The Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) , America's largest gay-rights group, has certainly done its part concerning the 2006 midterm elections as it travels the country to support certain candidates. Windy City Times talked recently with HRC's national president, Joe Solmonese, about regional candidates, Mark Foley and about the organization's latest scorecard, which measures the stances of members of the U.S. Congress.
Windy City Times: What are you and HRC doing in Illinois?
Joe Solmonese: We have been focusing on a handful of races around the country in hopes of mobilizing the community in ways we haven't done before. Our targets have been races like Patricia Madrid in New Mexico and your very own Tammy Duckworth [ who is contending against Peter Roskam in the 6th District ] .
WCT: And why did you choose these races?
JS: We used a combination of factors. Where we have a strong committed politically active membership, people wanted to help fair-minded individuals who are running to replace people who have been typically against our community. However, that's not always the case: Gaby Gifford is running to replace [ openly gay Republican ] Jim Kolbe, who has been a great friend of our community. However, she is a particularly strong ally in a very important state, Arizona.
WCT: So what will you be saying here in Chicago?
JS: More than anything else, I'm going to be thanking members. I'll be in Florida, Illinois, Minnesota and Pennsylvania to thank the membership of HRC who have worked harder than they ever have to help these key races. Also, I'll give people a sense of how the work they're doing in their own district, precinct or state factors into the broader agenda of the organization.
WCT: How do you think the fallout regarding former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley is going to affect races around the country?
JS: I think for a moment in time it really contributed to what people thought of as a need for change. Beyond Mark Foley, what I think most people were concerned about was the Republican leadership's reaction to [ the situation ] .
WCT: Let's talk about the scorecard. First of all, on a very general level, why does HRC have a scorecard?
JS: The members of our community are always curious as to where their elected officials stand on a whole range of issues. It gives people a sense of where elected officials are on the spectrum of issues and how supportive they are. It also gives us a sense of movement; it's good to not just see where they are now but where they were five years ago.
WCT: Something that's interesting is that Mark Kirk [ an Illinois Republican in the U.S. House ] scored pretty highly, with a 75 [ out of 100 ] .
JS: I'm not surprised. I think that one of the things that's important about our work is that we're a bipartisan organization and we depend on allies on both sides of the aisle to move our agenda forward.
WCT: Earlier, you alluded to the fact that you can recognize trends regarding people who serve more than one term. For example, [ U.S. Rep ] Bobby Rush [ D-Chicago ] has gone from 100 to 88 to 63 in the last three scorecards.
JS: And what you want to do is to take that and [ examine ] why this downward trend took place. That's why it's good to have that comprehensive look.
For instance, we endorsed Joe Lieberman [ D-Conn. ] for his re-election this year, and some in the community thought that our decision was very controversial; people questioned him on other issues. Lieberman had, I believe, an 88 but others said that [ Lieberman opponent ] Ned Lamont has 100 percent. But if you look back at Lieberman's 16 years in the Senate, he's had either an 88, 90 or 100. You really have to look at the entirety of someone's career in office.
WCT: Do you lobby politicians who have decreasing scores or those like Butch Otter [ R-Ore. ] who consistently score zero?
JS: We lobby and our membership lobbies on a very regular basis, especially those who we feel can be educated and moved. Someone [ like Otter ] is a very uphill battle, as you can imagine.
WCT: Is there anything you want to add?
JS: I just want to talk with people ahead of elections. For us, it's been so heavily focused on changing the way our membership is involved in campaigns and changing the presence that HRC has in campaigns. It's been a limited number of races, but I want to walk key allies through what goes into our thinking about these elections.
Solmonese will appear Nov. 3 at the home of John Whitesell and Mark Solena, 7-9 p.m.; Nov. 4 at DePaul University, Sheffield and Belden, 9 a.m.; and Nov. 4 at Duckworth headquarters, 1000 N. Rohlwing Road, Lombard. For more info, e-mail Brad.Luna@hrc.org .
To view the most recent scorecard, visit www.hrc.org and click on 'Congressional Scorecard.'
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