Not much is known about Dave Brat after his surprise primary win on Tuesday against House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), but the information that is available suggests the Tea Party victor won’t be a friend to the LGBT community if elected to Congress.
To the surprise of just about every political observer, Brat defeated Cantor in the primary — even though the Republican leader is known for his association with his party’s conservative base. According to unofficial results from the Virginia Board of Elections, Brat won the primary by 11 points among the 7th congressional district’s primary voters.
The results are especially stunning because Cantor took the primary seriously and had campaign funds that dwarfed those of his opponent. According to the last finance report in May, Cantor has $1.5 million in the bank while Brat had $84,000.
Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said assessments are still being made over why Cantor lost, but a couple of factors could be at play.
“Really, beneath the surface, there was an unease with him both with the absence of his presence in the district that miffed quite a number of his constituents and also a push by conservative leaders in the district who felt alienated by Leader Cantor and the party leadership that he preferred,” Angelo said.
Although LGBT Democrats and opponents of the Republican leadership celebrated Cantor’s loss on social media, a look at Brat’s website suggests the newcomer won’t be any more favorable to the LGBT community.
A section on his website dedicated to his positions on “protecting values” indicates his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples.
“Dave will protect the rights of the unborn and the sanctity of marriage, and will oppose any governmental intrusion upon the conscience of people of faith,” the website sites.
That portion of his website is filled with language saying he’ll oppose efforts to restrict religious liberty — a line often used by opponents of LGBT rights — and that he believes “no person, business, or industry should receive special treatment,” which is similar what opponents of civil rights laws have said for decades.
Moreover, the website disavows a belief in the separation of church and state.
“Dave respects and values every person he meets because he truly sees them as Children of God,” the website said. “Our Rights come from God and not from Government. Government is instituted to protect these rights.”
Brat didn’t immediately respond on short notice to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on LGBT issues, such as marriage equality and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
For the last 18 years, Brat has worked as an economics professor at Randolph Macon College, a small school with about 1,200 students located in Ashland, Va.
Prior to that, Brat, who’s Catholic, received his master’s degree from the Princeton Theological Seminary, which, according to its mission statement, seeks to “prepare women and men to serve Jesus Christ in ministries marked by faith.” The Catholic Church is known as one of the strongest opponents of LGBT rights.
Ian Sams, spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, said the Virginia upset demonstrates the far right and anti-gay forces are still in control of the Republican Party.
“It’s hard to imagine that a candidate running to the right of Eric Cantor on issue after issue will be good for LGBT Virginians,” Sams said. “Brat’s victory settles the debate – the Tea Party has taken control of the Republican Party, making it even harder to achieve progress for LGBT Americans in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Angelo said Log Cabin hasn’t yet had any conversations with the Brat campaign, but is holding out hope those conversations will take place at a later time.
“There’s nothing that I’ve seen either on his website or any statement that he’s made against the LGBT community,” Angelo said.
Brat’s victory shouldn’t be a minus for the LGBT community because the person whom he defeated also opposed LGBT rights.
Cantor voted for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2004 and 2006 in addition to votes against a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
During a speech at the Values Voters Summit in 2012, Cantor said the Republican Party opposes marriage rights for gay couples, but on the basis of a confusing argument that marriage keeps people out of poverty.
“That is why we believe in traditional marriage, because marriage, more than any government program ever has or ever will, has lifted up people out of poverty, even those who felt there was no hope,” Cantor said. “Marriage has proven to be that formula which has been more successful at allowing for that pursuit of happiness. And that is why we stand tall and stand proud for traditional marriage.”
Political pundits have various conclusions on what the results of the primary mean for the legislative agenda in Congress. Some have surmised the Tea Party victory squelches what little chance there was for passing comprehensive immigration reform because it’ll make Republicans fearful of agreeing to compromise with the White House and Senate Democrats going forward.
But others say the results will encourage passage of the bill because Cantor was the loudest critic of President Obama’s policies on immigration. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) won his primary, on the other hand, even though he publicly said he backs some kind of legislation as long as it’s different from the Senate bill.
Another question is what the primary results mean for ENDA. Like immigration reform, LGBT advocates have been pushing the Republican-controlled House to take up the legislation following bipartisan passage in the Senate late last year.
Angelo said it’s too soon to tell what will happen with ENDA, but that he remains optimistic.
“I feel given the leadership change that’s imminent in the House regarding Leader Cantor and what Congress’ priorities will be during the lame duck session, there’s potential there for ENDA to move up the totem pole,” Angelo said.
Now that Brat has won the Republican nomination to represent Virginia’s 7th congressional district, he’ll go on the general election to face Democratic nominee Jack Trammel, a professor at Randolph-Macon.