Prop 8 author seeks Assembly seat as fundraising questions
by Dan Aiello
Andrew Pugno, who began his political career as an aide to an anti-gay state senator and eventually made a legal career representing marriage equality opponents, has filed the papers necessary to run for the California Assembly in 2010.
The Proposition 8 author said his campaign has raised a quarter of a million dollars from fundraising efforts utilizing mailing lists of Yes on 8 contributors.
Pugno, 36, filed his paperwork with the secretary of state June 2. He is seeking the Republican nomination in the state's 5th Assembly District, which encompasses portions of Sacramento and Placer counties, including Fair Oaks, Folsom, and Granite Bay. Assemblyman Roger Niello (R), who has represented the district since 2004, will be termed out of office next year.
Of course the election allows the LGBT community to give Pugno some comeuppance for leading the fight to not only pass Prop 8, but also for now defending it from legal assault in federal court. His ties to the same-sex marriage battle ensure his candidacy will receive elevated attention from the press and public over the next 12 months.
But Pugno insists his campaign will not become bogged down as a proxy fight over Prop 8. While in San Francisco last week for a federal court hearing about a lawsuit challenging the voter initiative's constitutionality, Pugno said he was "not fearful at all" that his race would be subsumed by the same-sex marriage issue.
"My campaign is going to focus on the state budget and spending and taxes. These are the issues voters want to hear about," said Pugno. "It is unfortunate I have to deal with this case, but they are two completely different efforts."
Gay Democrats said the district's demographics have changed in recent years, putting the seat in play.
"The [Assembly's 5th] district registration has changed quite a bit in the last few years," said Chris Moore, president of Sacramento Stonewall Democrats. "It's now 37.90 percent Democrat and 38.77 percent Republican, with the rest decline to state, but it's neck and neck. It all comes down to what those decline to states do."
State Democratic Party officials have pledged not to ignore the Assembly race, especially if Pugno survives the primary.
"Any possibility he can be defeated should he become the nominee I can guarantee you the Democratic Party will step up to make sure his trip to Sacramento is a lot less pleasant and easy than he had intended," said Democratic Party Vice Chair Eric Bauman, who is gay and lives in Los Angeles.
If nothing else, Democrats intend to force Pugno and the Republicans to waste resources on keeping the seat in GOP hands.
"I certainly hope we can force him to raise a whole lot of money there," said Bauman. "Pugno represents the most backward thinking part of the Republican Party in California. It is people like him who cause the party to continue to shrink and represent an ever smaller slice of the electorate."
Moore said that the Stonewall chapter, made up of gay Democrats, is also interested in the race.
"Assembly District 5 covers parts of Sacramento County and we're interested in Placer County, as well," Moore said. "I'm hoping the Assembly leadership will want to throw some of their resources toward the seat, as well."
Moore also believes one of the Democratic candidates running for the seat, local school board member Larry Miles, is a "serious contender. I know he's good on the issues important to Stonewall," said Moore.
Reached this week, Miles said the Democratic Party is interested in the race because President Barack Obama carried the district in last year's presidential election.
"I think this will be the most targeted Assembly race at the end of the day," said Miles. "The Democratic Party is interested in it since President Obama carried the district by 51 percent, the LGBT community is interested in it, educators are thrilled that I'm running, and I think the business community will be happy with my small business experience."
Miles, 56, is currently a San Juan Unified School District board member who successfully negotiated with the Slavic community over the "Day of Silence." As UCLA student body president, he had out lesbian former legislator Sheila Kuehl as his adviser and fought to fund the university's first gay hotline.
"I think that most of the people in our district are going to be more interested in a thoughtful candidate who has experience in our community than in the narrowly focused views of an ideologue," he said.
Miles is a Methodist at St. Mark's, a reconciling parish that welcomes and has wed same-sex couples.
"I've supported those efforts and proud to be part of those efforts," Miles said.
While Miles's campaign has a lot to do with public education, he also supports LGBT issues.
"I do believe in same-sex marriage and was no on 8," said Miles. "I went to my first commitment ceremony over 13 years ago."
Miles said, however, that he started his fundraising late and has not raised near the amount Pugno has.
