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Looking Ahead
With Tammy Baldwin 

Looking Ahead
With Tammy Baldwin 

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As President-elect Barack Obama transitions to power, out U.S. representative Tammy Baldwin shares her insights on how LGBT issues played out in the election and what our community can expect in 2009 from Congress and the new administration.

Advocate.com:Will Proposition 8 affect the Congress in terms of its political courage on LGBT issues?Baldwin: You know, there are so many issues regarding LGBT equality that are under consideration in various ways by the Congress; many are issues that are ripe to advance right now regardless of the tremendously disappointing outcomes on Proposition 8 and our initiatives elsewhere in the country. We know from this last session that a majority of both houses of Congress is prepared to pass the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, and now we have a president willing to sign it. We know that as we focus on the economy, issues like domestic-partnership benefits for federal employees will be a topic of concern and focus.

But I would say there are many other areas in which we can advance the concept of equality for LGBT Americans even in a context and an environment in which the electorate has passed these propositions.

Do you think the Congress will move on hate crimes first? I think it's a natural for this piece of legislation to move on, precisely because it is well known to returning members of Congress who have reviewed this legislation carefully and because committees in both houses have discussed it on the floor. And so we're very prepared to move quickly on that issue. I think that given, for example, the challenges we had on the House side in putting forward [a transgender-] inclusive antidiscrimination act [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act], we will be well served by taking the time to educate our new members of Congress on that issue.

How much time? I'm not putting a timetable on this -- I'm talking more about the order or things. In this respect, we will start with hate crimes, and we will at the same time -- especially through the LGBT equality caucus that I founded with [out Massachusetts U.S. representative] Barney Frank -- be educating our new colleagues and our returning colleagues on a wide range of issues. I wouldn't limit it to hate crimes and ENDA; as I discussed earlier, domestic-partnership benefits for federal employees [should be discussed]. We're also working with an Administration that will be able to make plenty of progress that won't require legislative authorization. There's a lot of things that Cabinet secretaries can do with policies within their own agencies and departments to create an environment of greater equality for their LGBT employees and the people they serve.

Do you expect there will be a higher number of LGBT people in prominent positions in the Obama administration? If you use the campaign that [President-elect Obama] put together as an example of the kind of diverse group he would convene in his administration, we have a lot to be hopeful about. Senator Obama's professional staff was incredibly diverse, including prominent folks in the LGBT community not only working on LGBT issues but having broad and diverse responsibilities. I think we can be heartened by the team he put together for his own campaign, and recognize that he's going to do the same with attention to talented diversity in his administration.

Do you know of any politicians who were targeted for voting yes on ENDA?? I have not heard of any instance where this became a significant issue in a reelection battle. I certainly was listening for that and reading press accounts of campaigns being waged across the country. I think actually there have been several articles stating the converse -- that the LGBT community was not used as a wedge in this particular campaign cycle, especially in stark contrast with 2004 and 2000. To the degree that these campaigns were issue-oriented, they were fought out almost exclusively on the economy and related issues to our economic instability. But I did not hear anything substantial on gay issues coming up.

So ironic that we had this $73 million campaign in California with Proposition 8, but in the presidential campaign it was hardly on the radar. There are all sorts of reasons for that, and it's hard to weigh which had greater impact. Is it because California was not a battleground state and, therefore, the two candidates weren't there repeatedly, engaged in debate in which this would have certainly come up as an issue? Or is it simply because the American people were unwilling to allow these candidates to take their focus off the foremost issues and challenges of enormous proportions that are facing our country?

How soon do you think President-elect Obama will put some focus on LGBT issues -- will he be moving quickly while he has a sizable majority in these first two years, or will he take a slow and steady approach? I think we can take a lot of instruction from watching his campaign. It's been a long time since I've witnessed a candidate so deliberate, disciplined, and driven. What I would expect is that you'll see a blending of approaches that will be informed by pragmatism as well as urgency. So, for example, he has run on the economy, but we also know our energy policy, our health care policy are intimately intertwined with economics. As we engage in an enormous debate on national health care, on climate change -- things that are incredibly complex but also we need to get it right -- I suspect you'll see in some instances an effort to move quickly, to take advantage of this expectation of change and to follow through on commitments made on the campaign trail. In other instances, I think we'll see a slower approach, especially on issues, like energy, where there is a much greater capacity for us to craft bipartisan legislation, to allow everyone to be heard and participate -- where a greater good can be produced by taking a longer time.

With regard to LGBT issues, obviously there will be an interaction and discourse between the new president and the Congress on many of these issues. As I was saying earlier about the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, what we'll tell President Obama is that we believe we're prepared to get this to you in the short term. Some of the other issues like domestic-partner benefits, which are so relevant to the economy, will take a little longer. But we'll work with the Administration on timing.

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