Log Cabin Republicans’ political action committee this week announced its first round of congressional endorsements for the 2016 election, including two who could become the first gay Republican members of Congress who were out of the closet when first elected.
Those two are Paul Babeu, the sheriff of Pinal County, Ariz., who is running for the U.S. House Representatives from Arizona’s First District, and Clay Cope, a city official in Sherman, Conn., who is seeking to represent Connecticut’s Fifth District in the U.S. House.
There have been openly gay Republican congressmen before, such as Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin and Jim Kolbe of Arizona, but they came out while already in office.
The remainder of Log Cabin’s endorsees are LGBT-friendly straight candidates. Page through to read about the candidates who hope to change the Republican Party from within, see just how LGBT-friendly they are, and gauge their chances for election.
Paul Babeu (First Congressional District, Arizona)
Paul Babeu was elected sheriff of Pinal County, Ariz., in 2008, the first Republican to win the post in the county’s history. This summer, he won a five-way primary for the Republican nomination in the First Congressional District. His past shows both honors and some troubles. The National Sheriffs’ Association named him Sheriff of the Year in 2011. Then in 2012 a former boyfriend accused Babeu of abusing the power of his office by threatening him with deportation to Mexico if their relationship was revealed, but an investigation by the Arizona attorney general cleared Babeu of wrongdoing. In the First Congressional District election he is up against Democrat Tom O’Halleran for an open seat; the district’s current representative, Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, is giving up that post to challenge John McCain for U.S. senator. A Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee poll recently found 45 percent of voters favoring O’Halleran to 38 percent for Babeu. Of his endorsement by Log Cabin, Babeu said, “I’m honored to earn the support of Log Cabin Republicans, since they stand for personal liberty, less government, and support free market principles that will create jobs.”
Clay Cope (Fifth Congressional District, Connecticut)
Clay Cope is first selectman of the town of Sherman, Conn., meaning he heads the Board of Selectmen — the board is the town’s governing body, and the first selectman functions like a mayor. He is in his third term as first selectman, and before running for office he worked in the fashion industry. He was once the business and life partner of designer Victor Costa; he is now in a relationship with Andres Sanchez, a chef. Like most Republicans, Cope describes himself as a fiscal conservative, and he says he supports a “literal interpretation” of the Second Amendment and wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health care reform law. But he also calls himself a pragmatist, and he says his being gay has never been an issue in Sherman, which is “a very open and inclusive community,” he told the Hartford Courant. In the Fifth Congressional District he’s running against incumbent Democrat Elizabeth Esty. She has advantages in fundraising and will be hard to beat, Chris Kukk, a political science professor at Western Connecticut State University, told the Courant. But Kukk added that this “funky election” may hold surprises.
Justin Fareed (24th Congressional District, California)
Justin Fareed is an executive in his family’s medical-device business and also helps oversee their cattle ranches. A political newcomer, he’s seeking to represent California’s 24th District, located on the state’s central coast. The district has a slight Democratic majority, but both parties consider the race competitive and have put big money into it. “I look forward to being a strong voice in Washington and fighting to ensure everyone is represented and treated equally in America,” Fareed said in Log Cabin’s endorsement press release. His Democratic opponent is Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal, who has the support of LGBT rights group Equality California and has backed many LGBT causes — and fought against Proposition 8, which temporarily revoked marriage equality in the Golden State. The incumbent, Democrat Lois Capps, is retiring.
John Faso (19th Congressional District, New York)
John Faso ran governor of New York in 2006, losing to Eliot Spitzer, after a long tenure in the state Assembly. While in the Assembly, “he surprised many people by supporting some of the earliest legislation for gay rights in New York — a position influenced in part by the fact that one of his brothers, Peter, is gay and in a long-term relationship,” The New York Times wrote in 2006. Faso, however, did appear at an event held by the far-right Oath Keepers group this past summer, where he spoke of the need to protect “religious liberty,” denounced Democratic U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer as an enemy of freedom, and called for the election of Donald Trump as president (watch below). Generally, Faso’s positions are typically Republican — for lower taxes, against stronger gun control, etc. He’s up against progressive Democrat Zephyr Teachout, a law professor who has the support of many LGBT groups; she challenged Andrew Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary. They are in a very close race in upstate New York’s 19th Congressional District; the seat is open because incumbent Chris Gibson, a Republican, is retiring.
