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Post midterm notes: Drexel Heard, Kipp Mueller, Max Huskins and me

Knowledgeable experts to explain what it all means

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I choked up Election Night. For months, every waking and sometimes dreaming moment not devoted to my job was consumed by the image of democracy slipping like water through my clenched fist.

The historical imperative of the midterm elections forecast a MAGA Republican tsunami victory akin to the tidal wave in Tea Leoni’s “Deep Impact.”

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, stripping us of our fundamental right to bodily autonomy and threatening to overturn marriage equality and recriminalize homosexuality — which was met with the same kind of tisk-tisk reaction to decimating the Voting Rights Act — the path ahead looked strewn with more murdered and maimed bodies of women, people of color and LGBTQ people who couldn’t fit into a gilded glass closet.  

Alarmed that the Democratic Party was not reaching out to our numerous intersectional LGBTQ communities for money, engagement, and votes as they had in the past, I felt an overwhelming compulsion to do something and coaxed my equally freaked out Millennial ally friend Max Huskins to create an LGBTQ-targeted YouTube series of candidate interviews and expert political prognostications which we would produce in partnership with the Los Angeles Blade.

We didn’t know if our Race to the Midterm series would make a difference — but at least me and Max were not doing nothing. 

We’ve interviewed a range of extraordinary people who immediately grasped our mission and wanted to participate: out Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chair Mark Gonzalez; gay Palm Springs candidate Will Rollins (here and here); Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang; major ally candidate Christy Smith (here and here); Victory Fund President Annise Parker; California Assembly candidate Rick Chavez Zbur;  TransLatin@ Coalition CEO Bamby Salcedo; U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.); National Black Justice Coalition Deputy Executive Director Victoria Kirby; and Black, gay, HIV+ Dallas candidate Venton Jones; gay military veteran candidates Shawn Kumagai (California Assembly) and Joseph Rocha (California Senate); and history-making U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) for closing arguments. (See our series, with additional “advancers,” and the Blade’s political coverage here.)

From top left: Karen Ocamb, Max Huskins, Kipp Mueller, and Drexel Heard
(Photo Credit: Screenshot/Huskins)

No matter the outcome, I knew we had to have knowledgeable experts to explain what it all means. I asked Drexel Heard, Black gay former executive director of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party who’s now a Democratic political strategist, and Kipp Mueller, who ran for state Senate in the Santa Clarita Valley area alongside Christy Smith in her 2020 run for Congress, to share their insights with us after the dust settled a bit.

I met Kipp while working on Senate Bill 1149, the Public Right to Know Act, which was co-sponsored by Public Justice and Consumer Reports, shepherded by attorney and Legal Ethics Professor Richard Zitrin, Kipp’s mentor. 

Little did I know that the dust settling over the midterms was choking MAGA Republicans and allowing me, Max, Drexel and Kipp to exhale, exhale, breath deeply, exhale and laugh. By the time we recorded our Zoom session, the Democrats looked likely to retain the Senate and maybe, maybe, if California broke right — retain the House. What the hell! HISTORY was being made in defiance of Trump cultism. 

“My honest takeaway is that the GOP is utterly lost,” Kipps says in our final episode. “My honest takeaway is that, despite all of the odds being in their favor, they’ve fumbled it. It’s amazing to me. And I have some unsolicited advice for the GOP: First, banish Trump. He’s a loser. He loses every time. He lost the popular vote in 2016 when he managed to win the Electoral College. And ever since then, he’s lost horribly — every single time. And the fact that they don’t see that on the wall blows my mind. He’s a total loser. 

“And the second,” he continues, “is to start standing for things. To your point about what can we take from this (California Assembly) speaker negotiation and work it into. Well, I have some conditions on that. I’m open to that with Republicans. But I have some conditions — start proposing solutions; stop being a party of bizarre fearmongering about litter boxes in school bathrooms. And because they’re not going to survive the 21st century of being a party of 20th century lunatics, what do they even want? What do they stand for — other than tax cuts for the rich? We know who they don’t like. We know who some of them hate. But what do they even want? I can’t even answer that …

“They’re just visionless bullies right now. And it’s only going to get worse because they might eke out a slight majority in the House, and then they’re going to have to kowtow to the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert and Trump. And they’re going to lose horribly again. So my unsolicited advice to them is — become normal again.”

