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Congresswoman
Tammy Baldwin on endorsing Clinton

Congresswoman
Tammy Baldwin on endorsing Clinton

Tammybaldwin

The Wisconsin representative became one of the highest-profile gay people to date to endorse Sen. Hillary Clinton for president, the same day that Episcopal bishop V. Gene Robinson did the same for Clinton's archrival, Sen. Barack Obama. In this exclusive Advocate interview, Baldwin explains why.

During Tammy Baldwin's history-making campaign in 1998 to become the first openly gay nonincumbent elected to Congress, Hillary Clinton came out to stump for her on the campaign trail. It was a tight race, and the Wisconsin representative credits the then first lady with helping her eke out victory in the end. But that isn't the two women's only connection: In the House, Baldwin has been a champion of universal health care, a famous Clinton cause. That common policy interest, Baldwin tells The Advocate, is one of the chief reasons she chose to endorse Senator Clinton for president on August 2.

You and Clinton have been allies for a long time now, ever since she came and stumped for you in your initial race for Congress. Now you're repaying the favor in a major way.

Baldwin: Long-standing friendship is a very influential factor when you're making a significant choice like endorsing a presidential candidate, but I think I would've reached the same conclusion and made the endorsement regardless.

You've said it was an easy choice to endorse Clinton, even though you were approached by several other candidates. Was there any question in your mind that you were going to support her, or were you genuinely considering the rest of the field?

It was very important to me to see the Democratic field develop and to hear all of these candidates state their positions, in addition to participate in some of the early debates. All of those opportunities helped me make the choice.

All of the Democrats are good on gay issues, except of course when it comes to marriage equality, so what ultimately swayed you?

Senator Clinton's experience. Some people will say, "Well, she was first lady," but she clearly redefined the role and was actively involved in shaping policy. So she has that experience, combined with her experience now in the Senate. I think the experience factor is one of the things that really separates her from most of the rest of the pack. And then her commitment to health care issues is so sincere and so long-standing. Those two factors were of enormous influence for me. Making history with our next president is an added bonus.

You've said that you've discussed marriage equality with her and that her door is still open there--and you're hopeful she'll eventually support it. What else have you talked about with her in connection with the endorsement?

Two things aside from what you mention. One, we not only discussed health care generally, but she's asked me to be a part of a health care policy task force for her campaign. So I took the opportunity to share with her some of my immediate ideas about health care reform, even before the task force has convened, because I had her on the phone. Also, we talked about how she's going to win--about the role that I hoped my home state of Wisconsin would play in that victory. You may not know this, but I represent a district which had the second-highest voter turnout in the nation. The upper Midwest tends to have very high voter participation, and I always run campaigns that really engage the voters--we do a lot of grassroots organizing, not just TV advertising. We put a lot of resources into the voter mobilization. So part of our discussion was, Let's make sure that Wisconsin's a blue state next year, but also have Senator Clinton take advantage of the real voter enthusiasm that exists in Wisconsin in the primary.

Both Senator Clinton and former president Clinton get a bad rap for political expedience: doing the shrewd thing politically, the thing they're coached by their advisers to do, over all other considerations. Are you confident she'll be able to follow through on stated goals such as repealing "don't ask, don't tell" even if there's political pressure to do otherwise?

Senator Clinton has examined these issues and reexamined these issues, and any changes of position have trended in the right direction--and I expect that to continue. As a legislator myself, I treat these issues very seriously and recognize that the point is winning. It's down to the very basics of, Do we have the votes? Can this advance? It is so rare that we put a bill onto the floor without having the votes to pass it. Part of being serious about winning gay rights battles is being pragmatic and understanding the politics and pushing when you have the votes and perhaps holding off if those votes aren't there yet--because the message of defeat is a really tragic one. She'll be a friend and she'll stay true to her word, but she will also be very pragmatic.

She's certainly known for her pragmatism. At least two pro-gay bills, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act--which you cointroduced in the House this year--and the hate-crimes measure that's already passed the House, could very well reach her desk if she makes it to the White House. She's in favor of both, but have you asked for her promise to sign them into law?

I have not felt that necessary. I think her strong support of the legislation, her voting record in the Senate, is the answer to that question. She will.

Along with the endorsement, you're joining the LGBT Americans for Hillary steering committee as a cochair. What exactly are you going to be doing in that capacity? Stumping for her? Providing strategic advice? Cultivating donors?

It may involve all those roles, but certainly everyone understands "as schedule permits." [Laughs] The council is pushing close to 75 participants nationally, and I think it will focus both on voter mobilization activities as well as helping make sure she has the human and financial resources to win the race.

This campaign season the LGBT community has been courted like never before. As a seasoned out lawmaker, why do you think that is? Has the community done such a good job educating politicians, or is it because in a divided electorate every voter counts? Or is it just because of our fund-raising prowess?

It's certainly a nod to the ever-increasing political sophistication of the LGBT community as a group that has suffered from the lack of full equality. The LGBT community and allied communities have by necessity organized politically to try and win full equality--especially in states where we have seen referenda on issues of consequence--so in large portions of this nation we have advocacy organizations and political organizations that are making a real difference. I think any candidate for president would want the weight of that level of organization behind them.

Kennedy is the news features editor of The Advocate.

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