By Lisa Keen
BOSTON – The Republican party’s retention of control in the U.S. Senate is a greater loss for the gay community than the numbers show.
Republicans will enter the next legislative session with a 55-seat majority, up four seats over the current 51 seats. Democrats will retain only 44 seats, down five. Independent Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont was not up for re-election this year.
What is especially troubling for gay interests in the Senate next year is the loss of three held by senators whose voting records on gay issues earned them a perfect score of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign. The most painful of these is Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle’s loss to Republican U.S. Rep. John Thune in South Dakota. While Daschle had been criticized by many gays for making harsh statements against gay marriage this year, his record of support was solidly pro-gay. Thune, in the House, has vigorously opposed gay interests, earning HRC’s worst possible score of zero.
John Breaux, who retired from his seat representing Louisiana with a 100 rating from HRC, will be succeeded by Republican U.S. Rep. David Vitter, who also rated HRC’s worst score – a zero – for his voting record during his two terms in the House.
And, of course, John Edwards, who gave up his seat from North Carolina to run as Sen. John Kerry’s Democratic vice presidential nominee, will be replaced by Republican U.S. Rep. Richard Burr, who has also earned a zero rating from HRC.
The only bright spots for gays in the Senate races came in Illinois and Colorado.
In Illinois, Democratic newcomer Barack Obama trounced a virulently anti-gay candidate, Alan Keyes of Maryland, who was transported to Illinois by Republicans in an effort to hang onto a seat given up by an incumbent with a zero record on HRC’s scorecard. While Obama has said he is undecided on same-sex marriage, he has also indicated he would oppose a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and that he supports anti-discrimination laws to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination.
In Colorado, Democrats eked out a victory with Ken Salazar defeating Coors executive Peter Coors for the Republican seat vacated by Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Campbell’s voting record on gay issues rated a very low 14, according to HRC. Salazar’s record on gay issues is not unblemished. The former state attorney general once said he was opposed to allowing gay people adopt children. But, he backed off from that stand during the campaign and has opposed a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Another troubling result is the outcome of a very close race in Florida, where anti-gay attorney Mel Martinez, a Republican, held 50 percent of the vote in his bid to take the seat held by Democrat Bob Graham, who resigned to run for president. Graham’s voting record on gay issues rated a 71 percent rating from HRC. Martinez tried to paint his Democratic opponent, Betty Castor, as a “patsy for the homosexual agenda” because she opposed Florida’s ban on gays adopting children. Castor also supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, while Martinez supports a federal constitutional ban on gay marriage.
And in Alaska, Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski will hold onto her father’s seat, despite a strong challenge by the state’s pro-gay former governor Tony Knowles.