Max opined “that, hopefully, the future is looking brighter than expected, at least from our perspective here, because of Millennial turnout and the Gen Z turnout was pretty damn strong. Young people showed up to the polls and showed up to vote for important issues that pertain to all generations.”

Their most pressing issue, aside from student loans and climate change? 

“Women’s rights to bodily autonomy, for sure,” Max says. “I think that was one of the drastic social problems that we’re facing this time around, that people were motivated to go out and vote.”

“Overturning Roe was a huge motivator for Democrats to come out, for independents to come out and vote,” says Kipp. But (gay pollster) Nate Silver found that in the states where people felt like these rights were more protected, it less directly influenced turnout and people showing up.”

I noted to Drexel that both Mark Gonzalez and Tony Hoang strongly advocated for Proposition One, which would codify reproductive rights in the California Constitution (it passed.)  

“I think a lot of folks pushed Prop One to make a national stance because as California goes, so goes the nation,’ Drexel says. “So, if California is making the big push, it is going to be at the forefront of voters’ minds. One of the things that I have said about not just Prop One is about our Democratic messaging on since Dobbs (the case the Supreme Court used to overturn Roe and abortion rights) has been making it an economic issue, not just a reproductive freedom issue … We cannot separate Roe v. Wade from how it impacts the economy. 

“Women are a huge portion of our workforce,” he explains. “Obviously, reproductive freedom has a huge impact on how folks — how women — are impacted in the workforce, and not many other states have family policies like California. “I think that we box up choices. We forget how choices are impacted, not just, ‘Hey, I’m not ready to be a parent because I’m not ready to be a parent.’ But why are you not ready to be a parent? And that is, in a lot of cases, an economic issue,” that impacts the trajectory of a single mother’s life, such as going to college or work and paying for childcare. 

These are just some of the issues we tossed around in our casual, free-flowing conversation about the midterms and what might happen next. My thanks to Drexel and Kipp for the smart fun. 

But after we wrapped the interviews, Max mentioned an Oregon initiative that I knew nothing about — Measure 112, “a change to the state’s constitution, stripping language that for more than a century has allowed for slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime,” according to opb.org.

Wait – what? But here’s the really big deal: as of Nov. 13, Measure 112 passed by 55.53 percent of the vote, compared to 44.47 percent opposed. Translation: 945,075 Oregonians voted to remove slavery language from state constitution — but 756,779 Oregonians voted to KEEP the slavery language!

“Removing language referencing slavery from the Oregon Constitution is a good thing and is long over due,” state Rep. Travis Nelson (D-Portland), who won election Tuesday as state’s first Black, openly LGBTQ lawmaker, told OPB. “It’s a big number … That’s troubling to me.”

“This was a state that was meant to be a white utopia and was not welcoming to people who were not white,” Nelson added. “Given the history of Oregon, the results that have come from Measure 112 are disappointing, but not incredibly surprising.”

“We have conversations all the time about our Oregon values, and now we know that there’s a segment of the population that values slavery being a form of punishment,” Jennifer Parrish-Taylor, director of advocacy and public policy at the Urban League of Portland, which backed Measure 112, told OPB. “That’s a hard conversation, but I think it’s also reflective of the broader national conversation that we’re seeing just in terms of this rise of white nationalism, of racial hatred that’s happening, folks feeling further and further isolated and disconnected from each other.”

Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley has introduced legislation that would addressed language in the U.S Constitution’s 13th Amendment that has similar exceptions for slavery as a criminal punishment. “This horrific loophole in our Constitution is a moral abomination that launched the mass incarceration we see continuing to this day,” Merkley said at a news conference. “[T]here should be no exceptions to a ban on slavery.”

I know some folks in the Deep South still love their Civil War Confederate soldier monuments. But it never occurred to me that so many Northerners would find an excuse for any exception to an outright ban on slavery. 

We have so much more work to do. 

Deconstructing the 2022 Midterms | Post-Election Special:

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Commentary

Returning to the kibbutz: A journey of heartbreak and hope

Hamas militants attacked Kfar Aza on Oct. 7

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Kfar Aza, Israel, after Oct. 7, 2023. (Photo courtesy of K.T. Colin)

Editor’s note: WDG, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel, originally published this commentary.

