September 28, 2010 at 4:12 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
GOP candidate seeks LGBT help in ousting Pelosi

The Republican candidate running against Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is looking for help from LGBT voters in his quest to unseat the House speaker.

John Dennis, in his first run for political office, is running against Pelosi to represent California’s 8th congressional district. He’s described on his website as “an accomplished businessman and entrepreneur” as well as “a pro-liberty San Franciscan.”

Dennis has earned the endorsement of the Log Cabin Republicans and last week spoke at the organization’s annual dinner in D.C. to cultivate support among gay Republicans.

During his remarks, the Republican candidate said one thing he was delighted to discover over the course of his campaign is that gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk supported Republican candidate Barry Goldwater in his 1964 bid for the presidency against then-President Lyndon Johnson.

“On the surface, it doesn’t make sense, but if you think about the pre-Stonewall era, it makes complete sense,” Dennis said. “The community had a tough time with government. Government was oppressing it and always on its back. But Barry’s libertarian streak actually connected with the community.”

Dennis emphasized the libertarian elements of the GOP and said those tenets mean the LGBT community “rightfully belongs in the Republican Party with our emphasis on individual liberty.”

Dennis said he’s running against an opponent who represents Democratic control of Washington and dissatisfaction with the federal government.

He said he’s noticed a lot of e-mails from Republican challengers saying their Democratic opponents vote either 94 percent of the time or 96 percent of the time with Pelosi.

“I can guarantee you one thing,” Dennis said. “My opponent votes 100 percent of the time with Nancy Pelosi.”

Dennis spoke with the Blade about his support for LGBT issues following his speech at the Log Cabin dinner. Pelosi hasn’t scheduled a time to talk with the Blade during the 111th Congress despite repeated requests for an interview over the past year.

Among Dennis’ pro-LGBT positions is his support for repeal of laws seen as discriminatory against LGBT people. He said he backs repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as well as the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I don’t think marriage is a government issue,” he said. “It’s certainly not a federal government issue. So, those are issues that I’d be happy to support in the gay community.”

Dennis also said in 2008 he voted against Proposition 8 in California, which ended same-sex marriage in the state. He said his position against Prop 8 is consistent with his view that government should not be in “the marriage business.”

“It was very exclusionary, that law, and didn’t go to solve the problem,” Dennis said. “It just said, ‘OK, well, this is for us and then you guys do whatever you’re going to do.’ And I thought it was a little aggressive.”

Dennis added he thinks U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker’s recent ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional was “the right decision” and said he expressed his support for the ruling on his blog.

Still, Dennis hesitated when asked if he supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar job discrimination against LGBT people in most settings.

Dennis said his support on ENDA will depend on how the legislation “is presented” and said there’s a “flip-side” to the legislation.

“Do you end up forcing homophobes or anti-homosexual groups — do you end up protecting their right to be employed by homosexuals when there’s an obvious conflict there?” Dennis said. “So, it depends on how it’s worded. But, you know, I’m … against discrimination.”

Dennis emphasized his credentials as a Republican and said he wants to stop the “fiscal irresponsibility of Washington.”

“We need to get spending under control,” he said. “We need to balance our budgets. We need to start following the Constitution, and only spend on what the Constitution authorizes the Congress to spend on.”

Dennis said in the primary he ran as a “pro-civil liberties, anti-war, pro-legalization Republican” and won, so he doesn’t think he has “anything to prove to anyone” regarding his place in the Republican Party.

Log Cabin endorsed Dennis on Sept. 16 as part of a group 11 Republican candidates seeking House seats.

Other endorsements included Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), who voted for an amendment to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a co-sponsor of numerous pro-LGBT bills.

R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin’s executive director, said Dennis’ support for ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a major factor in the organization’s decision to endorse the Pelosi challenger.

“Bottom line is John Dennis is a pro-repeal Republican candidate,” Cooper said. “So he is on our radar screen and we are supporting him as well some other incumbents and candidates who would be a good force-multiplier in the party and help us get the party to be more inclusive toward gays and lesbians.”

Cooper said Dennis has been an “active ally” of the Log Cabin Republicans of San Francisco and has recruited numerous chapter members into his campaign.

Despite his support for LGBT issues, Dennis is running against a lawmaker who for decades has been seen as a stalwart supporter of LGBT people.

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, emphasized the speaker’s record on pro-LGBT legislation.

“Speaker Pelosi has been a staunch advocate for the LGBT community in her more than 20 years in the Congress; helping lead the fight against HIV/AIDS, opposing efforts to enshrine discrimination in the United States Constitution and served as a leading voice against Proposition 8 in California,” Hammill said.

