Political Notes: Summer primaries mostly favor LGBTQ candidates

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Friday August 12, 2022
Share this Post:
Erick Russell, left, is running for Connecticut treasurer and won his primary election, while Congressmember Sharice Davids and Ohio Statehouse candidate Jim Obergefell also claimed victory in their primary races. Photos: Russell, courtesy Instagram; Davids, courtesy Davids' office; Obergefell, Emma Parker Photography
Erick Russell, left, is running for Connecticut treasurer and won his primary election, while Congressmember Sharice Davids and Ohio Statehouse candidate Jim Obergefell also claimed victory in their primary races. Photos: Russell, courtesy Instagram; Davids, courtesy Davids' office; Obergefell, Emma Parker Photography

Following their summer primaries a gay man who was the face of a federal marriage lawsuit is advancing to the fall ballot in a race for an Ohio Statehouse seat, while a lesbian came up short a second time in her bid to be elected to Congress from Washington state.

Jim Obergefell, who is a co-owner of a wine label with a tasting room in the LGBTQ resort town of Guerneville in Sonoma County, easily survived his August 2 party primary, as he was the only Democrat to file to run in it. He is seeking to oust Republican Ohio State Representative D.J. Swearingen from the Buckeye State's 89th House District.

The legislative district is centered in Obergefell's hometown of Sandusky. The political newcomer has swung into the Bay Area several times this year to fundraise for his campaign, as the Political Notes column first reported in April.

His primary had been scheduled for May but got postponed due to litigation over gerrymandered maps Ohio Republican leaders adopted for statehouse and congressional seats. Should he win in the November 8 general election, Obergefell would be the first gay Democratic man to serve in the Ohio Legislature and double its LGBTQ representation.

The lone out legislator at the moment is lesbian state Senator Nickie Antonio, who is seeking a second four-year term this year. She was Ohio's first LGBTQ state legislator, having been elected to a state House seat in 2010, and ran unopposed in her party primary this month.

"This is a critical election for the LGBTQ community," stated Obergefell following his primary election. "When I win this election, I will work hard to improve the lives of the people in my district and across Ohio by increasing jobs and opportunities, improving access to affordable healthcare and protecting our environment. With so much at stake for our nation, I will also be a voice and advocate for all Ohioans and especially underserved and marginalized communities."

Obergefell gained international notoriety as the lead plaintiff in the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case that established marriage equality in all 50 states. He had married two years earlier his late partner, John Arthur, dying at the time from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, on a Maryland airport tarmac.

Three months after they wed, Arthur died. But a few months prior, because Ohio didn't recognize the couple's marriage, the men had sued the state in federal court. It led to the landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which works to help elect out leaders across the country, praised Obergefell for continuing to be a trailblazer during a time when concern is high that the current conservative-controlled U.S. Supreme Court could move to rescind the right to marriage for same-sex couples following its recent decision ending a federal right to abortion.

"Many within the LGBTQ community look to Jim for leadership and inspiration during trying times. It is encouraging that his call to action for the LGBTQ community — that we must remain united in our shared fight for a more equitable future for the next generation of LGBTQ people — has been delivered on the campaign trail as a candidate himself," stated Parker. "We are confident that come November, he will prove a skilled legislator with the political wherewithal to get meaningful reform done. His success is also a rallying cry to the LGBTQ community and our allies that we won't stop organizing, we won't stop running for office and we won't back down."

Meanwhile, in the Evergreen State, Rebecca Parson was unable to survive her August 2 primary for the 6th Congressional District seat in the Tacoma region. As of August 10, she was in fourth place with 9.5% of the unofficial vote tally.

Two years ago Parson, a lesbian and housing activist, had came in third place in the primary behind Republican Elizabeth Kreiselmaier and the incumbent, Congressmember Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor), who placed first and went on to win reelection that November. Like in California, the top two vote-getters regardless of party affiliation move on from the primary ballot to compete in the November general election.

This time Kilmer was in the lead with 50% of the unofficial primary vote, while Kreiselmaier was trailing behind in second with nearly 24% of the vote. Republican Todd Bloom was in third with 10.5% of the vote.

Parson had hoped to become the first LGBTQ person from Washington to serve in Congress and the first woman to represent the House district. But she conceded the race August 4.

"We didn't get the result we wanted, but we brought a message of housing, healthcare, and jobs for all to millions of people," tweeted Parson. "One way or another, I'll keep fighting for a $30 minimum wage, Medicare for All, social housing, ending fossil fuels, and a national jobs program."

Other races

In other August 2 primary news, Congressmember Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), who in 2018 became the first out member from Kansas and one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, ran unopposed in her party primary. She is now seeking a third two-year term.

Due to the redistricting of her 3rd Congressional District this year, Davids faces a tougher climb to victory. She will now compete for the seat against Republican Amanda Adkins, who easily won the GOP primary with 77% of the vote, according to the unofficial returns as of August 10.

"This race will be a close one. In November, Sharice will be facing an anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ opponent who wants to roll back LGBTQ progress," noted Cesar Toldeo, deputy political director of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, in a recent emailed pitch for donations.

Becca Balint, a gay woman who is president pro tempore of the Vermont Senate, won her August 9 Democratic Party primary for the Green Mountain State's lone seat in the U.S. House. In doing so, she decisively defeated Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray and several other candidates to put her on a path to become the first woman and first LGBTQ person to serve in the seat.

"I got into public service for the same reason I became a teacher: I wanted to stand up against bullying and injustice wherever I saw it. Growing up gay, I learned what it meant to feel excluded and looked down upon, and I've devoted my life to trying to prevent other people from feeling that way," stated Balint on election night. "The challenges we face are immense, and too many people still live on the margins, struggling with homelessness, growing inequality, climate catastrophe, and a health care system that puts corporations before people.

"But tonight is a big step forward for our state," she continued. "Vermont has chosen a bold, progressive vision for the future, and I will be proud to represent us in Congress."

She had secured the endorsement of the Jane Fonda Climate PAC ahead of the primary. In an email the day prior to the election, the celebrated actor and environmental activist had encouraged followers of her political action committee in Vermont to vote for Balint.

"She's fought for working people her entire life and refuses to take a single penny from the fossil fuel industry. Becca worked tirelessly to pass Vermont's first environmental justice bill in the state's history," wrote Fonda, who has waded into numerous electoral contests across the country this year.

Two other out candidates grabbing national attention are Leigh Finke, who won her August 9 Democratic primary for Minnesota's state House District 66A seat. She is vying to become the first out transgender person elected to the Legislature in the North Star State.

And that same night in Connecticut, Erick Russell won the Democratic primary election for state treasurer. If elected in November, he would be the first Black out LGBTQ person to win statewide office in U.S. history.

According to a database of national LGBTQ elected officials maintained by the LGBTQ Victory Institute, of the current six out LGBTQ statewide officials in the country, none are Black.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail m.bajko@ebar.com

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.