BY K.T. COLIN | In 2019, my first encounter with Israel was through the lens of a sponsored Birthright trip. I embarked on a three-week journey, traversing the diverse landscapes from the northern regions to the eastern territories and finally to the arid southern desert. I had the opportunity to visit different communities within Israel and Palestine. Amidst this exploration, I spent an unforgettable three days and two nights in a kibbutz situated near the Gaza border. The memories etched in my heart were ones of unbridled joy, resilience and the harmonious coexistence of the desert dwellers — an emotional tapestry that forever imprinted itself on my soul. Coming from an Iraqi heritage, I viewed these expressions of coexistence through a lens shaped by my own region’s history of conflict and diversity.

As I recall the Shabbat dinner at the kibbutz, the air resonated with the sacred call to prayers (Adhan) from a nearby Bedouin Arab-Muslim town. The juxtaposition of cultures and faiths was a poignant reminder of the shared humanity that bound the Jewish and Arab Israelis in this region. It was a journey that transcended the ordinary, leaving an indelible mark on my consciousness. Filled with memories of peace and unity, I returned, only to confront a reality far removed from my cherished memories.

Fast forward to last month, when I returned to the Negev Desert, specifically to Kfar Aza — one of the 22 kibbutzim targeted by Hamas on that fateful day, Oct. 7, 2023. The once vibrant oasis, brimming with the light of life, now stood shrouded in the darkness of war-induced death and destruction. The very bench where camaraderie blossomed in 2019, while sharing a moment of connection with an Israeli companion, lay reduced to ashes. The thriving pathways, once bustling with life, had metamorphosed into haunting reminders of blood and rubble. The faces that animated Shabbat gatherings, weaving tales of peace advocacy between Palestinians and Israelis, were now conspicuously absent. In the wake of Hamas’s brutality, no entity — be it human, animal or plant — escaped unscathed. The aftermath resembled scenes from an apocalyptic movie, a tableau of sensory deprivation dominated by the stench of death and the echoes of destruction. This destruction, while uniquely harrowing, echoed the all-too-familiar scenes of conflict from my childhood in Iraq, underscoring the universal tragedy of war.

Kfar Aza, Israel (Photo courtesy of K.T. Colin)

While my roots trace back to Iraq, a land marred by wars and the brutality of conflict, the devastation witnessed in Kfar Aza struck a chord that reverberated with the echoes of my past. My personal journey, from witnessing Saddam’s reign of terror to observing the aftermath in Kfar Aza, underscores a broader narrative of resilience and the enduring hope for peace. Born during the Iraqi-Iranian war, my father’s absence for the first six months of my life spoke volumes about the toll of conflict. The invasion of Kuwait and subsequent wars entrenched the narrative of war as an unwelcome companion in our daily lives. Memories of the U.S. invasion in 2003, the ensuing civil war, and the subsequent loss of rights for women, secular individuals and LGBTQ+ members further underscored the harsh reality of conflict.

Yet, Kfar Aza was a unique chapter in my journey, revealing a form of malevolence that transcended my prior experiences. In their assault, Hamas meticulously targeted specifically peace activists who wanted nothing but peace and prosperity between Israelis and Palestinians, sparing no atrocity in their pursuit. This was not just about taking lives; it was a heinous assault on the very prospect of peace. The evil that unfolded reminded me of the forces mentioned in the Quran — Yaajooj and Maajooj — entities of pure malevolence against whom even Alexander the Great erected a wall, according to Muslim prophecy.

My upbringing in Iraq, under the shadow of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, fanned the flames of anti-Semitism. A once diverse Iraq, home to 165,000 Iraqi Jews, witnessed their forced exodus through decades of genocide. Subsequently, Christians, Yazidis and Sabbea Mandaeen fell victim to ethnic cleansing orchestrated by dictatorial regimes, Nazi pogroms, Iranian militias and ISIS. The slow erosion of tolerance and coexistence occurred methodically, propelled by hate campaigns championed by Arab nationalists and later fueled by Islamist movements, plunging Iraq into its darkest era.

My school days were marked by compulsory flag-greeting ceremonies, ostensibly patriotic but laden with hate. The chants of “Death to America; Death to the Zionists; Death to the Jews” echoed through the air, fostering a culture of animosity. Arabization and Nationalism classes further fueled this bigotry, leaving an indelible mark on impressionable minds.

