Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has failed to win the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign in her bid for re-election, even though the nation’s leading LGBTQ group three times before supported her campaigns to represent Maine in the U.S. Senate.
The Human Rights Campaign announced Wednesday it has spurned Collins in favor of Democratic challenger Sara Gideon in a slate of six new endorsements for candidates and incumbents — all Democrats — seeking election to the Senate.
Other endorsements were Theresa Greenfield in Iowa, M.J. Hegar in Texas, John Hickenlooper in Colorado, Sen. Ed Markey in Massachusetts and Jon Ossoff in Georgia.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, cited in a statement the importance of passing the Equality Act, comprehensive legislation to ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination that passed the House, but remains bottled up in the Senate under the leadership of Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“Despite support from 70 percent of the American public, Mitch McConnell has stood in the way of progress for LGBTQ people and refused to even allow a vote on the Equality Act,” David said. “Today’s endorsements mark the next step of HRC’s efforts to elect a pro-equality U.S. Senate and end McConnell’s tenure as majority leader.”
The Collins snub marks a tremendous turnaround for the Human Rights Campaign, which has endorsed her three times previously in 2014, 2008 and 2002.
Collins, who has a reputation as a moderate Republican, also built a record during her years in the Senate as a supporter of LGBTQ rights. Collins during the Bush administration bucked her party in opposition to amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, became the leading voice in the Republican Party for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, which she later called one of her proudest moments, and, more recently, became the only Republican co-sponsor of the Equality Act in the Senate.
Despite that record, Collins is now facing tremendous opposition in her bid for re-election from progressive groups, who cited her refusal to convict President Trump on impeachment charges and being one the deciding votes to confirm U.S. Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh as a reason to unseat her.
Although abortion rights are the main issue with Kavanaugh, the justice also declined to join conservative justices John Roberts and Neil Gorsuch in the Supreme Court’s recent determination LGBTQ discrimination is covered under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
As a Republican, Collins would also vote for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has obstructed Democratic bills and confirmed a record number of Trump-appointed judges, as opposed to Democratic leadership in the Senate.
David in a statement to the Washington Blade cited those factors in response to an inquiry about why Collins wasn’t able to win an endorsement for the fourth time from the Human Rights Campaign.
“We are fighting for our lives and the only way to advance LGBTQ equality through the United States Senate is to install a new pro-equality majority leader and replace Mitch McConnell,” David said. “Despite Susan Collins’ record of support on certain key LGBTQ issues, her support of Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump’s agenda, endorsement of Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court and failure to hold Donald Trump accountable, is simply untenable.”
Collins also has some less high-profile votes that have rankled LGBTQ groups, such as her vote to confirm to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Kyle Duncan, an attorney whose career highlights have included legal briefs opposing same-sex marriage and seeking to bar transgender student Gavin Grimm from the restroom consistent with his gender identity. (Duncan rebuffed a transgender inmate’s request to be referred to by her personal pronouns after confirmation.)
Kevin Kelley, a spokesperson for Collins’ re-election campaign, expressed indignation in an email to the Blade in response to a request for comment on the endorsement decision.
“As the HRC itself admits, this endorsement is based purely on partisan politics,” Kelley said. “The only thing that has changed since 2014 when HRC last endorsed Senator Collins is that she is now the lead Republican sponsor of the Equality Act, HRC’s top policy goal. This is not how you treat a friend and ally.”
The snub from the Human Rights Campaign is the latest abandonment from a social progressive group that once supported her. Others now refusing to endorse her are NARAL, Planned Parenthood and the League of Conservation Voters. Collins’ fellow senator from Maine, Angus King, endorsed Collins in 2014, but said in June he “would probably stay out of the election this year.”
Gideon, who’s currently Speaker of the House in Maine, said she’d draw on experience enacting LGBTQ non-discrimination legislation in her state to help usher the Equality Act into law.
“Every Mainer, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, deserves a seat at the table in discussions about our future and I’m honored to have the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign in this race,” Gideon said. “In the State House, we passed landmark legislation banning conversion therapy and strengthening the Maine Human Rights Act to protect LGBTQ Mainers from discrimination based on gender identity. I look forward to bringing the same dedication to full equality to Washington, and will always fight for the right of all Mainers to live without fear of discrimination.”
David in his explanation to the Blade on the endorsement decision commended Gideon for supporting for the Equality Act and capacity to look at LGBTQ rights through an intersectional view.
“Sara Gideon will support the Equality Act — which will provide comprehensive federal legal protections for LGBTQ people — and support pro-equality leadership in the Senate that will help us move our country forward so that we are all treated equally, so that we can work and live through an intersectional lens, and so that we can live up to the principles of our democracy,” David said.
The Human Rights Campaign declined to endorse Collins as the LGBTQ organization, which has billed itself as a group seeking to achieve its goals through bipartisan means, has faced some criticism for its past Republican endorsements.
Most recently, HRC in 2016 came under fire for endorsing former Sen. Mark Kirk, who had supported same-sex marriage and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, in the face of a challenge from now Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). HRC ended up withdrawing its endorsement from Kirk after he made racist comments in a debate with Duckworth.
But the Human Rights Campaign has a long history of endorsing Republicans to the dismay of Democratic activists, including support decades ago for former Sen. Al D’Amato in 1998 over Charles Schumer and support for former Sen. Gordon Smith in 2002 over Democratic challenger Bill Bradbury.
Charles Moran, managing director for Log Cabin Republicans, criticized the Human Rights Campaign for snubbing Collins, saying the LGBTQ group has revealed its true colors as a Democratic front-group.
“Susan Collins has consistently been and continues to be a steadfast advocate for the LGBTQ community,” Moran said. “HRC’s endorsement of her unknown challenger demonstrates its true allegiance is to the Democratic Party, not the benefit of the LGBTQ community.”
Despite the endorsement decision, the Human Rights Campaign continues to claim the mantle as a non-partisan organization. In this election cycle, the organization has endorsed Sara Davis, a Republican state representative in Texas, although that is the only Republican endorsement from the LGBT group this cycle.
Lucas Acosta, a Human Rights Campaign spokesperson, said President Trump is responsible for the dearth of Republican endorsements from the Human Rights Campaign in the 2020 election.
“HRC has already endorsed Rep. Sarah Davis for Texas state representative,” Acosta said. “We are proudly a non-partisan organization and always look forward to identifying and working to elect pro-equality candidates of every party. However, under President Trump, the number of pro-equality elected officials in the Republican party has dramatically decreased. Trump has created an environment where few Republican officials feel comfortable standing up for our community. Trump is to blame.”
In related news, the Human Rights Campaign delivers its endorsement of Markey in Massachusetts before the state’s primary in September, when he’ll face a challenge for the Democratic nomination from Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.). As chair of the Congressional Transgender Task Force, Kennedy has taken the lead on transgender issues, including hosting a roundtable on Capitol Hill with parents of transgender kids in coordination with the Human Rights Campaign.
Acosta said Markey’s previously established record on LGBTQ rights, including a vote in 1996 against the Defense of Marriage Act, is the reason for the Human Rights Campaign’s endorsement of the incumbent senator.
“Rep. Joe Kennedy is definitely a strong ally in Congress,” Acosta said. “But so too is Sen. Ed Markey. Sen. Markey has been an ally to our community for his entire career in public service, well before it was politically popular. While in Congress, Markey voted against DOMA and a constitutional ban on marriage equality. He has supported pro-equality legislation both in Congress and while serving in the Massachusetts State Legislature in the 1970’s. He has one of the strongest records of any member of Congress over the last three decades and we’re proud to endorse him and work on his behalf.”