Political Notebook: Takano predicts doubling of LGBTQ caucus in Congress

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday May 1, 2024
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Congressmember Mark Takano will deliver the keynote address at GAPA's gala May 18. Photo: From Facebook
Congressmember Mark Takano will deliver the keynote address at GAPA's gala May 18. Photo: From Facebook

At the moment there are nine LGBTQ members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Come 2025, gay Congressmember Mark Takano (D-Riverside) expects to see a doubling of out representation in the chamber and Sarah McBride, a Democratic Delaware state senator, its first transgender member.

Due to the number of out congressional candidates running this year, Takano also expects to see all three West Coast states elect out House members following the results of the November 5 election. In California, he predicts the out members of the Golden State's congressional delegation will double from its current two.

"We are going to be an even more diverse LGBT Equality Caucus in the House," predicted Takano, who became the first openly gay person of color to be elected to Congress in 2012.

In the Bay Area, Takano sees gay state Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino) becoming the first out House member from the nine-county region. As of Wednesday morning, Low was awaiting word if a recount in his House race would send him on to the general election ballot.

"I do believe Evan will be the next LGBT representative from California come November ... and second gaysian," Takano told the Bay Area Reporter during an April 29 phone interview.

The B.A.R. spoke to Takano ahead of his keynoting this year's GLBTQ+ Asian Pacific Alliance 2024 Anniversary Banquet May 18. GAPA's gala event, with a theme of "VANGUARD: Standing for QTAPI Inclusion, Awareness & Community," will be held at the Marines' Memorial Club in San Francisco.

"With all his accomplishments, Mark is truly a vanguard in queer and trans Asian and Pacific Islander (QTAPI) visibility and achievement," stated GAPA Chair Justin Sha.

Takano is the current co-chair of the Equality PAC, the political action committee of the Congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus. Along with all nine incumbent House members up for reelection this year, the PAC has endorsed nine out candidates seeking to join them in the House.

"I think we are going to run the tables," boasted Takano, who is confident of seeing all 18 win their races.

Doing so will represent "a huge pushback on the culture wars that Republicans have been pursuing," said Takano. "To elect double the size of our presence in Congress, and also the first trans representative this election cycle, is a huge repudiation and a huge revocation of the reprehensible culture war extreme MAGA conservatives have pursued to scapegoat and stigmatize and change the subject of politics."

There are also three out Democratic women in the U.S. Senate, with lesbian Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin seeking reelection this year. Lesbian Senator Laphonza Butler of California and bisexual Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona both opted not to run and will be departing Congress.

Takano and gay Congressmember Robert Garcia (D-Long Beach), the first out gay Latino in the House from California, are expected to easily win their reelection races this fall. Takano also expects to see gay former federal prosecutor Will Rollins, a Democrat, win in his second bid for a Southern California House seat this year.

"My words to everybody is Will Rollins is very much in this race," said Takano.

Rollins is trying to oust from his 41st Congressional District seat conservative Congressmember Ken Calvert (R-Corona), who received 53% of the primary vote. Takano was dismissive of recent reports that because Rollins received less than 50% of the primary vote, he is unlikely to win his race in November.

"I find a lot of fault with that," said Takano, noting the primary was a "low turnout" election that leaned conservative.

The two Democrats who ran garnered a combined 47% of the vote, with Rollins receiving 38.4% and Anna Nevenic, a nurse, netting 8.6%. It is not impossible to conceive Rollins being able to defeat Calvert in November if more Democrats and left-leaning independents come out to vote, argued Takano.

"The fact the combined Democratic vote was close to 50% bodes very well for him," said Takano. "I read the primary results opposite of the so-called prognosticators."

More Latino voters coming out to the ballot box in the fall could also bolster Rollins' chances of victory, argued Takano. He had lost to Calvert in 1994 in a campaign that saw Takano be outed in mailers sent to voters. Over the decades Calvert's district has been redrawn several times, with it now including the gay resort and retirement mecca of Palm Springs.

More Democratic support has come to Rollins early on in his current campaign, with the Equality PAC one of many liberal-leaning groups to endorse him ahead of the primary. When he ran in 2022, it wasn't until Rollins survived that year's primary that he began to receive more support from the party and groups allied with it.

Unlike two years ago, noted Takano, Rollins didn't need to spend much money on his primary race in March since it was clear he would advance out of it.

"We knew he was going to win, and he knew he would do well. It would have been a ridiculous expenditure of money to put into that race," said Takano. "Everyone second-guessing or out there nattering about this race, they are idiots."

South Bay race

The LGBT caucus' PAC had also endorsed Low in his March 5 primary contest for the South Bay's open House District 16 seat. Congressmember Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) decided to retire when her term ends.

Sam Liccardo, the Democratic former mayor of San Jose, took first place. With Low tied for second with Democratic Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, all three were set to advance to the November ballot under the state's top-two voting system.

But a former Liccardo aide requested a recount, and as of Tuesday, Low was leading Simitian by four votes. While Santa Clara County elections officials have now finished their recount, their counterparts in San Mateo County were reviewing 16 ballots received by mail to see if they should be counted.

"Our team has reviewed Santa Clara County's final recount results. We now await a final decision on the remaining challenged ballots in San Mateo County in determining the ultimate outcome," Low campaign spokesperson Clay Volino told the B.A.R. April 30. "We would like to thank the elections officials and their staff for their hard work during this process."

Takano told the B.A.R. he had reached out to Low in recent days to offer him the PAC's support during the recount and moving forward to the general election race. He said it is clear Liccardo's supporters are attempting to keep Low off the November ballot, contrary to the recount requester's contention he sought it in support of Low.

