It doesn't fit the narrative coming from FoxNews where Tea Party rallies are the top story in politics this year, but Log Cabin Republicans have shown new influence in Utah politics in ways never seen before. At a recent debate, the organization hosted six of eight Republican senate candidates--or their representatives--including incumbent Bob Bennett, an impressive feat for a Utah organization that focuses on queer issues. To avoid overestimating their impact, however, note that the organization will not issue a formal endorsement of any candidate for fear that it would hurt rather than help the endorsed candidate.
Nevertheless, 2010 may go down as the year that the Log Cabin Republicans Utah achieved measurable influence in Utah politics--and that could change everything for queer Utahns, says the organization's vice president James Humphreys.
If you're not already familiar with the dynamics of the race, check out Republicans Against Bob Bennett, our Dec. 16 cover story by Katharine Biele. There's now a lot of focus on this race nationally because Bennett might actually lose, which rarely happens to incumbents.Since Biele's article was published, the Republican field has jumped to eight candidates.
"We think in an eight-way Senate race at the state convention that our votes will make a difference," Humphreys says.
Two Democrats also seek the Senate seat, but Humphreys assumes, as many do, that they have very little chance and the real competition in this race is only among conservatives.
Those Log Cabin votes, Humphreys says, include over 200 Republican delegates who have signed on to support Log Cabin Republicans Utah. He says he has a list, but wouldn't release it. There are about 3,500 (see below for a correction) delegates who will vote at the convention. The organization is aiming to increase their delegate count before the state party convention May 8 and have roughly 10 percent of delegates wearing Log Cabin paraphernalia at the convention. Humphreys admits his delegates may not vote as a rigid block, but undeniable visibility--if the group is as successful as they hope to be--may be impossible for candidates and party officials to ignore.
"We think we'll have 10 percent of the delegate vote," Humphreys said. "These are people who trust our judgment because we share a similar background."
In many cases that's a background in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says Humphreys, a returned missionary whose husband is also a returned missionary. Many of the Log Cabin-supporting delegates, he says, identify as heterosexual and are loyal Mormons, but have loved ones who identify as gay, lesbian or trangender.
Humphreys says Log Cabin was invigorated in Utah after the failure of several bills sponsored by Equality Utah, called the Common Ground Initiative. Equality Utah is a non-partisan organization, where as Log Cabin, Humphreys says, "is not a GLBT organization. We're a Republican organization that supports GLBT equality." The Common Ground initiative, he says, was good for publicity and seized on just the right issues--hospital visitation for same-sex couples, non-discrimination in housing and employment, etc.--but the effort "slapped" Legislative Republicans in the face, he says, and "it probably hurt us."
He argues that Republicans are vital to LGBT activists in Utah who want change on the state level and says the organization provides a conservative alternative to most LGBT organizations, most of which lean left politically.
The Tea Party brand, Humphreys says, has been co-opted by far-right religious organizations lead by people who "love their religion but they don't love their fellow man," which is to say they're religious and homophobic. He said the anti-gay rhetoric from the Tea Party movement has been relatively quiet and in the background, but over the last year has been creeping up and threatens to take economics off of the movement's focus in favor of social issues like gay marriage. He points to the New York district 23 special election and recent developments in the Florida Senate race as evidence that the Tea Party is dividing the Republican Party to negative effect.
Humphreys says his organization in 2010 is focussed on fiscal responsibility. They support repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and the Defense of Marriage Act, but the real priorities for Log Cabin Republicans Utah is to fix the country's finances.
While not a formal endorsement of any of the Senate candidates, Humphreys was willing to share his views and preferences in the race.
The only question remaining is whether the Log Cabiners will make their presence known--will the buttons be ubiquitous or rare on the convention floor?--and whether their visibility will have any impact anyway. Will 2010 be their year? In some ways, it already has been.
For a video of how it turned out at convention, go here.
Correction: This post originally misreported the number of Republican delegates.