In disappointing loss to LGBTQ community, Rollins concedes CA House race

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday November 21, 2022
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Gay U.S. House candidate Will Rollins, center, has conceded his race against conservative Riverside County Republican Congressmember Ken Calvert. Photo: Courtesy Twitter.
Gay U.S. House candidate Will Rollins, center, has conceded his race against conservative Riverside County Republican Congressmember Ken Calvert. Photo: Courtesy Twitter.

On election night, with the first results putting him in first place, Will Rollins was ebullient. The political newcomer appeared positioned to defeat an anti-LGBTQ longtime congressman and triple LGBTQ representation from California.

But Rollins, a gay man and former federal prosecutor, would soon see his lead evaporate as additional ballots were counted. All the while, Congressmember Ken Calvert (R-Corona), 69, remained confident he would be declared the winner of the Golden State's 41st Congressional District stretching across Riverside County.

Last Monday, after the Associated Press called the race for Calvert, the conservative Trump supporter did just that. In a statement he declared, "In the end, it's clear that voters sent a strong message rejecting the gutter politics of lies and personal attacks from an out-of-town extremist liberal."

But Rollins held out hope that there was still a chance he could win the race with thousands of ballots left to be counted. He urged his supporters to ensure their mailed-in ballot hadn't been rejected, and if it had, to address the issue for its being discarded with elections officials in a process known as "ballot curing."

Democratic officials even began fundraising on behalf of launching a recount in Rollins' race. As the Bay Area Reporter noted last week, South Bay Congressmember Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) was among those seeking funds for a recount fund.

"This Midterm Election is far from over," Lofgren had written in an emailed pitch to her supporters.

Yet, with each successive vote count update, Calvert's lead over Rollins only grew. Still Rollins said he would wait for the ballot tabulating process to play out before conceding defeat.

Monday, November 21, he accepted he had lost the race. He called Calvert to congratulate him on his victory and officially conceded their contest.

"I had hoped for a different result, but I respect our democratic system and am sure that our fine election workers did their jobs honestly and responsibly, and I accept the count," stated Rollins. "Thank you to the hundreds of thousands of you who voted."

When Rollins launched his campaign last year, he was seen as having little chance against Calvert, currently serving his 15th term in the U.S. House in a decidedly red district. But then the boundaries of Calvert's district where redrawn by the state's redistricting commission following the decennial census count to include the LGBTQ retirement and tourist mecca of Palm Springs.

Overnight, the district became much more purple, buoying hopes of seeing a Democrat like Rollins win it. After he survived the June primary, where Calvert received less than 50% of the vote, Rollins began to receive more financial help and assistance from the Democratic Party.

LGBTQ political groups and others aligned with Democrats endorsed him and paid for ads to assist Rollins in the race. The Democratic Party also saw its share of registered voters in the district increase after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal right to abortion in June.

Nonetheless, it was still not enough to get Rollins over the finish line. As of November 21, he had 47.8% of the vote and was 10,364 votes behind Calvert.

"While the result of this election is not the outcome we'd hoped for, never lose faith that you made a difference," stated Rollins. "Together, we demanded to be heard. And I hope that Rep. Calvert will continue to hear us as he serves this community in his next term, and that he'll follow through on the promises he made on the campaign trail, like evolving to now support marriage equality; affirming that abortion will always be legal in California; and focusing on solving the crisis at the Salton Sea."

Three Los Angeles-area out House candidates had also tried to oust incumbents in the November 8 general election but failed to do so. Gay progressive lawyer David Kim lost in his second matchup against Congressmember Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) in CD 34.

Another gay progressive, Derek Marshall, lost to Congressmember Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia) in the state's 23rd Congressional District. In the CD 30 race, Congressmember Adam Schiff (D-Los Angeles) easily defeated nonbinary drag queen G "Maebe A. Girl" Pudlo.

The Golden State's congressional delegation did double this year in out members. Gay Congressmember Mark Takano (D-Riverside) easily won reelection to his fifth two-year term in the 39th Congressional District.

Joining him on Capitol Hill is gay Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, elected to the 42nd Congressional District along the coast of Los Angeles County. From Lima, Peru, Garcia is the first openly gay immigrant to serve in Congress and was in Washington D.C. last week for the orientation for new congressional members.

As for the 38-year-old Rollins, who lives in Canyon Lake with his partner, Paolo Benvenuto, he didn't rule out challenging Calvert again in two years in his concession statement. Rather, he hinted that he isn't about to disappear from the political arena.

"When you've put your whole heart into something and it doesn't come out the way you'd wanted, it's easy to lose hope, to believe that things can never change. But I urge you to look around at this amazing community we've built over the past year," he stated. "While we didn't win this election, we found like-minded neighbors and forged friendships. We laid the foundation to continue working together towards our common goals. I know you're exhausted, and I know you're frustrated. So take a small break, enjoy the holidays with your friends and families, and then come back, refreshed and ready to continue the work."

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