Dalila Ali Rajah
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This Gay Former Federal Prosecutor Could Unseat a Decades-Long GOP Rep


Congressional Democrats hope to pick up what seems to be an increasingly attainable seat in California’s 41st district. The incumbent Republican has a remarkably anti-LGBTQ+ policy record, and a gay, out, and partnered Democrat is running against him.

Applecart CEO Matt Kalmans said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe last week that Democrat Will Rollins has a realistic chance of defeating ultra-conservative Republican incumbent Rep. Ken Calvert in California. Applecart is an analytics firm that measures the temperature of topics using social engagement.

According to Kalmans, the Rollins race shows promise regarding Democratic pickups because it is an under-the-radar contest.  

“This is a seat that hasn’t been competitive in three decades,” he said. “You have an incumbent member of Congress, a Republican, who has some corruption issues, who has made a series of antigay statements that have gotten him into some hot water.”

According to him, Trump would now only be ahead by one point in this district, where he led by seven percentage points in the 2020 election due to redistricting.

After Palm Springs, a very popular LGBTQ+ area, was drawn into the district, the district became dramatically more Democratic, he says.

“So now you have an openly gay, former federal prosecutor running as the Democratic candidate against this incumbent, and what we see in our polling is that this is a race where the Democrat is being out-funded two to one, but if properly funded, this is the sort of race that could swing to the Democrats.”

Kalmans says the Democratic Party should focus more on races such as CA-41, which have the potential to succeed, rather than funding races like that of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s challenger.

In an interview with The Advocate, Pennsylvania state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, chairperson of Agenda PAC, revealed that his organization is deeply committed to the California race, having already funded advertising to support Rollins’s campaign. Agenda PAC was formed to fight against candidates who would undermine LGBTQ+ rights.

“Getting out of office somebody like Ken [Calvert], who has a long, storied history of being viscerally anti-freedom as it relates to the freedom to love; somebody who wanted to ban [marriage equality] in California; somebody who voted for the defense of marriage act and somebody who in previous campaigns has gone after opponents because they were gay,” Kenyatta says. “This is somebody who’s now trying to hide his record and pretend he’s somebody else. Agenda PAC is not going to let voters in his newly drawn district forget his dangerous and deeply homophobic record.”

Kenyatta says that Agenda PAC has funded the placement of billboards to remind Calvert’s new and old constituents of his anti-LGBTQ+ record.

The billboards will read: “Just a reminder. Ken Calvert tried to ban gay marriage.”

Billboard from Agenda PAC

Above: A rendering of one of the billboards Agenda PAC has bought, which will go up this week.

“So that will be up [this] week,” Kenyatta grinned.

In an interview with The Advocate, Rollins said that he was unaware of the Agenda PAC billboard but welcomed the support.

“Voters will see through Ken Calvert’s B.S.,” he said. “You look at how his career began when he outed his congressional opponent in the 1990s, Mark Takano. That’s how he decided to run. He ran on homophobia.” 

He continued, “Whether it was voting against gay marriage as he did in the 1990s, then voting against the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill in 2009, voting against repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and then 16 months ago voting against the Equality Act, essentially saying that landlords can kick out tenants for being gay, that employers can fire people for being gay, this is a vote he took last year. And when he says he has evolved, what he means is that he will do and say anything to keep power, and power has been very lucrative for him.”

It’s because Calvert threatens American democracy that he entered the race, he says, believing that voters should choose inclusivity over a threat to democracy.

“I think it comes down to a choice in how we as Americans want to use the law. Do we want to use it to dismiss charges against people who attacked the U.S. Capitol? Do we want to prosecute women who get abortions and their doctors? No.”

As a former federal prosecutor specializing in national security and terrorism cases, Rollins says he is uniquely positioned to contrast his record of adhering to and defending the rule of law with Calvert’s, who, he argues, has disqualified himself.

“This is somebody who voted to de-certify the last election, he voted against the January 6 commission, he called for dropping charges against the Capitol rioters even after it was clear that five police officers had died, and spent his entire three decades in Congress to try to overturn Roe vs. Wade.”

Rollins says that as someone who had a top secret SCI clearance to view the kind of materials Donald Trump was caught mishandling and as somebody who would likely have been involved in the prosecution of someone who took classified material, he could not imagine how Calvert would embrace the former president and expect to be re-elected.

“When you’ve got somebody who’s so cavalier or deliberate about withholding and keeping that kind of information at a golf club puts the lives of human beings overseas at risk, and the idea that we would ever think that we would keep nuclear weapons-related materials at a golf club and try to defend that as Republicans have done is astonishing to me,” Rollins says. “After the [Mar-a-Lago] search, people like my opponent have said that the FBI is filled with rot instead of standing up for our national security.”

Rollins adds, “When Ultra-MAGA Republicans like my opponent come out and say things like the FBI and DOJ are filled with rot, they undermine every ordinary criminal case that line agents and line prosecutors are working on across the country.”

Trump has endorsed Calvert.

“Ken Calvert has spent three decades in Congress trying to criminalize abortion, take away LGBTQ+ civil rights and enrich himself with our tax dollars,” said Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang in a statement to The Advocate. “Now, Riverside County voters have a real shot at defeating Calvert and electing Will Rollins — a principled, pragmatic champion for working families — and LGBTQ+ Californians have a chance to triple our representation in Congress by electing Will, Robert Garcia, and Congressman Mark Takano.”

Hoang believes that there would be some poetic justice to Rollins’s victory.

“On a personal note, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect ending to the Calvert’s career than being beaten by an openly gay candidate — decades after Calvert outed Takano and attacked him for being gay,” Hoang said. “We’re thrilled to support Will’s campaign and look forward to working with him in Congress.” 

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