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Topics In the News
Two California Gay Candidates: A Study in Contrasts
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 10/30/12
Last updated on: 10/30/12
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Mark Takano.

Mark Takano and Carl DiMaio, two California gay candidates on the November 6, 2012 ballot, offer striking contrasts. If elected, Takano, a progressive Democrat supported by a broad coalition of diverse groups, will be the first openly glbtq person of color to serve in Congress. DeMaio, a gay conservative Republican endorsed by large donors to Proposition 8, is running for Mayor of San Diego with little support from the city's glbtq community.

As different as the candidates are, especially in their commitment to glbtq issues, their homosexuality has not been a factor in either of their campaigns. That in itself is evidence of an increasing acceptance of glbtq people in American politics.

As Diane Anderson-Minshall writes in the Advocate, this acceptance is a significant change from the way Takano's background as a gay Asian was treated when he first ran for office in the 1990s.

"Outed during that contentious 1994 race, Takano's opponents insinuated he had some sort of 'homosexual agenda' and sent pink political mailers that questioned whether as a congressman Takano could represent the people of Riverside (a part of California's right-leaning Inland Empire region) or would he really represent 'San Francisco?'"

In his current race, to represent California's newly-created 41st Congressional District, the Japanese-American educator who serves an advisor to a Gay-Straight Alliance is supported by a broad coalition of African-Americans, Asians, Latinos, and Whites.

Takano told Anderson-Minshall, "Now my being openly gay is more of an interesting part of my background rather than a genesis for attacks--it's a demonstration of how far our country has come in a short time. I think it's definitely true that we are seeing a shift in our electorate where communities of color and the LGBT community are coming together, not only on social issues like equality for all Americans, but more importantly economic issues."

DeMaio's victory in his tight race for would make San Diego the second-largest city (after Houston) to elect an openly gay mayor. Yet the constituency most opposed to him is the city's sizable glbtq population.

As reported by Ian Lovett in the New York Times, DeMaio has angered the glbtq constituency by his reticence on gay issues and his acceptance of campaign donations from backers of Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage in California in 2008.

Linda Perine is quoted by Lovett as saying "For Carl DeMaio to be elected mayor would not be a victory for gay and lesbian people. It would be a defeat."

When current Republican mayor Jerry Sanders was campaigning aggressively against Proposition 8 four years ago, DeMaio stayed quiet on the issue as he ran for City Council in a conservative district.

Since then, DeMaio has stated his support for gay marriage, and voted to support gay causes on the Council. But he has also accepted endorsements and campaign money from major donors to Proposition 8. And he has repeatedly said that issues like gay rights would not be a priority for him as mayor.

DeMaio's opponent, Bob Filner, a Democratic Congressman and former freedom rider, is an outspoken advocate of gay rights. He has attacked DeMaio's record and his support from the "anti-gay financial interests" to whom he is beholden.

DeMaio's strategy of focusing on the economy rather than social issues may be savvy. Glbtq.com contributor Donald P. Haider-Markel, a political science professor at the University of Kansas and the author of Out and Running, about openly gay candidates seeking public office, is quoted by Lovett as saying that for Republican gay candidates, "It's not really advantageous . . . to focus on social issues at the local level," because major issues like same-sex marriage will be decided at the state and federal levels.

Perhaps the most revealing contrast between the two openly gay candidates is that the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund declined to back DeMaio, but enthusiastically endorsed Takano.

Takano is one of many featured Victory Fund-endorsed candidates, including Representative Tammy Baldwin, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Representative David Cicilline, in the video below.

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