www.ambiente.us JUNE / JUNIO 2008
OPEd: Florida’s GLBT Candidates Can Be the Change in This Election Cycle
By Stephen Gaskill
While Florida has a somewhat dubious (some might call it notorious)
reputation where its elections are concerned, this year might actually
be something for the GLBT community to celebrate.
We’re continuing to make strides in electing openly-gay candidates
to local offices. One by one, it seems that the barriers are breaking,
the stereotypes are falling, and GLBT candidates are being looked at
for their abilities, records, and stands on issues rather than their sexual
South Florida continues to foster the highest number of openly-GLBT
candidates, due primarily to the high number of GLBT households in the
region. (Although, as the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus notes in its
analysis of the 2000 US Census, there are more than 1.1 million GLBT
voters in Florida, and they are located in every region in the state.)
The 2006 election, which was a “change” election in every sense of the word, saw Broward County elect its
first openly-gay Commissioner, Ken Keechl. At the same time the Human Rights Campaign had a full-time
staffer on Ron Klein’s successful campaign to defeat US Rep. Clay Shaw, ensuring that his gay-friendly
candidacy had input from our community. And across the state in Hillsborough County, Kathy Castor easily
won election to an open US House seat, in large part to strong advocacy by the GLBT community after Castor
fought for GLBT rights while on the County Commission.
This year we have an opportunity for our community to make an even bigger mark on the electoral process.
We have the ability to elect our first openly-gay representative to Tallahassee, as well as four candidates
Florida’s House District 92, which runs from Fort Lauderdale to Deerfield Beach in Broward County, the state’
s most Democratic county, also has the distinction of being the district with the highest concentration of
GLBT households, according to the GLBT Democratic Caucus. This year, District 92 could also send the
first openly-gay Representative to the state capital. Mark LaFontaine, an accountant and US Coast Guard
veteran, is running to succeed Rep. Jack Seiler, who is term limited.
LaFontaine has the endorsement of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, as well as the support of US Rep.
Barney Frank, chair of the House Financial Services Committee and the first openly-gay Member of
Congress. He faces two challengers in the race that will be decided in the Democratic primary on August
26, but LaFontaine has outraised each of them throughout this cycle.
Monroe County in the Florida Keys has had an openly gay Mosquito Control Board Commissioner, Stephen
K. Smith, for a dozen years now. While not a high-profile position, this important post is elected countywide,
from the southernmost point in the continental US, Key West, to Key Largo in the north. This year Smith may
be joined by two more countywide-elected GLBT officials: Henry Woods, running for Monroe Supervisor of
Elections, and Heather Carruthers, running for County Commission.
Woods is a political science instructor at Florida Keys Community College with a background in the US
Senate and a long list of civic involvement in Key West. He’s running against the incumbent Supervisor of
Elections, Harry L. Sawyer, who has served for 20 years – and without opposition each time he’s run for
reelection in the last 16 years. Given Florida’s ongoing voting problems, and the need for voter education,
Woods is making inroads throughout the Keys, even in the Republican-leaning Upper Keys.
Like Woods, Carruthers has an extensive background in public service, based around the Florida Keys. She
is a member of the board of directors of Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe (FIRM), a group focused on the
excessively high windstorm insurance rates in the County and whose campaign ultimately resulted in a rate
reduction for residents. A former chair of the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and former president of
the Key West Business Guild, Carruthers is co-owner of Pearl’s Rainbow, a guesthouse for women in Key
Back on the mainland, Kevin Beckner is making headway in his race to become the first openly-gay
Commissioner in Hillsborough County. With token primary opposition, Beckner is expected to face off
against incumbent Brian Blair in November, who continues the County Commission’s history of insensitive
anti-GLBT actions and statements. Beckner has been endorsed by US Rep. Kathy Castor, as well as the
Victory Fund, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, and the Hillsborough Teachers Union.
Finally, Adriane Reesey is running for Broward Supervisor of Elections. Reesey is a local community leader
who has worked in corrections and law enforcement for more than 30 years. She currently chairs the
Broward Human Rights Board and serves as Director of the Broward County Crime Commission. She’s a
member of the Broward Democratic Executive Committee and vice president of the Dolphin Democrats,
Florida’s oldest and largest GLBT Democratic club. Reesey has been endorsed by former US Attorney
General Janet Reno.
Florida’s GLBT community has elected dozens of openly-gay officials over the years, but this cycle we’re in
position to capitalize on the “change” mantra sweeping the country and our state. Our candidates have
brought about change, and underscore the emergence of qualifications and a diversity of experience that
represents our whole community. We are change, and as a result have the ability to change Florida within
Stephen Gaskill is a Fort Lauderdale-based Democratic political campaign consultant.
Stephen Gaskill is a senior communications strategist and political consultant with more than 20 years of
experience designing and implementing media outreach programs for political candidates, government
agencies, advocacy groups, major corporations, trade associations and ad hoc coalitions. Based in South
Florida after a long career in Washington DC, Stephen is an independent consultant with a variety of client
interests, and has served as national spokesperson on a wide range of issues and causes. He is a veteran
of Democratic politics, and held senior positions in the last four presidential campaigns.
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