayworth, the Republican candidate in New York’s 19th Congressional district, has the endorsement of Log Cabin, while Democrat John Hall has the support of HRC. Hayworth told voters she would leave the issue of marriage to the states.
  • Richard Hanna, the Republican candidate in New York’s 24th, also has Log Cabin’s endorsement and also says he would leave the marriage issue to the states. HRC has given money to the Democratic incumbent Michael Arcuri, who has earned an 85 score from the group.

And, of course, GOProud has endorsed Republican Sean Bielat who is challenging long-time Democratic gay Congressman Barney Frank, even though Bielat is against repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and for “traditional marriage.”

Three final notes: First, while most polling suggests that the Republicans will take back the House, there are those who say Democrats are fighting their way back.

“Less than a month before the midterm elections, the political landscape remains strongly tilted toward Republicans,” reported the Washington Post last week, “although Democrats have made modest improvements with voters since their late-summer low point.”

National Public Radio sees Democrats likely to win 218 seats—the barest majority.

Second, there’s another reason to care: Redistricting. Every 10 years, the House of Representatives draws the Congressional districts. The district lines are supposed to be drawn with the goal of balancing the districts in terms of population against the new Census data. And that work begins next year, with the new Congress.

“Cutting out a wealthy suburb or looping in an ethnic neighborhood can turn a district from Republican to Democratic, or vice-versa,” notes the October 12 Wall Street Journal. “If done across the board, redistricting can tip a congressional delegation red or blue for a generation.” Those changes can, in turn, affect races for the state legislature.

And, finally, pollster Hart illustrated a point by posting photographs of three famous political couples: Bill and Hillary Clinton, John and Elizabeth Edwards, and Al and Tipper Gore. Ten years ago, he asked, which of these couples would you predict would still be together.

On the political high seas, he said, “You never know.”

2 Responses to House mid-terms: A sinking feeling

  1. Brian Foley says:

    Bielat in MA 4th CD is great. Sean Bielat is the model of future representation. We should only hope and (dare I say) expect the same character, professionalism, and credentials from all our elected representatives.

    Sean would easily rise quickly to an executive position in the private sector, and actually left a senior position in industry to pursue this seat. He’s choosing instead to focus his energy and expertise on solving the most pressing problems we face as a nation, many of which were created by his opponent.

    Welcome Sean. You have my vote.

  2. Roberta says:

    “Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) will lose his chairmanship of the House Financial Services Committee”

    As a resident of his district, we’re hoping he loses his seat altogether.

    Sean is the clearly the better choice. Time for Barney to say bye bye!

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