The recent horrors in Kfar Aza echoed memories of a similar brand of terror perpetrated by Saddam’s regime — the Fedaeen of Saddam, a precursor to Hamas’s brutality. The parallels were chilling — beheadings, brutal punishments and a reign of terror continued even after the fall of Saddam, as they joined Al-Qaeda, leaving a trail of atrocities in cities like Fallujah and Ramadi.

As I witnessed the devastation in Kfar Aza, the echoes of war in nearby Beit Hanoun, Gaza, resonated hauntingly. The pain echoed from both sides — the Israeli people enduring Hamas rockets since 2015 and the Palestinians suffering daily under the same regime. My heart shattered for the children left orphaned, the LGBTQ+ Gazans now without shelter or life-saving medications and the vulnerable girls and boys exposed to the horrors of Human trafficking and rape. The theft of humanitarian aid by Hamas left many without food and water, and the lip services to Palestinians by Arab and Muslim majority nations, painting a grim picture of a future hanging in uncertainty for those who survived.

Despite the deep scars of conflict, both in my homeland and here, I see glimmers of hope that guide us toward a shared future. I have endured the darkest chapters of conflict in my past, and I hold onto the belief that one day this war will end. I dream of a future where Israelis and Palestinians coexist in shared spaces, attending the same schools, dining at the same restaurants and dancing in the same nightclubs. Having witnessed such unity among Jews, Druze, Muslims and Christians in Israel, I pray for a day when this reality extends to Gazans and Israelis in the Negev Desert. The journey towards peace is arduous, but the human spirit, resilient and compassionate, holds the promise of a brighter tomorrow.

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Commentary

Why come to Washington Plaza Baptist Church?

It’s about the preaching, the people, and the purpose

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Washington Plaza Baptist Church (Photo courtesy of Washington Plaza Baptist Church's Facebook page)

BY ZITA COLLINS | I grew up in a Lutheran church before I really knew who I was. Before my own opinions and belief system were formed. Before “welcoming and affirming” churches existed.

I did the “expected” thing: got married to a man, had children, became a wife and a mom. But I knew there was more to me than that, the part I had to keep hidden because of the society “norms” so many years ago. I attended a Mormon church because that was the type of church my husband attended. As I became more myself having my own opinions and thoughts, and my husband tried to be more controlling, the marriage, of course, failed. 

I quit church. I moved on in life and met a wonderful woman. I knew there was a God, but I figured since I was “living in sin” He didn’t like me too much. My way of looking at it was “God, you stay in your corner and I’ll stay in mine, and we’ll get along just fine.” Four years later, in September 1982, my partner was diagnosed with cancer. A couple of months later, she passed away.

During those few months my friend invited me to go to her Assembly of God church. I became a regular. One Sunday in January 1983, I gave my heart and life to Christ, becoming a full-fledged believer. And once again, I gradually put away the part of me that was “unacceptable to God.”

As time went on, I attended various churches. I attended an Anglican church for 15 years. I loved God, but I could not reconcile how I felt — my LGBTQ self — with scripture as I knew it at that time. It was at a church leadership meeting, when we were voting on a new marriage policy to exclude gay marriage, that I realized my “calling”: to tell the LGBTQ community that God really loves them and accepts them as they are.

I studied scripture, praying for clarity, and realized that those “clobber verses” have been traditionally misinterpreted, misunderstood, or taken out of context. I began looking for a church that was friendly to the gay community. I learned that the correct terminology is “welcoming and affirming.” 

And I found Washington Plaza Baptist Church!

Warm and welcoming, I felt I had found a home. They knew my identity from the start, as I had let it be known that I was looking for a “welcoming and affirming” church. And they loved and accepted me.

So Who is Washington Plaza Baptist Church?

WPBC is a progressive American Baptist church, located on Lake Anne Plaza, with a long and rich history. It was the first church in Reston, Va., a part of Robert E. Simon’s design for the new town named after him. Washington Plaza Baptist Church is an inclusive Christian Community whose worship, communion, and fellowship are open to all. We are a safe place for all people to worship regardless of race, creed, age, cultural background, gender, or sexual orientation. We affirm that all have access to the love of Christ and service to God.

