A gay Republican from California could become the first person in a same-sex marriage elected to Congress if he wins a U.S. House seat in an upcoming special election.
Mike Gin, who’s served as mayor of Redondo Beach, Calif., since 2005, said economic and education issues would be his priorities if elected to Congress, but he would welcome any benefit that his visibility as a gay member of Congress in a same-sex marriage would impart to LGBT youth.
“Certainly, we all need role models, and being gay and being married is just a part of who I am,” Gin said. “If somehow my election would provide some inspiration or maybe help a young person that’s very conflicted about being gay, then I think that’s a wonderful thing.”
Gin, 48, married his spouse, Christopher Kreidel, 50, an animator, at the Redondo Beach Historic “Morrell House” three days before Proposition 8 passed in California, eliminating same-sex marriage rights in the state. The couple has been together 16 years.
The California mayor is pursuing a U.S. House seat to represent California’s 36th congressional district, which was vacated when former Rep. Jane Harman left Congress to become head of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
In what is likely to be a difficult race for Gin, an all-party primary is set for May 17. If no candidate wins a majority, the two candidates who receive the most votes, regardless of party, will participate in a run-off election on July 12 to determine who will represent the district in the U.S. House.
If elected, Gin would become the fifth sitting openly gay member of Congress, joining Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.). Gin would also be the first openly gay Republican to serve in Congress since former Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe retired in 2007.
“I look at it just simply as part of who I am,” Gin said. “I’ve been very fortunate to be very open in my community and people have always treated me with tremendous respect and, even though they might agree with me on what they might consider to be a lifestyle, or the particular political positions that I have, I have always been very fortunate in being treated with a great amount of respect.”
Job creation would be the top priority for Gin. To stimulate the economy, Gin said Congress should sustain community block grants funds as well as the Workforce Investment Act, a 1998 law signed by then-President Clinton that created regional Workforce Investment Boards throughout the country to entice business. Gin said House Republicans had proposed to defund the law, but he wants it to continue.
“I view the budget not as a slash-and-burn approach as I think I’ve seen, especially over the past few months,” Gin said. “The Workforce Investment Act has created jobs, particularly in aerospace, and helped us sustain jobs here in the community.”
Another important issue for Gin is investment in education — particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. A former computer technician for the aerospace and defense industries, Gin said science education forms the foundation of the talent needed in his district for the advanced technical industries and he wants to see federal education grants in these areas.
“We need more young people to get excited about careers in science, engineering and mathematics in order to sustain that base of talent that we need here in our local industries,” Gin said.
Gin’s emphasis on economic issues in his campaign is part of the reason he won an endorsement in his race from the Log Cabin Republicans.
R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin’s executive director, said Gin has already proven he’s an effective leader in the course of the time he’s been a public servant.
“It says a lot that Redondo Beach is one of California’s few debt-free cities under his leadership, and that Mike was able to raise more than $100,000 in the first three days of his campaign,” Cooper said. “He is ready and able to join the GOP majority in Congress fighting to create jobs and turn this economy around, and Log Cabin Republicans will work to send him to Washington this summer.”
Gin has also won the endorsement of 10 current or former mayors in the South Bay of California and the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce.
Although he’s emphasizing economic issues, Gin said LGBT issues would also be on his agenda if elected to the House. Gin said upon taking his House seat he’d join the LGBT Equality Caucus, which is chaired by the openly gay members of Congress.
“To me, that’s really a non-issue because I strongly believe in the rights affecting our community and legislation affecting our community because it affects my family as well,” Gin said.
Among the bills that Gin said he’s support are the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar job discrimination against LGBT people, and the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States, as well as legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
Gin also said he’d oppose a measure pending before the House that could disrupt the process for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal by expanding the certification requirement to include the four military service chiefs. In December, President Obama signed legislation allowing for an end to the military’s gay ban, but only after he, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify the U.S. military is ready.
