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Baldwin front-runner to claim Dem nomination for Senate

But lesbian lawmaker likely faces stiff challenge in general election

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Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Claiming the Democratic nomination to become the next U.S. senator from Wisconsin — and the first openly gay U.S. senator — just got easier for Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) now that a potential major opponent has announced he won’t seek office in 2012.

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, who lost his seat during the Republican wave in the 2010 election, said in a message to supporters last week that he wouldn’t run for office in 2012.

“I am grateful for the friendship and support of so many fellow Wisconsinites who suggested I consider running for statewide office in the coming months,” Feingold wrote. “While I may seek elective office again someday, I have decided not to run for public office during 2012.”

Feingold, who since his departure from the Senate founded the group Progressive United, said he instead wants to devote his time to teaching at Marquette University Law School and working to overturn Citizens United, a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited corporate funding for independent political broadcasts in political campaigns.

He was seen as the favorite to win the Democratic nomination — and likely the seat itself — for the seat Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) will vacate upon his retirement at the end of next year. With Feingold out of the picture, political observers say Baldwin, who has said she’s “very likely” to pursue a run for Senate, is the front-runner to claim the Democratic nomination. The only out lesbian in Congress, Baldwin has been serving in the U.S. House since 1999.

In a statement to supporters, Baldwin praised Feingold for being what she called “one of the true legends of Wisconsin’s progressive tradition” and said she expects his “political courage” to continue to impact Wisconsin and the country for years to come.

“Lots of you have asked me whether Russ’ announcement will influence my plans,” Baldwin said. “As I’ve said, I’m seriously exploring a race for the U.S. Senate — and I’ll have more to say about that soon.  But whoever represents our party in that important election should have the same progressive principles — and the same courage to do what’s right — that Russ Feingold has displayed every day of his distinguished career.”

Baldwin was expected to hold off on announcing any decision to run for U.S. Senate until after the Wisconsin special elections, which took place Aug. 9, and after Feingold revealed his intentions for 2012. Now that the election is over and Feingold has announced his decision, Baldwin is widely expected to make an announcement just after Labor Day.

Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which has been pushing Baldwin to run for the Senate, said Feingold’s announcement is “encouraging.”

“We’re still assuming that there is going to be a competitive primary; somebody is going to pop up,” Dison said. “But I think if her decision had much to do with whether or not Feingold was running, obviously this is a much more encouraging environment and atmosphere to run in.”

Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, said via e-mail that Feingold’s decision to sit out the race is a “big boost” for Baldwin.

“She could not have gotten the nomination against Feingold — no question he would have defeated her if she had even run, which I doubt,” Sabato said. “Now, she’s got a good chance to be the Democratic nominee, although we have to wait and see who runs against her. The dust hasn’t settled from Feingold’s announcement.”

Other Democrats who are said to be mulling potential bids for the Senate seat include Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wisc.), a seven-term member of the U.S. House, and Steve Kagen, a former U.S. House member from Wisconsin who was unseated in 2010. Kind has publicly said he’s considering jumping in the race.

But according to data published last week from Public Policy Polling, Baldwin would defeat those opponents in a Democratic primary. In a three-way race with Kind and Kagen she leads with 37 percent to 21 percent for Kind and 15 percent for Kagen. Additionally, in just a two-way race with Kagen she leads 48-19.

In addition to favorable polling numbers in the hypothetical primary, Baldwin also has more money on hand compared to either Kind or Kagen. In the most recent Federal Election Commission reports, Baldwin posted $1.1 million in cash on hand after raising more than $600,000 thus far this election cycle. Comparatively, Kind has $478,000 in cash on hand after raising $592,00o this cycle. Kagen has no cash on hand and has only raised $18,000 this cycle.

Dison said potential Democratic challengers to Baldwin will look at those numbers in determining whether to run against her.

“I think if anybody who’s going to consider getting into the race will look at that polling, they’ll look at her fundraising and decide whether it will too much of an uphill battle to challenge her,” Dison said.

But winning the seat against a Republican contender in the general election will be more challenging. Potential GOP opponents — like former Gov. Tommy Thompson or former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann — are marginally ahead of her in the polls.

The data from PPP shows that in a match-up between Neumann and Baldwin, Neumann would win 44-40, although 15 percent of responders said they were undecided. In a contest between Thompson and Baldwin, Thompson would win 50-42, although eight percent of voters identified as undecided. Fundraising data for Thompson and Neumann wasn’t available on the FEC website.

Sabato said the key for the general election is whether Thompson wins the GOP nomination and, if he does, how handily he wins the Republican mantle.

