February 16, 2010 at 2:56 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Democratic retirements could derail LGBT advances

U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh’s retirement could make it more difficult for congressional Democrats to advance LGBT-related bills. (Photo courtesy of Bayh’s office)

The surprise retirement announcement from Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) on Monday came as a political shock in Washington and fueled the notion that 2010 will be a bad year for Democrats.

While political experts are expecting Democrats to retain control of both the House and the Senate — albeit with slimmer majorities — pundits are saying pro-LGBT legislation would require an extra push from supporters following the election to make it through Congress.

Bayh formally announced Monday his intention to vacate his seat at the end of the year. Emphasizing his continued commitment to public service, Bayh said he wanted to retire in part because his desire to serve as a U.S. senator has waned.

“For some time, I’ve had the growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should,” he said. “There is much too much partisanship and not enough progress, too much ideology and not enough practical problem solving.”

Bayh’s retirement came as a surprise to many because he was seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party and has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate. The senator reportedly had $13 million in his coffers for a re-election campaign, and was the leader of a group of moderate Democrats that had pledged to work for centrist policies on Capitol Hill.

The Indiana senator hasn’t been at the forefront of LGBT causes during his tenure in Congress, but stepped up to the plate when support was necessary. Bayh voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and 2006, and voted in favor of hate crimes legislation.

Michael Mitchell, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said Bayh’s record on LGBT issues is attributable to the fact that he comes from a state that’s somewhere between moderate and conservative in its political leanings.

“I think whoever takes his place is going to lean toward the more Blue Dog, or the more conservative side of the Democratic Party anyway,” Mitchell said. “It would be wonderful to see someone who’s pro-equality there, and we’ll see how that plays out.”

But Bayh’s retirement means an incumbent Democrat won’t be running for the seat, increasing the chances that a Republican could win the spot in November.

That’s why Sean Theriault, a gay government professor at the University of Texas, Austin, called Bayh’s decision to leave the Senate “bad news for the Democrats.”

“It takes a race that could have gone either way to a seat that the Democrats will most likely lose,” Theriault said. “More than that, though, the Senate is losing a good senator. Bayh was a legislator’s legislator. He knew how to work both sides of the aisle to get good legislation passed.”

Bayh’s retirement isn’t the only factor jeopardizing the Democratic majority in Congress this fall. Public dissatisfaction with Congress has many pundits predicting Republican wins.

In addition to the general climate turning against Democrats, issues in individual races could make for a challenging year for the party. The announced retirement of Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) leaves little hope for a win against Republican Gov. John Hoeven in the Senate race this November. In Delaware, Republican congressman Mike Castle is favored to capture the Senate seat once held by Vice President Joseph Biden.

And in Illinois, the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat, Alexi Giannoulias, is being dogged by his association with Broadway Bank, which reportedly engaged in questionable practices and is on the verge of Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. takeover.

Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is facing low approval ratings in his home state, making him vulnerable to a Republican challenger.

Still, while political experts are predicting Democrats will lose seats, most are saying the Republicans won’t be able to take the majority in either the House or Senate. Theriault said before the announcement of Bayh’s retirement, he would have thought the Democrats would hold 54 seats after the election.

“Now, it might be down to 53,” he said, “At every turn, the Republican primary electorate is going to have to make the right decision, catch some breaks, and conditions would have to deteriorate even more than they have for the Republicans to have a shot at gaining control of the Senate.”

Dan Pinello, a gay government professor at the City University of New York, said the growing number of Democratic incumbents who are announcing their retirement means Republicans will see more opportunities, but determining whether the Republicans will take control of Congress is difficult because other factors could emerge to influence the election.

“Both domestic as well as international events can happen at such lightning speed to change the larger political environment that the outlook can vary from month to month in terms of what’s going to be happening come November,” he said. “It’s very dicey to make predictions so far ahead of the general election.”

Still, Pinello said predicting Democrats will lose seats in Congress is a “safe” bet to make, although a GOP takeover would take “a seismic change” similar to what happened in 1994 when Democrats lost control of both chambers of Congress.

Charles Moran, spokesperson for the Log Cabin Republicans, said he doesn’t think Republicans will take control of Congress this November, although he predicted Democratic losses because the party will have to spend money on races that it thought wouldn’t be competitive.

