Note: You can watch Steve's debate tonight at 9:30 EST here.
I don't normally take a close interest in Congressional races unless it's someone I personally know, have believed in enough to work for (Ted Kennedy) or is a personal hero of mine (also Ted Kennedy). I want to hit on one race that's different.
I've been in touch with Steve, who is the current Mayor of Palm Springs, CA, and his team since last year. Steve, who is openly gay, is running against Mary Bono Mack in CA-45, a district Obama won with just over 51% of the vote that is centered on Palm Springs and Cathedral City that stretches east to the Arizona border, and includes Joshua Tree National Park. Aside from being generally terrible on plenty of issues, including the stimulus and health care, Bono Mack parades around as this faux LGBT-friendly member of Congress, mostly because heavily gay Palm Springs is in her district. Then she voted for the Largent Amendment in 1999, which would have banned same-sex parent adoption in DC. She refused to take any position on Prop 8, despite being a CA member. She refuses to co-sponsor an inclusive ENDA. And the final straw for me was voting against repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, despite compromise after compromise being made, and characters like Powell and Cheney coming out in favor of it, to pave the way for supposed LGBT-friendly moderates like Bono Mack. Didn't matter.
Back to Steve. A lot of candidates reach out to online organizers and blogfolk, and Steve's team was no different at first. They know I write about LGBT issues. That was until I started talking more and more with him personally, and discovered that he actually reads blogs, and even more importantly, he actually gets it.
I use that expression a lot, and people use it a lot with me, and it's hard to define "it". Taking a loose stab at "it", I would say it means he gets the need to organize in and outside of Congress. In fact, he used that term with me- "organize" when I first talked with him on the phone about six months ago. I took notes on what he said to me:
I know you do online organizing. I would like to do that same kind of organizing, but colleague-to-colleague. I would be the first openly gay parent elected to Congress- I've got two daughters. I would be first legally married gay man elected to Congress. I really think kind of colleague-to-colleague contact makes a difference. I want to go to DC to build those kinds of relationships and bring straight allies onboard.
It really struck a chord with me. Aside from what I believe is the need to have more out LGBT members of Congress- there are only 3 out of 435- having someone who runs for the first time as a married gay dad just sends jitters through me when I think about what kind of difference that could make. I often wonder to myself, how many moderate, squishy members of Congress who are hedging on their co-sponsorship of ENDA, or aren't sure if they believe in marriage equality, have ever actually talked to someone like Steve? Arkansas voters recently enacted a ban on same-sex parent adoption, and it's become an issue in Florida statewide races. How many members from those delegations know someone who is a in a same-sex relationship and raised kids just as well as any two opposite-sex individuals?
And, perhaps most importantly, he would be the only member of Congress impacted by DOMA, as he told John and Joe:
He continued to tell me on the phone:
I'm not going to Washington look for a job. I have children. I'm very passionate about my politics. All my employees and my bosses knew that I'm gay and who my partner is, despite going to a conservative school. I'm never been afraid of that and I won't be in Washington. Do I plan on making it very difficult for folks to vote against something that will hurt my family? Absolutely. There's nothing my family is going to do that's going to hurt your family. So will I be a strong force on those issues? Absolutely. You'll see very quickly the leadership role we play in the LGBT movement.
I don't think it's a silver bullet, but having an openly gay dad in Congress could make a difference.
Aside from that, Steve is boldly progressive on many other issues, including his concentration as Mayor on clean energy, his support of a public option (his father is a physician, his mother a nurse, and talked my ear off about health care), and his concentration on the environment (he's a big outdoors guy). He married more same-sex couples than any other mayor in California. He took the time to come to Netroots Nation this year. He was a DFA Grassroots All-Star finalist. He diaries on Kos and raises on ActBlue from boldly progressive communities. He reads progressive blogs, including our little space here. I'm proud to try and help him get to Congress.
I'm telling you all this because Steve is debating Mary Bono Mack tonight- her first debate since 2002- in their only debate of the year at 6:30 PST/9:30 EST. I'm kinda looking forward to it, if only because I haven't seen a candidate debate since, I think, Obama/McCain.
You can watch it here (and if the embed works, I'll embed it here). Check him out, watch the debate and see what you think.