“Certainly, the [chair of the] Joint Chief [of Staff] represents all the service chiefs throughout our nation’s armed forces — and with the secretary of defense and the president, the commander-in-chief in particular — I believe those are the three appropriate people that need to certify and would be very competent and knowledgeable about certifying the readiness of our troops,” Gin said.
Gin’s work as an LGBT advocate has been limited, although he was involved in the fight against Prop 8 in 2008 by taking part and contributing money to a coalition of Republicans that were against the initiative. In 2000, Gin said he was also against Prop 22, which made a ban on same-sex marriage part of the state law.
“Those are issues that I’ve come out in front of because, again, it affects my family as well,” Gin said. “I don’t consider myself an activist, but I’ve certainly been an advocate for legislation that affects our community. Being an out mayor has allowed me to have that voice.”
In the course of his run for Congress, Gin said he hasn’t encountered any anti-gay campaign tactics from his opponents. Still, he said he has endured attacks on his sexual orientation in his previous runs for office as mayor.
“There was a very ultra-conservative social conservative group here in California called the California Republican Assembly, which did an independent expenditure campaign flier against me — a very subtle way with issues regarding the gay agenda,” Gin said. “Very frankly, many people in my community were put off by it, and I believe that actually backfired on them and helped me gain greater support for my election as mayor in 2005.”
Even though upon taking his House seat, Gin would be voting for Republican leadership and joining the Republican caucus — which most Capitol Hill observers agree wouldn’t be willing to advance pro-LGBT legislation — the California mayor said his presence among GOP lawmakers could change minds.
“I would not hesitate at all to tell them my personal story and how this type of legislation affects my family and many families throughout our nation to bring the conversation back to really what I feel Republicanism is about and how it started,” Gin said. “That’s how hearts and minds can change. Whether or not it will happen, I don’t know.”
Gin expressed mixed feelings about House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) decision to take up legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act now that the Obama administration has declared it would no longer litigate on behalf of the statute. Gin said he’s personally against DOMA, but sees advantages to Boehner’s action.
“If you look at it from a constitutional level, sometimes the case, the judicial case, can be strengthened if you have some sort of opposition that’s mounted,” Gin said. “From a personal level, I don’t like the fact that that’s occurring, but also, the silver lining, if it occurs, is that clearly, I think, the courts have been in favor of us to this point. The very strong record should be built that further strengthens our case, if, in fact, counsel is appointed.”
Gin faces an uphill battle in his pursuit of a U.S. House seat as he runs in a Democratic district where two high-profile Democratic candidates are in the running: California Secretary of State Debra Bowen and Los Angeles City Council member Janice Hahn.
Recent polls released from the campaigns of the Democratic challengers indicate the race is neck-and-neck between Bowen and Hahn — with Gin following behind. According to an internal poll published last month by the Bowen campaign, Bowen and Hahn are tied at 20 percent in the race while Gin comes in at 8 percent.
Additionally, Bowen and Hahn are better funded than Gin. According to most recent Federal Election Commission reports, Bowen has raised $195,000 and has $93,000 in cash on hand, while Hahn has raised $275,000 and has $171,000 in cash on hand. Meanwhile, Gin has raised $77,000 and has $42,000 in cash on hand.
At the same time, California’s state equality organization last month threw its support behind Bowen in the race. Jim Carroll, interim executive director for Equality California, cited Bowen’s long-term commitment to the LGBT community in the announcement of the endorsement’s from his organization’s political action committee.
“Equality California PAC only endorses candidates who support full equality for the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and Debra Bowen has a long track record of standing with our community when we’ve needed her most,” Carroll said. “We are confident that she will remain a vocal champion for equality in Congress and a committed leader that all Californians can count on.”
Gin said he’s pursuing an endorsement from the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. Denis Dison, a Victory Fund spokesperson, said he couldn’t comment on candidates that his organization has yet to endorse. The Victory Fund has endorsed Gin in his previous runs for political office as mayor of Redondo Beach.