Yesterday Brian Sims became Pennsylvania’s first openly gay state legislator. It’s totally awesome, and Rich Wilkins agrees its a good thing, but he is not sure this was a good enough reason to remove Babette Josephs:
Now, I have no problem with Brian Sims being a State Legislator at all, so that is not my issue here. In fact, I didn’t state an opinion on here because I think both candidates are really impressive. My issue is that Josephs has represented the 182nd district literally for nearly three decades (28 years). She probably is about as progressive of a state legislator as there is in the state, sometimes to a level that gave leadership in the House indigestion. Her record on gay-rights issues certainly doesn’t take a back seat to anyone in this legislature. I don’t believe she was beaten for anything wrong with her record to be honest. In fact, Brian Sims used to be her campaign treasurer (no joke). It appears to me, and I could be wrong here, that the biggest issue in this race wasn’t voting record, statements, or anything about Josephs job- it was identity politics. Now, I do get that, to some extent. I just find it dangerous as a party to go kicking out good elected officials because their profile doesn’t exactly stack up. If you’re Rep. Josephs, and you wake up tomorrow and wonder why you lost, what do you tell yourself? I find myself scratching my head about that.
As I said above, I do get why this happens, and I understand why Representative-Elect (he will win) Sims would want the job. I don’t fault him a bit for it. I think this is more a question for the voters- what’s the proper criteria to remove someone from office for responsible voters? Is identity politics a good reason to vote for someone? Is it any better than geography, another maligned reason, but one often used in races? Brian Sims ran a damn good race, and made history tonight, so that is not my issue here. My issue is, what do you tell the person you just removed?
I would just point out that if we want to have more LGBT legislators, which I think most Democrats agree we do, the places we need to be trying to make progress first are the primaries in the safe districts where a Democrat is definitely going to win the general election.
It’s not that Babette Josephs did anything wrong, and it doesn’t have to be personal, but safe districts are where we can get *exactly* what we want and expand the boundaries of what’s possible. If you think about how a “centrist” or moderate legislator is going about positioning themselves on the issues, it really matters what the left side is doing. If we use the safe districts to move the goalposts further to the left, we change where the center of the debate is.
On marriage equality, we can speed up progress by replacing safe-seat marriage equality supporters with actual out gay people.
I think one underappreciated factor as to why PA doesn’t have marriage equality yet is that legislators do not personally come into contact with many real life gay people. If Democrats had more gay colleagues, they might become more personally tolerant, and willing to extend civil rights to gay couples. It’s a lot harder to discriminate when you actually have to argue against equality in the presence of the people on the receiving end of that discrimination.