The New Hampshire Republican is one of three openly gay Republicans running in the congressional mid-terms along with Richard Tisei in Massachusetts and Carl DeMaio in San Diego.
The significance of the triumvirate of gay GOPers running for Congress at the same time isn’t lost on Innis, who spoke with the Washington Blade during a trip to D.C. last week between meetings on K Street.
“I think it’s an indicator of how far we have moved as a nation because 10 years ago, this wouldn’t be happening,” Innis said. “And we have really come a long way, and I think we will continue to move along this path. To me, it’s a real statement about our continued push for full equality.”
But it’s the Republican aspect of Innis’ candidacy that’s at the forefront of his mind as he seeks to oust incumbent Democrat Rep. Carol Shea-Porter from her seat representing New Hampshire’s 1st congressional district.
During his tenure since 2007 as dean of the College of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire, Innis said the young people with whom he works don’t see the world in the same way as he did when he was younger.
“I’ve been working with young people for 23 years in higher education,” Innis said. “I have three kids of my own, 13, 20 and 22. And the way that they see the world today is different from the way that I saw it. They don’t feel the same level of freedom, they don’t feel the same opportunities, they don’t feel that their future is as bright as I felt mine was.”
For Innis, the downward shift has its roots in Washington, and it’s time for New Hampshire to send representatives to Congress “who are not career politicians, who can help to turn things back around, and bring back that sense of optimism about the future.”
Innis earlier this month won an endorsement from the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which has also endorsed Tisei in his bids for Congress. The Victory Fund has yet to endorse DeMaio.
“Dan Innis is a sensible and visionary leader, two qualities New Hampshire constituents deserve in a representative,” said Torey Carter, chief operating officer at the Victory Fund. “His unique combination of corporate and academic backgrounds has allowed him to address issues that affect others with careful consideration.”
Innis said he hasn’t sought an endorsement from the Human Rights Campaign. The Log Cabin Republicans are prohibited from making endorsements in the primary.
Even with the Victory Fund endorsement, the New Hampshire Republican said he doesn’t see LGBT issues as a priority for him if elected as much as the advancement of equality in general.
“I think, for me, it’s about equality for all, and those are the issues that I’ll always champion, so any issue that relates to equality — whether it’s related to gender, race, sexual orientation — those are values that I think all Americans hold, and those are things that I would always fight for,” Innis said. “It’s a broad-based equality mission for me.”
But among the pieces of legislation at the top of his list is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that has languished in Congress for years that would prohibit bias against LGBT people in the workforce.
“It’s time that that come up for a vote, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t,” Innis said. “We’ve seen support for that on the Senate side, New Hampshire senators both supported it, Republican and Democrat, and I’m proud of that. And I believe the House will do the right thing.”
The legislation passed in the Senate late last year on a bipartisan vote of 64-32, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he opposes it and it hasn’t yet come up for a vote in the Republican-controlled chamber.
Even though his vote first in Congress would be for Republican leadership, Innis said he sees the ability for LGBT legislation to advance under a GOP-controlled House because he’d bring a different voice to the caucus.
“When they’re not there with you, you don’t see it the same way,” Innis said. “The minute I’m sitting down next to John Boehner or somebody else, I’m there, and that bill affects me, and that affects how they perceive that bill, and I think it will really change the way the Republican Party will move forward.”
Innis isn’t alone in his bid for the Republican nomination. Also running is Frank Guinta, a former member of the U.S. House who defeated Shea-Porter in 2010, but lost to her in the 2012 election. The primary is Sept. 9.
A recent WMUR Granite State Poll showed Guinta ahead of Shea-Porter, but Innis behind her. He attributed that discrepancy to name recognition, saying that would change as the campaign gets underway and Super PACs come to his aid.
Although significant gains for LGBT equality have been made under the Obama administration, Innis insisted credit for progress should be given to all who contributed.
“You know, we’ve seen previous presidents, the one before Obama, put an awful lot of money into AIDS research,” Innis said, “And I think that deserves credit. George W. Bush was phenomenal on that. He deserves credit. Any leader who’s taken a stand on these issues deserves credit regardless of party. To me, this is not a partisan issue; this is a human issue.”
Despite his support for LGBT rights, Innis stopped short of endorsing the idea of an executive order barring LGBT workplace bias against federal contractors. No Republican lawmaker or candidate has yet to endorse the order.
“I have some issues with executive orders,” Innis said. “I’m not a big fan of executive orders generally speaking, and I will say I haven’t given this one an awful lot of thought, but I think equality is always a good thing.”
Asked whether he was leaning in favor of supporting the executive order, Innis said he’d like to see an end to LGBT discrimination “done in a more open and participative way.”
Coming from a state where same-sex marriage was made legal in 2009 through the legislative process, Innis had a role in helping resist an effort from a Republican supermajority in the legislature to repeal the statute.
Innis acknowledged he didn’t have an active role in the legalization of same-sex marriage at that time because he had recently come out as gay and was still in his position at the university, but said he lent his voice as a Republican when the law was under threat.
“I guess I was on a brochure that went to all the legislators with my story,” Innis said. “I gave a couple of talks, some things in newspapers, and really I think represented equality in the state in that battle. It became very visible for me. I was featured in the Portsmith Herald on the front page the day after. It was a little more public than I wanted to be, but so be it.”
Innis said he faced criticism for his role in convincing the Republicans to drop efforts to repeal the law, but wouldn’t identify who was unhappy with him.
“I think it’s important to note that that was a Republican legislature that had a veto-proof majority in both houses. Think about that and equality was supported,” Innis said. “That’s New Hampshire. And we believe in equality and freedom for all.”
Innis said he hasn’t yet spoken to the other two gay Republican candidates running for Congress, but said he expects to talk to them soon. He’s also not a member of the joint fundraising committee formed by Tisei and DeMaio called the Equality Leadership Fund. Innis said he’s aware of the fund but remains focused on his campaign.
It should be noted all three openly gay Republicans seeking seats in the U.S. House are trying to oust incumbent Democrats.
Ray Buckley, who’s gay and chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said Shea-Porter is the best candidate because New Hampshire voters expect elected officials “to stand up against injustice and support families of all varieties.”
“Instead, Dan Innis failed to fight for LGBT rights in New Hampshire as the legislature debated marriage equality,” Buckley said. “He failed them again during the fight for the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, in which strong Republican voices could have helped turn the tide, ending the ability to discriminate against someone in the workplace for simply being who they are. Meanwhile, Congresswoman Shea-Porter has consistently been on the right side of history, defending LGBT families and advancing civil rights. Dan Innis is the wrong candidate for families of all kinds in the state of New Hampshire.”
But Innis insisted that he’s the right candidate for the LGBT community because, unlike Shea-Porter, he’s lived the experience of being openly gay.
“I live it and understand it more thoroughly than she ever will. I’m LGBT; Carol Shea-Porter is not,” Innis said. “And though I appreciate her support of the community, I think the support coming from me is genuine and it’s part of me.”
It’s the new voices the gay Republican candidates are bringing to the fore that Innis said are making the campaigns valuable in and of themselves.
“I think we have three historic races,” Innis said. “Races that wouldn’t have taken place not that many years ago. And I think that in and of itself adds value for our community, and if we’re going to move equality forward, we’ve got to do it in every way possible – Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, independent, doesn’t matter — I think that if one or all of us wins, we’re that much closer to equality.”
CORRECTION: An initial version of this article incorrectly stated the Victory Fund endorsed Carl DeMaio. The Blade regrets the error.