“It’s going to give the Republicans a competitive advantage in terms of reclaiming some of these seats,” he said. “I’m certainly not sugar-coating it. We have a really big hole to fill on the Republican side, but I definitely think this puts the Democrats in a precarious position.”

With decreased majorities in Congress, advocates are saying pushing pro-LGBT legislation through to the president’s desk would be a more difficult feat.

Pinello said if the Democratic majority falls behind 55 seats in the Senate, it could cause a problem when seeking 60 votes to end any filibusters on LGBT-related legislation.

“That becomes a problem if ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ comes up for repeal or, more importantly, the Defense of Marriage Act comes up for repeal,” he said. “I think potentially that becomes an insurmountable hurdle if Republicans remain as cohesive as they have been on the health care issue.”

Even with decreased majorities, Mitchell said advocates will “keep working” with Democratic allies to push through pro-LGBT legislation.

“Our organization worked specifically for the last 10 years as an organization working in the minority,” he said. “I think Obama will continue to help push some good legislation for us and do what he can, but that said, there needs to be a pro-equality Congress that can help us do that.”

Moran said while Democratic losses would mean the party would have to “re-evaluate some of their votes and some of their stances,” he would hope Democrats and Republicans who would vote for pro-LGBT legislation would maintain their support.

“More than anything, I think it’s just another example of how we’ve got to spend a lot of time as a community working to start changing some of the hearts and minds of the key individuals who maybe are sitting on the fence,” he said.

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

  • And if the democrats were to keep the same majorities in both houses, do you think they would pass ENDA, domestic partnership benefits, repeal DOMA? No they had their chance. Good riddance. This party needs to be cleaned out. Too bad do nothing Obama isn’t up for election. He’d be out on his useless behind too.

  • Evan Bayh is really no great loss, he wasn’t really a great advocate for LGBT rights, although he usually did side with equality. The fact that the Dems may lose more seats in Congress makes it that much more important for us to push them on passing ENDA, the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act and Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell now rather than later. In fact, if they don’t pass these bills by July, I don’t think they will as they will be claiming they can’t vote for anything controversial in an election year, and of course next year when they are fewer in number they will tell us they don’t have enough votes to get the job done. It really does come down to us pushing them hard right now to pass these bills, because realistically we may only have about two months to get this done!

  • I agree with Brian. The dems had their chance and they blew it. The truth is that the only legistation the democrats have given us is DOMA. Some show of support for LGBT rights. I truly believe that deep down, Obama does not support gay marriage or other gay rights. I am sure that is what was taught to him by the Rev Wright. Remember when we threw our support behind Kerry/Edwards? Both of them supported consitutional bans on gay marriage. The truth is that the dems could care less about us. They only want (and need) out vote, so they will say just about anything to get that vote. Its time we start supporting candidates that support the LGBT issues and not just throw our support because of the (D) after their name.

  • You girls will always have those white conservativwes to vote for since Obama is a do nothing President in your words that is.


  • Christy Love: So we should be happy with barely closeted homophobes just because they’re not quite so bad as militant, in-your-face homophobes? If we all followed that principle, we’d still be living under pre-Stonewall conditions.

  • Like I said, Evan Bayh is no great loss for us as we pursue equality. I put together a kind of report card for President Obama and the Democrats in Congress and sent a copy to Speaker Pelosi, House Majority Leader Hoyer, and Senate Majority Leader Reid, which basically lays out a roadmap of what they promised to achieve and have achieved as follows:

    Grading Obama & The 111th Democratic Congress
    LGBT Issues

    Main Bills / Votes on the Bills
    15 pts. – Pass Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act
    15 pts. – Pass Employment Non-Discrimination Act (S.1584 / HR.3017)
    15 pts. – Pass Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act (S.1102 / HR.2517)
    15 pts. – Repeal Defense of Marriage Act (HR.3567) Respect for Marriage Act
    15 pts. – Repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy (HR.1283) Military Readiness Enhancement Act
    3 pts. – Pass Student Non-Discrimination Act (HR.4530)
    3 pts. – Renew the Ryan White Care Act (S.833 / HR.1616) Early Treatment for HIV Act
    3 pts. – Pass Uniting American Families Act (S.424 / HR.1024)
    3 pts. – Pass Safe Schools Improvement Act (HR.2262)
    3 pts. – Pass Responsible Education About Life Act (S.611 / HR.1551)
    5 pts. – Appoint an openly gay cabinet secretary or US. Supreme Court Justice
    1-5 pts. – One point for each Federal Judge (District or Appeals) Appointed by Obama up to five