"I did connect with Evan Low recently, mostly to try to help him in any way I could and to be supportive," said Takano, who added that he believes a more liberal electorate in November will favor Low in the race. "We are going to have a California delegation of four; four gays."

Oregon, Washington

The Equality PAC is also supporting three West Coast out congressional candidates who have yet to have their primary races. Oregon will hold its party-based primaries Tuesday, May 21.

Lesbian former Santa Clara city councilmember Jamie McLeod-Skinner is running again for Oregon's District 5 House seat after falling short in 2022. She aims to take on a second time Republican Congressmember Lori Chavez-DeRemer of Happy Valley.

A progressive, McLeod-Skinner has faced questions on whether she can defeat the GOP incumbent in November. Myriad Democratic leaders and groups are backing her primary opponent, state Representative Janelle Bynum.

In Oregon's 3rd Congressional District queer Grisham City Councilmember Eddy Morales aims to succeed Congressmember Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland), who opted not to run for reelection this year. Two high-profile progressives are also in the Democratic primary with Morales, and due to the makeup of the district, the winner is expected to easily defeat their GOP opponent in November.

Meanwhile, in Washington, queer Democratic state Senator Emily Randall aims to succeed Congressmember Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) in the 6th District House seat covering the Puget Sound region. The Evergreen State holds its primary August 6, and like California, it selects congressional candidates based on a top-two system.

Randall, a former Bay Area resident, is facing a tough campaign as Kilmer endorsed Washington Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz to succeed him. GOP state Senator Drew MacEwen is also running for the House seat.

In recent weeks Randall has secured endorsements from tribal officials and Democratic leaders, such as her state's senior U.S. Senator, Patty Murray. Tuesday her campaign touted favorable polling results that give her a leg up once voters learn more about her and the other two candidates.

After the column was published online Wednesday afternoon, Franz's campaign shared with the B.A.R. its press release that day stating that two of the tribal leaders Randall claimed to have endorsements from had solely endorsed Franz. In it, Frances Charles, chairwoman of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, called on Randall to "retract this false claim immediately" and called it "outrageous" to she herself "falsely listed" as one of her endorsers "in order to use my community for political gain."

Democratic Washington State Representative Debra Lekanoff, a member of the Tlingit tribe, took responsibility for the endorsement error. In an emailed statement May 2, she apologized to the two campaigns and the tribal leaders.

"I have reached out and conveyed my apologies directly to both tribes and have spoken with the Randall and Franz Campaign to express my regret," stated Lekanoff. "Leadership requires acknowledging one's mistakes, and I am committed to doing so with humility and respect for all those who serve our great state. Thank you for your understanding."

Takano noted that Randall will be the first out Latina to serve in Congress, and Morales would bring the number of gay Latinos to three. His co-chair of the caucus, Congressmember Ritchie Torres (D-New York), is Afro Latino.

The out Democrats running against GOP opponents in November will have an advantage, argued Takano, due to the Republican Party's lack of an agenda to lift up Americans. The GOP's incessant attacks on the rights of LGBTQ people will also hurt the party's candidates in the fall, contended Takano.

"They cannot win on the issues. They don't really have a platform; their platform is really all about tax cuts for the wealthy and making corporations more concentrated and more powerful," said Takano. "For all their talk about freedom, you know their agenda is really not about freedom. It is about enslaving and subjecting ordinary citizens to extraordinary market power."

What is needed, said Takano, is more of a balanced approach to governing.

"I am concerned about government freedom from an overly-intrusive government," said Takano. "We in the LGBT community understand about having a government that intrudes upon our lives and dictates our lives. We understand the power of an overly powerful government."

As for his upcoming visit to San Francisco, Takano told the B.A.R. he has worked with GAPA on and off over the last decade. He was last in town a year ago visiting friends.

"I am delighted beyond all belief. I am just very delighted to receive this honor and to connect with the community," said Takano of being asked to deliver the keynote address at the banquet.

He hadn't heard that his colleague Congressmember Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) gave a speech sans coat and tie last week at a San Francisco event because his luggage was stolen from his car. Takano endorsed Schiff in his primary race to succeed Butler in the Senate seat she was appointed to last fall following the death of longtime senator Dianne Feinstein.

"Adam, as a former prosecutor and former Trump impeachment manager, he has all the air of a starchy prosecutor. He has got a formal, dry sense of humor," said Takano. "He can be very dry. Good for him that he showed up in San Francisco without a suit. Probably some fate working there in his favor."

With Schiff telling the B.A.R. he wants to be the first U.S. senator to complete the AIDS/LifeCycle bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Takano was asked if he would consider joining him in the seven-day fundraiser for the Los Angeles LGBT Center and San Francisco AIDS Foundation held annually in early June. While Takano has never rode in it, he is friends with Dan Pallotta, who initially conceived of the event then known as the AIDS Ride but later faced questions about how much money was given to the beneficiaries, which ended up producing it themselves.

When Takano graduated college, he biked across the country from Seattle to Boston in a fundraiser Pallotta had organized to raise money for a hunger relief agency. He didn't rule out participating in the AIDS fundraiser alongside Schiff.

"I would consider it if I have time, and my knee and hip are not in the way," Takano, 63, told the B.A.R. "I hope bike riding won't worsen what's recently arisen as a result of advancing age."

Doors for GAPA's banquet open at 5:30 p.m. Tickets cost $100 per person and can be purchased online.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on the support a bisexual lawyer has received as she seeks a gubernatorial nomination to a vacant seat on the San Diego Superior Court.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko.

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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