WPBC is very active in Pride. We were involved with the formation of the first Reston Pride and continue to participate each year. We open our fellowship hall for the performers to change and to cool off, and we have a table on the Plaza where we give away free Pride paraphernalia as well as hugs. WPBC has held weddings for same-sex couples — including my wife’s and mine — with most of our members helping in some way to make the day special.

At Washington Plaza Baptist Church, I have been fully embraced for who I am. I have been in leadership from early on. The pastor, Rev. Michelle Nickens, delivers sermons that are powerful and relevant, with a focus on being Christ-like in all areas, including social justice. The people live out their claim of inclusivity and affirmation. The church community truly loves and cares about the people within the church as well as those outside its doors. 

Our address is 1615 Washington Plaza West, Reston, Va. Reach us at 703-471 5225, [email protected]. (We’re on Lake Anne Plaza, right next door to the Lake Anne Coffee House and Wine Bar.)

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Commentary

Hur knew the political ramifications of his report

The case against Biden is over while Trump’s continues

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Special Counsel Robert Hur testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on March 12, 2024. (C-SPAN YouTube screenshot)

I read the transcript of President’s Biden’s sit down with Special Counsel Robert Hur, then listened to Hur, who actually resigned before he testified before Congress, and found him totally unbelievable. 

He’s a man looking for something. That something is most likely a job in Trump’s administration should he win. He refused to answer that question when asked. When asked by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) if he realized what political games would be played with his report, he said it was it was in no way political. Hur gets credit for being smart. He went to Harvard and Stanford, and was a law clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist. He served as Special Assistant and Counsel to Christopher Wray, then assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. There is no way a smart, accomplished man like Hur wouldn’t recognize the political implications of what he wrote.

I think once he found he couldn’t actually indict the president, because there was no indictable offense, he had to come up with a reason that would satisfy the Republicans he was trying to impress. So, what better than going along with the Republican playbook saying Biden was an old man who couldn’t remember anything and writing that is how a jury would see him? What a pile of BS. The reason they wouldn’t convict is there was no crime committed. 

Interestingly, Hur went even further down the Republican rabbit hole, and said Biden was only looking for money when he wanted to use the information from a high security paper in a book he was writing. But of course, like any former president or vice president, he was going to get a great book deal, which was in no way dependent on him having any high-level security papers in his possession to share. Again, ridiculous to pin it on that especially when you think about all the grift in the Trump family. 

Clearly, Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who chairs the committee, the same Jim Jordan who I was most likely bumped out of a first-class seat on a recent American Airlines flight for, jumped on that to say Biden and his family only wanted to make money even if illegally. Again, it is beyond rational belief that Hur, a smart guy, wouldn’t understand he played right into Jordan’s hand. I think he put that in specifically for Jordan, and other Republicans, to use. Now he had to have some balance to his report, so he explained why Biden didn’t do what Trump did, Biden having cooperated with the feds, while Trump did just the opposite. But the reality is this didn’t make any difference to the Trump case, and didn’t break new ground in any way. Smart thing to do by Hur, but then I keep giving Hur credit for being smart.

The State of the Union speech put to rest Biden being an old man who couldn’t think on his feet. He clearly did, and even managed to make Marjorie Taylor Greene look like a bigger fool than she is. He had Speaker Johnson sitting behind him, actually having to clap for some things he said, even if he tried to hide those claps beneath the camera’s range. This is the same Speaker who in a press conference recently confused Israel with Iran, saying repeatedly the Congress would approve funds for Iran. President Biden delivered a strong and clear speech, which put many Democrats’, and independents’, minds at ease. 

The case investigating Biden taking documents is now over, at least with regard to any of the legal issues. That doesn’t mean Republicans will drop it, and Hur gave them the grist for their lies to continue. Hur kept saying he didn’t exonerate Biden, we can debate the meaning of the word exonerate, but again this shows how smart Hur is, and he did this for the Republicans he wants to impress. Despite this, his final report showed there was nothing to prosecute Biden on. 

The president can put this behind him, while Trump still has to deal with his case. The president is moving forward with a campaign that will show the American people why he, and Kamala Harris, should be reelected. He is out campaigning across the country making a strong case for his vision of the future, and talking about issues like abortion, and protecting democracy. If I am right, and Trump loses, Hur will realize what a big mistake he made, placing his bets on the wrong horse. 

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