    100 Potential Points for President Obama & The Democrats in 111th Congress.
    18 Points Out of 100 Potential Points have been earned as of 2/15/10 for passing the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill and renewing the Ryan White Care Act.

    At this point, it isn’t likely the Dems will take up the repeal of DOMA, so the best case scenario would involve the Democrats passing the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; along with passage of at least two of the minor Pro-LGBT bills, such as the Student Non-Discrimination Act, Safe Schools Improvement Act, or Responsible Education About Life Act. Senator Schumer recently recommended Daniel Alter, an openly gay man for an open seat on a Federal District Court, so that could mean an additional point for President Obama and the Democrats during this Congress. Based on these bills passing, the best case score is approximately 70 of 100.

    A worst case scenario assumes Congress and the President will continue to neglect the Gay & Lesbian community and its issues, moving at a much slower pace as it grudgingly passes Pro-LGBT Legislation. This scenario would involve the Democrats passing only one of the main bills, (DPBO, ENDA, or Repeal of DADT) and one of the minor bills with no appointments of LGBT Judges for the Federal Judiciary, with a resulting score of 36 of 100. This scenario would most likely result in a massive desertion by the LGBT Community as it responds to the Democrat’s failure to deliver on their promises.

    An acceptable scenario for the LGBT Community would involve the Democrats passing at least two of the main bills, (DPBO, ENDA, or Repeal of DADT) along with two of the minor LGBT Bills and the appointment of at least one openly gay Federal Judge, with a respectable score of 55 of 100 for President Obama and the Democrats in the 111th Congress.

  • It’s very doubtful there will be any advances in GLBT legislation for the remainder of this congressional session. Almost to a person, Republicans in Congress hate us. And Democrats, having proved to be feckless and nearly incapable of governing, are now running scared to save their own hides in advance of a feared tea party tsunami. I hope I’m wrong, but the Democrats are going to avoid pro-GLBT legislation at all costs as they attempt a phony lurch to the middle. And anyone who thinks a reduced Democratic majority, or any Republican majority for that matter, in the next Congress will be more amenable to our issues is just delusional.

  • Christy Love, why do you bring race into this? I vote for the democratic party in California because they openly support my equal rights and actually pass legislation that matters. Obama does not support my equality and is an ineffective administrator. I do not support him. When losers like Boehner and Cantor can run rings around this administration to the point they are now poised to take back congress, you have to question Obama’s competency for his position. I am not voting for Barbara Boxer either because she talks and delivers nothing. And I am a 46 year old man Chrisy, not a girl. Smarten up.

  • @ Brian,

    You said “I vote for the democratic party in California because they openly support my equal rights and actually pass legislation that matters”.
    Then why is marriage not one of them in California????

    And since you said “Obama is a ineffective administrator. I do not support him” But I bet you all supported Bill Clinton who is the reason our community is where it is now with D.A.D.T and D.O.M.A.

    After all Obama and congress did pass bills that supports this community. But I guess in all your not liking him. You forgot that. right????
    Hate Crimes Bills passed. HIV travel ban lifted and it doesn’t matter if it’s attached to anything .It was passed. THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS!

    Alot of Democratic congress memebers are not supporting him because they’re scared for their re-election because of angry white teabaggers!. So ineffective not really. He has a party that is sometimey with him. That is why it makes him look ineffective. If I represented a district predominately caucasian coming to my town halls screaming and carrying on STUPIDLY.It would probably make me punk out and run the other way. NOT, I’d MAN UP and take a stand!

    So before you step to me with saying “smarten up”. And get over yourself. I don’t care who you support that’s your business but guess what. If republicans come to power. You won’t be getting much of anything passed for this community! including marriage……


    IOWA anyone?????

    Smarten up yourself!

© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2018. All rights reserved.