Hammill said Pelosi led efforts to pass hate crimes legislation as well as pass legislation in the House to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Hammill said the speaker “will keep pushing for action on ENDA.” Pelosi is being honored with an award from the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund this week in Washington for her work on LGBT issues.

“San Franciscans know Nancy Pelosi’s commitment to fostering equality and ending discrimination,” Hammill said.

But one group that has criticized Pelosi for not moving forward with a House vote on ENDA is washing its hands of the race.

Robin McGehee, co-founder of GetEQUAL, which has staged acts of civil disobedience throughout the country over Pelosi’s inaction this Congress over ENDA, said voters in the speaker’s district should “determine for themselves how well she is representing [them] and fighting for their equality.”

“Our equality knows no political party; we are not beholden to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party,” McGehee said. “Whoever wins the election can expect us to hold them accountable on their commitments to the LGBT community.”

Dennis faces an uphill fight to unseat Pelosi -— to say the least — in the Democratic stronghold of California’s 8th congressional district, which includes San Francisco. Members of the Green Party often fare better than Republicans in the district.

Pelosi has consistently won election in the area since she first sought a U.S. House seat in 1988. Pelosi often wins these races with more than 80 percent of the vote.

Dennis also has major deficit against Pelosi in terms of fundraising. The speaker has raised nearly $2 million this campaign cycle while Dennis has $650,000, according to the most recent Federal Election Campaign reports.

Pelosi has $214,000 in cash on hand while Dennis has $58,000. Pelosi also has no campaign debt while Dennis has $53,000.

Still, Dennis said he sees a path to victory because his internal polling numbers show that Pelosi’s support is growing soft among independents and Democrats.

“If we win all the votes of people who say they won’t vote for her, plus have a good turnout for the Republicans, we’ll actually have enough votes to defeat her,” Dennis said.

Cooper acknowledged that Dennis is facing an “uphill battle” and said he thinks the Republican candidate realizes the challenge.

Still, Cooper said he thinks Pelosi could be vulnerable because of the number of House Democrats who are distancing themselves from Pelosi in campaign ads.

“There are Democrats trying to maintain their seats who don’t want her to come into their district, they don’t want her support and they don’t want to look like they’re affiliated with her as speaker even though they’re running as a Democrat,” Cooper said.

During his speech, Dennis acknowledged that running in San Francisco is “challenging” for a Republican and said he has to do “special things” to build support.

A recent web ad from the Dennis campaign depicts Pelosi as the Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz” and criticizes her for leading the way in what the ad describes as rampant spending in Washington and burdensome taxation.

“It went viral,” Dennis said. “We were mentioned in a lot of shows. Jay Leno included us in his monologue. It’s been seen about 630,000 times. And I will say that there is a coven of witches in … New Jersey that vehemently oppose us over this.”

Dennis noted that he received the Log Cabin endorsement right after the publication of the ad, which he said shows, “I really am a friend of the Friends of Dorothy.”

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

  • Forgive me if I seem a bit skeptical. I suppose John Dennis has plenty of Gay friends and it supportive of LGBT people in general, but I don’t see a GOP takeover of Congress as boding well for us at all.

  • As with almost everytime the Democratic Party is in the WH, this WH has to contend with a rabid, nutty, unreasonable, GOP. I believe the combination of Obama, Reid and Pelosi has saved this nation after what was left on their plates by the previous administration. I hope ALL Democrats get out to the polls and vote this mid-term election. Please don’t let the GOP have a repeat of 1994. You saw what happened then…..Republicans being what and who they are, you know history will simply repeat itself…..setting us back again, years.

  • Y’know, I realize Pelosi will win her district with little problem, but anyone who thinks she’s a staunch advocate of LGBT rights just isn’t paying attention. She represents the city with the largest transgender population in the country, but that certainly didn’t stop her from signing off on stripping transgender workers from ENDA in ’07 to make it easier to pass the bill in the House, and it certainly hasn’t stopped her from throwing civilian LGBT American workers under the bus over and over to protect skittish and openly homo/transphobic Blue Dogs since.

    We deserve better, far better, than the kind of “leadership” on our issues we get from Nancy Pelosi.

    Anyone who knows Pelosi’s record on LGBT rights knows that her real agenda is protecting cowardly and homophobic House Democrats from having to take tough votes on our issues and shielding them from being held accountable for their open and blatant homophobia by the American electorate.