Brian Fitzpatrick (Eighth Congressional District, Pennsylvania)
Brian Fitzpatrick has been an FBI agent and a special assistant U.S. attorney. He was national director of the FBI’s Campaign Finance and Election Crimes Enforcement Program and a national supervisor for the bureau's Political Corruption Unit. He was an inaugural recipient of the FBI Director’s Leadership Award in 2015 and was also named Investigator of the Year by the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation. As a U.S. attorney, he specialized in prosecuting drug and gun crimes, and he has made fighting the opioid epidemic a key issue in his campaign. He is the younger brother of the district's incumbent congressman, Mike Fitzpatrick, who is stepping down because he promised to limit his time in office. The elder Fitzpatrick has a 52 (out of a possible 100) score in the Human Rights Campaign's Congressional Scorecard for the 114th Congress, 2015-2016, down from 68 in the previous session. His opponent, Democrat Steve Santarsiero, is a four-term state representative, a former history teacher, and a longtime LGBT rights supporter. The district is in a wealthy suburban area near Philadelphia; it includes all of Bucks County and part of Montgomery County. It's pretty much evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
Charles Hernick (Eighth Congressional District, Virginia)
Charles Hernick, an economist and environmental consultant, is making his first run for office by seeking the U.S. House seat representing northern Virginia's deep blue Eighth District, in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. He's a bit friendlier to environmental regulations than most Republicans, but he takes typical GOP positions in opposing Obamacare and further gun control measures. In accepting Log Cabin's endorsement, he said, "We have a shared commitment to equal rights, justice, and opportunity for all individuals." He faces an uphill battle in the heavily Democratic district, where he's challenging incumbent Democrat Don Beyer, who earned a perfect 100 score from HRC in the current session of Congress. An indepedent candidate, retired FBI special agent Julio Gracia, is also in the race.
Amie Hoeber (Sixth Congressional District, Maryland)
Amie Hoeber was a deputy undersecretary of the Army under President Reagan, then founded a consulting firm that advises the federal government and private businesses on defense, security, and environmental matters. This is her first run for office. In a recent interview with Bethesda Magazine, she gave measured support to marriage equality and abortion rights, saying, “I feel these are individual choices, and the federal government should not say one way or another.” She differs sharply with her opponent, incumbent Democrat John Delaney, on most other issues, such as additional gun control laws (she's against, he's for) and repealing Obamacare (she's for, he's against). Delaney had a perfect 100 score from HRC in his first two terms in Congress. Their district, which stretches from the D.C. suburbs to western Maryland, could go either way.
Brent Sonnek-Schmelz (Sixth Congressional District, New Jersey)
Brent Sonnek-Schmelz has an uncommon claim to fame among politicians: He's a game show champion, having won $100,000 on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He's also a lawyer and former teacher, and he's now chief financial officer and general counsel for a retail chain specializiing in soccer goods. A political newcomer, he lists some conservative and some moderate stances on his website. He's for environmental regulations but supports the controversial practice known as fracking to obtain natural gas, albeit with tight controls; it's opposed by most environmentalists. On immigration, he's not for mass deportation of undocumented immigrants but says those who have committed crimes must be deported immediately, while having others go to the back of the line if they're seeking citizenship. And he does lay out unequivocal support for marriage equality, saying on his site, "Every American adult should have the freedom to marry the person they love. Period." But his opponent, incumbent Democrat Frank Pallone, has a long history of LGBT advocacy, with a string of perfect scores from HRC.
Kenneth Wright (33rd Congressional District, California)
Kenneth Wright, a pediatric eye surgeon, is a political newcomer. He describes himself as a progressive Republican and LGBT rights supporter. His website lists this position on marriage equality: "The U.S. Constitution guarantees us individual rights; therefore, we oppose laws that would prohibit gay marriage as that is the right of consenting adults. Moreover, it is important to maintain a separation of Church and State to prevent a religious group from infringing upon the rights of others. At the same time, individuals should not be allowed to force their agenda upon religious groups as freedom goes both ways." So does that mean he'd support religious exemptions from nondiscrimination laws? He's running against Democrat Ted Lieu, an incumbent who received a 100 score from the HRC in his first term in Congress. And Lieu has made it clear he opposes religious exemptions, having denounced a House committee for holding a hearing on such legislation, the First Amendment Defense Act, on the one-month anniversary of the Orlando mass shooting. The 33rd District is heavily Democratic, stretching from Malibu to Long Beach on the Southern California coast.