Editorial: Schiff needs to help LGBTQ candidates

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday March 20, 2024
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U.S. Senate candidate Adam Schiff. Photo: Courtesy the campaign
U.S. Senate candidate Adam Schiff. Photo: Courtesy the campaign

Congressmember Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) is headed to the November election and will take on conservative Republican and former baseball star Steve Garvey for a U.S. Senate seat. It is Schiff, however, who is poised to be California's next senator, given the Golden State's solid Democratic voter makeup.

As has been widely reported, to get an easier general election matchup against a Republican, Schiff made the decision to spend millions of dollars elevating Garvey in a series of TV commercials during the primary campaign. That worked so well that Garvey vaulted past Congressmember Katie Porter (D-Irvine) in the primary and secured a spot in the general election. (Under the state's open primary, the top two finishers advance regardless of party.) A Dem-on-Dem matchup would have been far more bruising for Schiff, especially because he and Porter have similar positions on most issues, and Porter would have been viewed as the more progressive candidate.

But Schiff may want to take heed of the old adage: be careful what you wish for. That's because with Garvey in the general election, along with Republican former President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, there's a real chance that Republican turnout will be greater in November than if Porter had secured the second spot in the Senate race. That spells trouble for several out congressional and legislative candidates running in competitive races in Southern California, particularly Riverside County, as increased GOP turnout may doom their chances for victory.

This week, Schiff seemed to realize that. He sent out a fundraising email that will benefit not only himself, but also four Democratic congressional candidates in an effort to help flip the House of Representatives back to Democratic control. One of them, Will Rollins, is a gay man running in the 41st Congressional District in Riverside County that includes the LGBTQ retirement and tourist mecca of Palm Springs and the surrounding area. (Garvey held his election night party in Palm Desert, just south of Palm Springs.)

Rollins is making his second attempt to unseat GOP Congressmember Ken Calvert (R-Corona), who is anti-LGBTQ, though he did vote for the Respect for Marriage Act in 2022. But Rollins trails after the primary, with unofficial results showing him garnering 38.5% of the vote to Calvert's 52.9%. Rollins has a lot of ground to make up between now and November, and will need to raise a lot of money. Adding to the pressure is the fact that the LGBTQ Log Cabin Republicans last week endorsed Calvert, according to his campaign website.

It's worth noting that Porter, who will be leaving Congress at the end of the year, also sent out a fundraising appeal this week to help Rollins. That speaks to the state Democratic Party's more robust support for Rollins this year than in 2022, when it only belatedly started to fundraise for him.

There's another gay House candidate that could use Schiff's help. Derek Marshall is running again for the 23rd Congressional District against Republican incumbent Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia), who is anti-LGBTQ, though he, too, voted for the marriage act two years ago. (It's likely that Calvert and Obernolte voted for the marriage bill to stave off criticisms that they are anti-LGBTQ, but make no mistake, they do not support the community.) Marshall is in a more conservative district in the high desert east of Los Angeles, and received 36.6% in the primary, while Obernolte garnered 63.4%, based on unofficial returns.

While it's good that Schiff sees the importance of helping other Democratic congressional candidates, there are also out legislative candidates that likely will be impacted by Garvey and Trump on the ballot in Riverside County. Palm Springs City Councilmember Lisa Middleton is vying to become the first trans state legislator and is running against GOP state Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R-Redlands) in the newly drawn Senate District 19. Bogh took first place in the primary with 53.7% to Middleton's 46.3%. Another Palm Springs councilmember, Christy Holstege, a bi woman, is running a second time for the Assembly District 47 seat that she narrowly lost two years ago to Republican incumbent Assemblymember Greg Wallis (R-Bermuda Dunes). But again, in the recent primary, Wallis leads with 48.5% to Holstege's 46.4%, preliminary returns show.

It's clear to see that these out candidates all trail their Republican opponents.

Schiff could also help these out candidates by making campaign appearances with them as the election season nears to help energize Democratic voters ahead of the general election.

Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ rights group, also needs to help the LGBTQ congressional and legislative candidates in these tight Southern California races. EQCA endorsed Schiff March 14 for the general election (it took no position ahead of the primary, though it held a town hall with Schiff, Porter, and Democratic Congressmember Barbara Lee, D-Oakland). During the upcoming Pride season, and especially as voters start paying attention in September, EQCA needs to do voter outreach in support of these candidates, all of whom it has endorsed.

The community has an opportunity here to send more out candidates to Congress and Sacramento. But the candidates will only be successful if they have the funds to effectively wage their campaigns. Throwing Garvey into the mix is not helpful in this regard, and the prospect of more GOP voters turning out in November should be a wake-up call to Schiff as he strives to become California's next U.S. senator.

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