Many supporters of LGBT rights are expressing confidence that the temporary replacement for Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) will be supportive of pro-LGBT legislation in the Senate even though his views on such issues are unknown.
On Friday, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) announced Carte Goodwin, his former general counsel, would fill the Senate seat vacated by Byrd upon his death earlier this month.
At a press conference at the statehouse in Charleston, W.V., Goodwin reportedly said he has “no agenda” in the Senate other than “working to fight hard every day for West Virginia families,” according to the Hill newspaper.
Goodwin, who didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment, is seen as a temporary replacement for Byrd because the West Virginia Legislature is considering a change to state law to allow for a vote to fill the Senate seat this fall.
At 36 years old, Goodwin will become the youngest member of the Senate when he’s sworn into office this week, according to the Hill newspaper.
Stephen Skinner, board president for Fairness West Virginia, said he had no information on Goodwin’s background on LGBT issues, but he thinks the senator would be open to discussion.
“I think he’s certainly someone who would be open to engaging in discussions on LGBT issues,” Skinner said. “But that, of course, doesn’t mean that we know any of his public stances.”
Michael Mitchell, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said Goodwin appears to be a “very smart and energetic choice” to represent West Virginia.
“I just hope that he remembers that he will be a senator for all West Virginians — including LGBT West Virginians — as well as remember that he can be a leader, and should be a leader, for those West Virginians who aren’t necessarily there yet on LGBT issues,” Mitchell said.
Many political observers are expecting Manchin to pursue a run for the U.S. Senate in November and that Goodwin’s past work with the governor means he would be aligned with Manchin in terms of ideology.
Skinner said believing Goodwin’s positions on LGBT issues to be similar to Manchin’s is “absolutely” a safe assumption.
As far as Manchin’s views on LGBT issues, Skinner said the governor has been “thoughtful” about LGBT issues and twice came out publicly against a state constitutional amendment in West Virginia banning same-sex marriage.
“However, he did that in the context of saying that our state [Defense of Marriage Act] was sufficient,” Skinner said. “So although the end result was certaintly something that we wanted from him, he’s clearly not in favor of marriage equality.”
Skinner said Manchin has “indicated at least privately” that he would support a state law prohibiting job bias against LGBT people in the workforce.
“The important thing about Sen. Goodwin and Gov. Manchin is that I know that they will have an open door and will be fully engaged with the folks that believe in equality in West Virginia,” Skinner said.
A lingering question for Goodwin is how he would vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when the issue comes before the full Senate. A provision for repeal is in the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization pending before Congress, and opponents have vowed to strip out the language from the legislation.
Byrd was a “yes” vote in Senate Armed Services Committee in May on an amendment that would lead to repeal of the law.
The late senator’s support was noteworthy because it came on the condition of adding 60 days between the time for when the president and defense leaders would certify that the U.S. military is ready to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the time for when repeal would go into effect.
Skinner said he’s expecting Goodwin to follow through on Byrd’s commitment to repealing the ban on open service.
“I think it’s reasonable for the LGBT community to expect Sen. Goodwin to follow through on Sen. Byrd’s commitment on the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,'” Skinner said.
Paul Guequierre, a Human Rights Campaign spokesperson, said “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is among the issues his organization plans to discuss with Goodwin when the new senator takes office.
“As you know, HRC has done a lot of work on the ground throughout West Virginia with Fairness West Virginia and other organizations to help secure Sen. Byrd’s vote to repeal [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] in the Senate Armed Services Committee,” Guequierre said. “We will work just as diligently to secure Sen. Goodwin’s support.”
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the importance of Goodwin’s position on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” stands “somewhere on the middle” in terms of possible obstacles on the way toward repeal.
“In the full chamber, he’s certainly important,” Nicholson said. “We need every vote we can get and we’re not taking any vote for granted, but it’s not going to come down to one vote.”
Nicholson added that Goodwin would need “an extraordinarily strong anti-repeal view” for him to oppose an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“If he’s supportive, he’s going to vote with us,” Nicholson said. “I think if he’s neutral, he’s going to default to party standard, which is to vote for the amendment and against any attempts to strip it.”
Nicholson said any opposition to repeal from Goodwin would be unusual because of Byrd’s role in negotiating the language.
“It would be a big slap in the face, I think, for the senator to have negotiated a position he feels comfortable supporting … and then have this 36-year-old whipper-snapper successor come back and say that was wrong,” Nicholson said. “I think that would be an extraordinary change of course and I think that’s unlikely.”