    I almost wish this guy would win so maybe then we’d get a Speaker of the House who doesn’t merely claim our issues are a “top priority” at election time but actually legislates like she means it.

  • Its amazing the way the Log Cabin Republicans are so eager to endorse any GOP candidate who is willing to give them the time of day. True, this guy is probably much better than the average Republican, (of course this isn’t hard to do) but he doesn’t compare to Pelosi in regards to supporting LGBT rights. Having said this though, I can’t begin to say how disappointed I am with Pelosi and her lack of leadership when it comes to shepherding the many many LGBT bills that are pending in this Congress. Most of the bills, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act are not far enough along through the process to pass them in the remaining time that this Congress has left. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell may still get passed, but this is up to the Senate and of course the one remaining bill that could still pass, the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act is just waiting for a floor vote in the House & Senate. In other words, DPBO has been waiting for a floor vote for nearly nine months in both chambers and this is what really bugs me about Pelosi, Reid & Hoyer, because they could have taken action on this and other bills a long time ago but didn’t. The Dems in Congress obviously don’t consider our issues important enough to hold votes on them, and perhaps Pelosi’s opponent has a good point in raising that issue.

  • Gay, straight,transgendered. Freedom from goverment intervention is universal. Whether goverment is spending us into poverty or sending our citzens off to die for an American empire Nancy Pelosi is dead wrong. She is about Death & Murder. John Dennis is commited to ending this tragic war and helping America put back our lives

  • There are two factions in the Tea Party movement. One led by Sarah Palin and the other by Ron Paul. The same Ron Paul that voted for a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell with only a few other Republicans. The Ron Paul Tea Partiers like John Dennis are libertarian-Republicans who believe in individual liberty and aren’t afraid to go against the party establishment on issues like war, drugs, and gay marriage. That, to me, shows how courageous they are in standing up for what they believe in.

  • The Libertarian Party first endorsed equality before the law for Gay people in 1972(!), including the right to marry. David Boaz of the libertarian Cato Institute wrote the first major article advocating the privatization of marriage over a decade ago. To date, neither the GOP or the Democrats have even caught up in their rhetoric, let alone in their actions.

    It’s been almost 40 years! Wake up my Gay and Lesbian friends. The libertarians are the only people who have consistently and actively supported our equality. The Left has only exploited us for our votes — and our money. As for the GOP, well Dennis would be better to become an Independent. Decades of hostility from Neo-con Republicans is not going to turn around just because a few dozen libertarians and Taftian/Goldwater Republicans re-emerge from decades of GOP excommunication to get Republican nominations in their districts.

    Besides, think about it. In a nation that is supposedly the bastion of individualism, should people really be voting for candidates on the basis of their identity groups, such as political parties? Rationally we should all be refusing to vote for anyone allied with a party at all, because their loyalty is to the party, not to the voter. The last two years has made that crystal clear, even to Democratic voters.

  • I think the most important aspect of his campaign is his anti-war stance. He is philosphically a libertarian so naturally the rights of the individual will always be protected by John Dennis whether they are gay, straight, black, blue, tall, short.

  • While criticisms of John Dennis’ choice to run for the Republican nomination are valid, it’s hard to argue that using an established political machine and its funding resources was a bad idea. Plus, I’d rather libertarians take over the Republican Party than try to start a 3rd party; the neoconservatives are powerful people, and I’d rather have a balancing libertarian force within the party to keep them in check.

  • Don’t be fooled by the Ron Paul crowd or John Dennis. They obfuscate their true natures under the “liberty” banner. Ron Paul/John Dennis may not want the FEDERAL govt to impose restrictions or take away rights from the gay community but they will have no problem if STATES do it.

    These people are not your friends or allies. They will be more than happy to sit by while individuals or businesses violate your rights or put you in the back of the bus. And think what voting bloc they belong to!!

  • Th3ere were Jews who worked for the Nazis, believe it or not. And from that came the old story about :first they came for the Jews, and no one said anything. Then they came for the gays, and no one said anything.

    And then they came for me, and there was no one left to say anything.

    Lets not let our fearless leaders struggles and inability to do what we want generate the frustration that the Christo-facist party want to happen.

    Because if you think its bad,, you aint seen nothing yet. Unless you go to Iran etc. (ps I am Jewish, so no crap on my comment)

  • BTW – my comment on the libertarians – virtually every law we have is because people don’t do the right things in life and we need legal boundries. Libertarians believe that they want the govt out of their pocketbooks, and out of their bedrooms for the most part.

    But who is going to do anything about the evil people in the world if they get power.

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