Political Notebook: Amid Orange County LGBTQ backlash, House candidate Min remains an advocate

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday September 27, 2023
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State Senator Dave Min is seeking an Orange County area congressional district. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
State Senator Dave Min is seeking an Orange County area congressional district. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

California state Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine) has faced a grueling political year throughout 2023 as he runs for a U.S. House seat in the heart of Orange County. His contest to succeed Congressmember Katie Porter (D-Irvine) is expected to be one of the most competitive of the 2024 election cycle.

Meanwhile, the straight married father of three who has long been an advocate for LGBTQ rights has found himself representing an area of the Golden State that has been a hotbed of anti-LGBTQ activism this year. His 37th Senate District includes the city of Orange, where the school board earlier this month was one of the latest to adopt a policy that requires the forced outing of transgender students to their parents.

(Attorney General Rob Bonta sued the Chino Valley school district for enacting a similar policy, and a state judge issued a temporary restraining order against it while the lawsuit progresses.)

Min's district also encompasses Huntington Beach, where the City Council in February banned the flying of the Pride flag at City Hall. It is also looking to restrict children's access to books deemed to be "sexually explicit," which prompted Min to issue a statement in June during Pride Month critical of the Republican-controlled council for pursuing the matter.

"Public libraries have, and always will be, sacred places of intellectual freedom where our children can explore the depths of imagination, broaden their horizons, and grow into well-rounded individuals. They should never be used as tools of oppression or censorship," stated Min.

It followed the controversy earlier in the year with the Orange school district ending student access to a digital library after several parents complained about books dealing with LGBTQ topics. The decision was later reversed after the books that had been flagged were reclassified as appropriate to be read by different grade levels.

"There is a long history of book bans based on politically objectionable content. As a parent, I am very upset by this," said Min during a recent phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "My kids, luckily, go to the Irvine school district that has not seen any of this nonsense."

The targeting of transgender children is particularly galling, said Min, who recalled the harassment and bullying he received as an Asian American growing up in the 1980s.

"To target these kids is cruel and bullying. They are going after marginalized communities," said Min, 47, noting it is the "same playbook" used to target people of color and other minority groups in the past. "It pisses me off, frankly."

The B.A.R. reached out to Min to discuss how he has been navigating the various controversies in his district regarding LGBTQ issues at the same time as he mounts a second bid for the House seat. During his first race in 2018, when he came in third place behind Porter in the primary, Min had been endorsed by the statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California, which called him "the best candidate to take on anti-LGBTQ extremist Mimi Walters," the Republican candidate would lose to Porter in November of that year.

This year, he has been criticized for being the faculty adviser from 2014 to 2016 to the conservative Federalist Society chapter at UC Irvine, where he was teaching at the time, as HuffPost reported in July.

"I campaigned honestly; I was pro equality. I stood up for the LGBTQ community very loudly and proudly. I proudly carried EQCA's endorsement," said Min, who has received perfect scores on the group's scorecards during his time in the Legislature. "So nobody can accuse me of being dishonest. All I will say is there is no bait and switch here. I am what I said I am going to be."

Porter, a progressive running for outgoing Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein's seat next year, has endorsed Min to succeed her in the House. She has continued to back him following Min's arrest in May in Sacramento for drunk driving. In August, he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to three years of unsupervised probation.

"It was a terrible mistake on my part," said Min, adding that he has "never made a mistake like that before in my life and I will never make a mistake like that again."

The incident has done little to dent Min's ability to raise money, with him reporting in July that he had raised nearly $1 million for his House bid, despite the fact he is refusing to accept donations from oil interests or corporate political action committees. He also has maintained the support of many Democratic state and local leaders, as well as various unions, as he runs for Congress.


Among the LGBTQ leaders backing Min are gay Congressmember Mark Takano (D-Riverside) and gay state Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, as are lesbian Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-Atkins), and gay state Senators John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) and Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). Also endorsing Min are gay Democratic Assemblymembers Evan Low of Cupertino, Chris Ward of San Diego, and Rick Chavez Zbur of West Hollywood, as is bisexual Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San Jose).

Several women's groups and a handful of moderate Democrats in the House have thrown their support behind lawyer Joanna Weiss. Earlier this month East Bay Congressmember Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) endorsed Weiss, who has also garnered the backing of Congressmembers Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles) and Julia Brownley (D-Westlake Village).

Min and Weiss, along with former Republican Assemblymember Scott Baugh of Huntington Beach, are aiming to survive the March 5 primary, where the top two vote-getters regardless of party affiliation will advance to the fall ballot in November. The trio is considered the leading candidates in the race, which so far has drawn a total of 12 people, including queer Huntington Beach cycling studio owner Dom Jones, who competed with her partner, Richard Kuo, on the 34th season of reality TV show "The Amazing Race."

"Where we stand, I don't know honestly," said Min. "I hope voters will come out for me."

Noting he is the only current elected official in the race, Min told the B.A.R. he is "feeling pretty good" about his chances due to his strong fundraising and list of endorsers. He also acknowledged the advantage he has in the race by being endorsed by the incumbent.

"If I did not have Katie Porter's endorsement, I think that pathway might have been a lot harder," he said of surviving the primary and being able to ensure the seat remains blue come the fall.

Because of his long record of public service and professional achievements, from being a business law professor at UC Irvine School of Law and an enforcement attorney at the Securities and Exchange Commission to serving as an economic and financial policy adviser to U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and an economic policy director at the Center for American Progress prior to his election in 2020 to his state Senate seat, Min believes his body of work will matter more to voters than his DUI.

"I trust voters will not judge me on one terrible decision I made in my life," he said. "We do think there is polling and other evidence to suggest voters care about a lot of things much more than a personal discretion or bad decision like this one, particularly one where no one was harmed."

The close elections that brought to power the conservatives on the school board and city council in his district are reminders that voting matters, argued Min. Doing so will be even more important in 2024, he added, with groups like Moms for Liberty and others opposed to LGBTQ rights urging their supporters not only to head to the ballot booth next year but also run for school board seats and other locally elected positions.

"They are very much targeting trans kids," said Min, who acknowledged as a cisgender hetero male he is "fortunate in having the gender identity and sexual preference of the majority of people."

At the same time, he said he can relate to being targeted for one's innate characteristics.

"I will say this, I grew up Asian in a time and place where there were not a lot of Asian kids. I was the second smallest kid in my class; I know what it is like to be on the outside looking in," said Min, who was born in Providence, Rhode Island to Korean immigrant parents and raised in Palo Alto. "In my youth I felt there was something wrong with my core identity based on my personal, lived experiences. To now see trans kids targeted as a national campaign, it is just pathetic."

It is part of a larger agenda, said Min, with the same groups also targeting ethnic studies and wanting to omit the stories of various marginalized groups from school classrooms and public libraries. It is correlated with the fight to defund public schools in favor of private and charter schools, argued Min.

"I don't have detailed polling on these issues, but I believe I am doing what is right. At the end of the day I hope voters will see the light. I have an educated district," said Min. though he also warned, "I know the right wing is attacking these things because they have polled it. They think these are winning issues."

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 resignation of an out East Bay school board member.

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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