“He’s viewed as a moderate within the GOP, and as we saw in 2010, that can cause problems,” Sabato said. “Will the Tea Party back Mark Neumann or some other opponent of Thompson? Will Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ron Johnson decide to endorse Thompson or an opponent in the GOP primary?”

If Thompson clinches the Republican nomination without too much difficulty, Sabato said he’d give him a slight edge over Baldwin in the general election, but added his prediction could be off because of the timing of the Senate race.

“I hasten to add that Wisconsin is going to be a real battleground presidentially,” Sabato said. “Obama’s large majority in 2008 is less representative of Wisconsin’s contested nature than the 2000 and 2004 presidential results, which were extremely close. Presidential coattails could matter greatly in Wisconsin, as in some other Senate contests. And look at the recent Wisconsin State Senate recall elections — $30 million plus spent on a handful of local races, with emotions running very high.”

Sabato said “things are so unclear on both sides” in the Wisconsin Senate race that his Crystal Ball website will rank the contest as a “Toss Up” in its next edition.

 

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Federal Government

Veterans can now identify as transgender, nonbinary on their VA medical records

About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity

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Graphic via U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced Wednesday that his department added the options of transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary and other, when veterans select their gender, in medical records and healthcare documentation.

“All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender-diverse veterans helps us better serve them.”

The statement also noted that the change allows health-care providers to better understand and meet the medical needs of their patients. The information also could help providers identify any stigma or discrimination that a veteran has faced that might be affecting their health.

McDonough speaking at a Pride Month event last June at the Orlando VA Healthcare System, emphasized his support for Trans and LGBQ+ vets.

McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.

With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.

In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%).  In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.

McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.

“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.

All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.

Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.

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Florida

Prominent LGBTQ+ activist found dead in Florida landfill

Diaz-Johnston was the brother of former Miami mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz & he led the fight for marriage equality

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Photo courtesy of Don Diaz Johnston

Police in Florida’s capital city confirmed that the body of Jorge Diaz-Johnston, 54, who had been reported missing was found in a Jackson County landfill Saturday morning.

Diaz-Johnston was last seen alive Jan. 3 in Tallahassee, more than an hour from where his body was found, according to a missing person notice released by police. Detectives are investigating his death as a homicide, a police spokesperson said.

Diaz-Johnston, was the brother of former Miami mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz. As an LGBTQ advocate he led the fight for marriage equality, he and his husband were plaintiffs in an historic 2014 lawsuit that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Miami-Dade County.

ABC News reported at the time that a South Florida circuit court judge sided with Diaz-Johnston and five couples suing the Miami-Dade County Clerk’s Office for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Florida dropped its ban on same-sex marriage in 2015.

His husband wrote in a poignant Facebook post; “There are just no words for the loss of my beloved husband Jorge Isaias Diaz-Johnston. I can’t stop crying as I try and write this. But he meant so much to all of you as he did to me. So I am fighting through the tears to share with you our loss of him.”

“We are heartbroken to learn of the death of Jorge. He and his husband Don were two of the brave plaintiffs who took on Florida’s anti-gay marriage ban and helped win marriage equality for all Floridians,” Equality Florida said adding, “Our deepest condolences to Don and Jorge’s extended family.”

Detectives urge anyone who may have information to call 850-891-4200, or make an anonymous tip to Big Bend Crime Stoppers at 850-574-TIPS.

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National

Bill prohibiting ‘gay panic defense’ clears New Hampshire House

New Hampshire could soon join over a dozen other states which ban the use of ‘gay panic’ as a defense

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New Hampshire State House (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Legislation prohibiting defendants accused of manslaughter from using the victim’s gender, gender identity or sexual orientation as a defense, which had died in committee during the 2021 regular session of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, was reintroduced this session and passed with a 223-118 vote last week.

House Bill 238, stirred up controversary from opponents who claimed that state statues already covered murder and manslaughter. During a Criminal Justice committee hearing last Spring, Rep. Dick Marston, a Manchester Republican, voiced opposition, saying that the laws already cover murder and manslaughter and that “there’s no way in heck that you’re going to be able to say ‘Well because he or she was some deviant sexuality that I’m not–‘”

Marston was cut off by committee chairman Daryl Abbas, a Salem Republican, who gaveled him down and rebuked him for the derogatory language the Concord-Monitor reported

Later, the committee Republicans blocked an effort to move the bill out of committee alleging it needed more work and was not necessary because a jury could already strike down a similar attempted defense. The bill was then stalled in the committee, effectively killing it from being pushed further in last year’s session.

As the measure now heads to the state Senate, New Hampshire could soon join over a dozen other states which ban the use of the ‘gay panic’ as a defense.

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