Close ties to Knight
Pugno, who graduated from UC Davis before attending the University of Pacific's McGeorge School of Law, first became involved in statewide politics as the legislative aide for conservative Assemblyman William "Pete" Knight (R-Palmdale). He eventually became chief of staff after Knight successfully ran for state Senate.
In 1999, Knight authored Proposition 22, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman in the state's family code. After Prop 22 was passed by voters in 2000, Pugno worked as the legal representative for the committee to preserve Proposition 22, along with committee members Gail Knight, the senator's wife, and Dennis Hollingsworth, the current Senate Republican leader. Pete Knight died in 2004.
Pugno also has close ties to the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal defense organization with
ADF was founded in 1994 by the leaders of 35 ministries, including James Dobson of Focus on the Family, the late Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, the late Larry Burkett of Crown Financial Ministries, and the late D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries.
"Mr. Pugno is one of our allied attorneys," Katie Blechacz, ADF media relations manager, told the Bay Area Reporter . Blechacz explained allied attorneys are those "attorneys that went through our national litigation academy" and in exchange for instruction on "constitutional law and free speech, agree to perform a certain amount of pro bono work" for ADF in the future.
"I do work with them from time to time," Pugno told the B.A.R., but he denied that he was an allied attorney with ADF. "I don't know what an allied attorney is. What is that?" asked Pugno, who said he could not say what percentage of his current practice is marriage ban-related. He said that his firm handles "a lot" of estate and financial planning and has "300 other clients," beyond his marriage ban initiative work.
Pugno was asked whether the Christian-only hiring practices and Christian-exclusive mission and faith statements of ADF should concern non-religious constituents.
"I don't see it as an issue at all," he said. "We have freedom of religion in this country and people of faith have a right to join in association with each other."
He pointed out that the same freedom applies to "people who reject those religions."
"The office of the state Assembly is to represent all of the people within the district," Pugno told the B.A.R. Asked if he would support a June LGBT pride resolution, similar to what passed in the Assembly last month, Pugno said, "I have not seen it."
In deciding "what's best for all" 5th District Assembly constituents, Pugno said, "I think that every candidate's views are formed by their values and beliefs. I am a businessman, I am a Christian, I am a volunteer."
Those who opposed Prop 8, however, do not support Pugno's Assembly run.
"The last thing the Legislature needs is an anti-equality extremist who is trying to build a political career for himself by denying others the same rights he enjoys," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California. "EQCA's PAC looks forward to endorsing and supporting a candidate who supports equality for all their constituents."
Fred Karger, president of Californians Against Hate, echoed that concern.
"We hope he's abiding by California election law," said Karger. "Certainly his opponents will be scrutinizing this. The [protectmarriage.com] lists do not belong to Pugno. They belong to protectmarriage.com, I imagine. He would need to purchase/rent the lists to use them. And they would have to be made available to others who wish to rent/purchase them."
Pugno told the B.A.R. that his campaign rented the list and that would be disclosed in the financial expenditures filed with the secretary of state's office by July 31. Pugno said he would not disclose how many Yes on 8 contributors were on the rented list, calling the information a "campaign secret," and explaining the disclosure of that information is not required.
Pugno did disclose that when the campaign files its financial report with the state at the end of the month it will show the campaign has raised "more than $250,000" so far.
Pugno, who recently changed his campaign Web site from http://www.andrewpugno.com to http://www.andypugno.com, cites his active involvement in the St. Mel's Catholic parish in Fair Oaks, as well as his involvement in the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Knights of Columbus, which he has belonged to "for about nine years," he told the B.A.R . Both organizations currently deny membership to homosexuals.
A spokesman for the Knights of Columbus said it would not take a position in the race.
"We don't contribute as an organization to any partisan candidate for public office (nor, as far as I am aware, to any nonpartisan campaigns), as much as we might feel well-disposed toward such a candidate," said Patrick Korten of the Knights of Columbus, which was the largest single contributor to the Yes on 8 campaign. "That certainly doesn't mean that individual Knights can't contribute, of course. But that's entirely up to them, and we take no position on it, pro or con."
Matthew S. Bajko contributed to this report.
For information on candidate Larry Miles, see www.larrymilesforassembly.com