Thursday, May 03, 2007

Photos, top to bottom: Laurie McBride, Greg Pettis, Ricardo Lara and Adi Gutierrez

Club Hears from Out-of-Town Democrats on Convention Eve


Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

The April 26 meeting of the San Diego Democratic Club served largely as a warm-up for the first-ever California Democratic Party convention in San Diego April 27-29. Many people from other cities who’d come to San Diego for the convention attended, including Silicon Valley LGBT [Queer] Democrats founder Clark Williams; Adi Gutierrez and Ricardo Lara of the Los Angeles-based Honor PAC, aimed at increasing awareness of Queer issues among Latino voters; and Greg Pettis, openly Gay Councilmember in the Palm Springs suburb of Cathedral city and candidate against Republican incumbent Bonnie Garcia in the 80th Assembly District. But the featured speaker was Sacramento-based Laurie McBride, founding lobbyist for LIFE (Lobby for Individual Freedom and Equality) in the early 1990’s and now co-chair of the National Stonewall Democrats (NSD), a nationwide organization of Queer Democratic clubs to which the San Diego Democratic Club belongs.

“San Diego is a star in the universe of the National Stonewall Democrats because of the quality of board members you have sent to us: Craig Roberts, Mark Kvare and now Gloria Johnson,” McBride said. “Several years ago I gathered together a set of basic materials on how to start a club, and San Diego’s materials featured prominently. San Diego’s bylaws have been copied in South Carolina, and so has your structure, including how you develop leaders and have a deep bench. San Diego is a model, and we’re pleased and proud to have that model in our universe.” She did, however, boast that in the rivalry between Sacramento’s and San Diego’s Queer Democratic clubs for the total number of paid members, Sacramento has pulled ahead with 500, 100 more than San Diego’s.

“It’s good to be a Democrat these days, and it’s good to be a Gay Democrat,” McBride said. “No matter how much the Logs [members of the Log Cabin Clubs for Queer Republicans] apologize for their party, we can see from the last four months what a difference a Democratic Congress makes. Now we just need a Democratic President. We also see from our neighbors in the north what a difference a Democratic governor makes. In Oregon and Washington we’re seeing movement on basic rights and civil unions. The kind of work we do here is the kind National Stonewall Democrats promises all over the U.S., including places where activism is fragile and the atmosphere is not encouraging.” As an example, she cited NSD’s early involvement in the campaign against notoriously anti-Queer Republican Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, where NSD spent one-fourth of its total budget in 2006. Santorum’s defeat was crucial to the Democrats’ regaining control of the U.S. Senate.

McBride discussed NSD’s success in expanding the national Democratic party’s outreach to Queer voters and activists, and also sang the praises of the newly hired NSD executive director, Jo Weirich. “There was a lot of discussion on the board that she wasn’t flashy, but she’s a grass-roots person and good on infrastructure,” McBride said. “She knows people need to be thanked as soon as they make a donation. We’ve always had a bifurcated mission: to help the local clubs and to be a national voice. That’s hard too do with just two or three paid staff members. Now we have four.”

Pettis, who’s served on the Cathedral City council for 13 years, said, “I’m the first openly Gay person elected in Riverside County. Now we have six Gay City Councilmembers and two Gay judges.” He pointed out that even though the incumbent in the 80th Assembly District is a Republican, “we have a seven-point Democratic registration edge.” Perhaps because of that margin, Pettis will have to face a contested primary, “but I’m the only Gay candidate and the most progressive on labor issues. I’ve been pleased to have the endorsement of the California Queer Democratic caucus and John Chiang, Steve Westly and Judy Chiu.” Pettis pointed out that much of the district is progressive and overlaps heavily with the districts held by Congressmember Bob Filner and State Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny, both leading lights in the progressive wing of California’s Democratic party.

Gutierrez and Lara introduced themselves and their organization, Honor PAC, as a way of not only educating the Latino community about Queer issues but also raising funds among Latino contributors for Queer and Queer-friendly candidates. Gutierrez said that many Queer issues play out differently among Latinos and are frequently bound in with concerns about immigration and workers’ rights. Lara added that his group has already raised $35,000 and supported Mary Salas’s successful bid for an Assembly seat as well as Steve Padilla’s failed campaign to win re-election as mayor of Chula Vista after he came out as Gay. (Though Padilla lost, his sexual orientation was not a factor in the race; even the notoriously homophobic newspaper La Prensa San Diego endorsed him.)

Several former club presidents featured prominently in the meeting. Jess Durfee, now the chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party, boasted of the extensive coverage the convention had received in local media (except the San Diego Union-Tribune). Gloria Johnson and Craig Roberts have been major figures in the National Stonewall Democrats and have sat on its board. The immediate past president, Stephen Whitburn, announced that he was taking a leave of absence from his position on the club’s board to avoid a conflict of interest when he runs for San Diego City Council to replace the termed-out Toni Atkins in 2008. The club will be taking up an endorsement in that race in June.