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
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
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?
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?
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
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