Minnesota Queers Ponder Politics in ’08

By Lavender February 29, 2008

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Odd as it may seem, our current—and unfathomably lengthy—2008 election cycle is entering one of its later stages. While Minnesota’s March 4 caucuses come relatively late in the game, in a wide-open presidential race, our historical status as an electoral swing state—though, granted, one that hasn’t voted Republican for President since 1972—portends to bring home lots of candidate attention.

The presidential contenders already have paid visits to the state, meeting voters and fighting over key Minnesota endorsements. The two Democrats are New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama. The two Republicans are Arizona Senator John McCain and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

What’s more, Minnesota has a hotly contested US Senate race on its hands.

Incumbent Republican Senator Norm Coleman, whose record on GLBT issues is mixed but mostly anti-GLBT, consistently scores approval ratings below 50 percent in polls, an indicator that pundits traditionally point to as a warning sign. Seeking to distance himself from his support for an unpopular President and war, he is touting legislative achievements on domestic matters, such as college affordability and expanded health-care coverage.

Notable among Coleman’s challengers are DFLer commentator, satirist, and activist Al Franken. Though Franken took flak from commentators for alleged participation in an off-color antigay skit in the 1970s, he describes himself as solidly in favor of same-sex marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples. He has the endorsement of openly gay State Senator Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis). Front and center on Franken’s agenda is an end to the Iraq War, as well as an immediate move toward universal health-care coverage, though not necessarily through a single-payer system.

Franken’s DFL competitor is Mike Ciresi, an attorney who chairs the executive board of Robin, Miller, Kaplan & Ciresi, a firm with a solid record of work for GLBT community causes, including an ongoing case regarding equal access for gay-straight alliances in public schools. He supports “civil rights” for gay couples. He has the backing of gay activists like Rick Stafford and John Sullivan. Like Franken, Ciresi supports a move toward withdrawal from Iraq, and some provision for universal health-care coverage.

To date, little information is widely available on the positions of any of the Senate candidates on the broad swath of issues affecting GLBT communities (i.e., really anything other than gay marriage). But national organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, along with state groups like Project 515, can provide nonpartisan, GLBT-oriented perspectives on candidates.

Of course, there’s a lot more to GLBT community than falling into an electoral niche market. Another highly significant development is the selection of St. Paul as host of the 2008 Republican National Convention, September 1-4.

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