June 29, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Gay candidates harp on opponents’ ‘Don’t Ask’ votes

Gay candidates seeking congressional office are capitalizing on their incumbent opponents’ votes against overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to build support in their electoral bids.

Those seeking to oust lawmakers from office are hoping that public support for ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — which a CNN poll taken before congressional votes last month found nearly 80 percent of Americans favor overturning — will help build opposition to lawmakers who opposed the repeal compromise.

The votes on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal were taken May 27 in the U.S. House and the Senate Armed Services Committee to attach the measure as part of pending defense budget legislation.

Among the candidates capitalizing on votes against repeal is Steve Pougnet, the gay Democratic mayor of Palm Springs, Calif. who’s seeking to oust Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) from office.

Jordan Marks, campaign manager for Pougnet, said Bono Mack’s vote against repeal contributes to dispelling the perceived notion that she’s a moderate Republican.

“On ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ for so long, Mary Bono Mack had to have it both ways to show that she was a friend to the gay and lesbian community,” he said.

In a statement published shortly after the vote, the lawmaker defended her vote against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal measure by saying she wants to wait until the Pentagon completes its study on the issue at the end of the year.

“I care deeply about our men and women in uniform and believe it is essential that a thorough review be completed by our military commanders prior to Congress enacting such a sweeping change,” she said. “This vote should have happened after that review.”

Bono Mack also noted opposition to the repeal measure voiced by the four service chiefs before the vote took place. She said lawmakers do these military leaders “a great disservice if we ignore their advice on this important issue.”

Until the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” vote, Bono Mack had been regarded in some circles as a pro-gay Republican because of her voting record. Bono Mack had voted twice against the Federal Marriage Amendment and in favor of hate crimes legislation and a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

After the vote against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal tarnished her record on May 27, the Human Rights Campaign endorsed Pougnet.

Although Pougnet is running in a traditionally Republican district, a boost from the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” vote could be enough to give Pougnet the necessary edge to topple Bono Mack in what’s seen as a competitive race.

Pougnet is credited with being a powerhouse fundraiser and, according to Marks, will report $1.2 million in fundraising at the end of the second quarter. As of mid-May, Bono Mack has about $1.5 million in net receipts, according to Federal Election Campaign records.

Additionally, a June report in the Politico revealed that the National Republican Congressional Committee identified Bono Mack as one of nine potentially vulnerable Republican congressional lawmakers.

Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, said Bono Mack’s “no” vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provides “clear proof” to supporters of repeal that she’s waffling on the issue.

“She always said if the military was OK with repealing it, she was fine,” Kors said. “The bill that went forward requires the military to finish its process and say that it won’t harm our military to repeal it, yet she still voted against it.”

Kors said Bono Mack’s vote has “riled up” those who thought she supported LGBT rights and “intensifies people’s belief that it’s time for her to go.”

On the other side of the country, Ed Potosnak, a Democrat running against incumbent Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) to represent New Jersey’s 7th congressional district, is similarly capitalizing on his opponent’s vote against overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Potosnak, a former staffer for Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and public school teacher, said Lance’s vote is evidence the lawmaker has changed since he was elected to office.

“The vote against repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ really goes a long way in demonstrating that Lance is just out of touch,” Potosnak said.

Potosnak said Lance’s vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — as well as other votes the lawmaker has cast in his career — show he’s “on the wrong side of history.”

As the campaign progresses, Potosnak said voters “will have the opportunity to see how much he has changed since going down to Washington.”

Lance’s campaign didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to explain the lawmaker’s vote against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

While the lawmaker’s vote against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal could give Potosnak an edge in the race, he still faces an uphill battle. He’s running in a traditionally Republican district, and recent campaign finance reports show that he has around $51,000 in cash-on-hand compared to the $500,000 in Lance’s coffers.

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, a gay conservative group that advocates for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” defended lawmakers who voted “no” by noting results of the Pentagon study have yet to be revealed.

“We had a plan to look at this and get rid of it, and now you’re telling [us] to scrap that plan and vote on it now,” LaSalvia said. “The reason for many of those votes were the result of the Democrats changing the strategy in mid-stream, and it couldn’t have been more poorly handled.”

Another gay candidate seeking congressional office won’t be to draw attention to an opponent’s vote against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in his campaign. David Cicilline, the Democratic mayor of Providence, R.I., who’s seeking to represent Rhode Island’s 1st congressional district, isn’t running against an incumbent candidate.

The lawmaker that Cicilline is seeking to succeed is Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who announced his planned retirement from the House earlier this year. Kennedy voted in favor of the repeal measure.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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