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Exclusive: LGBTQ+ rights group to target GOP congressman with major ad buy
Agenda PAC hopes the investment will help Will Rollins, a gay former US prosecutor unseat a 15-term incumbent who was recently redistricted into a community that includes a number same-sex couples.
Agenda PAC, a new national organization targeting anti-LGTBQ+ and anti-abortion rights politicians, is planning to launch an independent advertising campaign against a Republican congressional candidate in California, Supercreator has exclusively learned.
The target is Republican Rep. Ken Calvert, an anti-LGBTQ congressman from the Golden State’s 42nd Congressional District who was first elected in 1993 and recently redistricted into a community that includes half of Palm Springs, a city with one of the highest concentrations of same-sex couples in the US.
A source familiar with the organization’s plans said a significant five-figure ad buy is under strong consideration and that Agenda PAC is in talks with Equality PAC and Welcome PAC, two other organizations that are active in the race. (Equality PAC is the political arm of the Congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus; Welcome PAC is a group dedicated to expanding the electoral map for Democrats.)
The expenditure would be in line with Agenda PAC’s mission to bring the fight for LGTBQ+ rights to the doorstep of politicians who attack the community and mobilize pro-LGBTQ donors, advocates and activists to action.
“We partnered with Equality California and we’re putting together an independent expenditure in the race that will target not only gay voters, but voters who we think need to turn out for this election and make them aware of his crazy views on not only gay issues but also abortion,” Ted Bordelon, Agenda PAC executive director, said to Supercreator.
Calvert’s opponent, Will Rollins, a gay former US attorney, decided to challenge Calvert after the attack on the US Capitol and said that he was motivated to improve the lives of others who face discrimination. (Calvert voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and against legislation that would protect marriage equality and the federal right to abortion care.)
Bordelon told Supercreator that Agenda PAC’s opening salvo in the race was a billboard outside of Palm Springs to remind voters that Calvert wanted to ban gay marriage. The online response was strong enough to inspire additional investment.
The group is also targeting Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for Pennsylvania governor, who Bordelon characterized as the “most radical, while also, unfortunately, still-viable candidate in the country. Agenda PAC’s first ad buy in September was against Mastriano and the organization is currently fundraising to keep it on the air.
“The most egregious attacks on not only LGBTQ rights but on abortion access and reproductive freedoms are going to happen and already do happen at the state level,” Bordelon said when I asked him about the importance of targeting both national races and state and local elections. “To ignore that fact is to ignore reality.”
He repeated a familiar critique I’ve heard from other organizers that Democrats have a bad habit of focusing too much on presidential elections every four years.
“The reality is there’s an election every six months, if you really look at it,” Bordelon said. “And part of what I think that we’re trying to do with Agenda PAC is be strategic and focus on who can acutally be beat but to look at that holistically of what’s going to make a difference.”
In the future, Agenda PAC expects to target state house seats, in addition to US House and Senate seats and governors’ races.
“Next year is the off year for federal [elections], but they're still really important races in Virginia or New Jersey,” Bordelon said. “And we’re going to be strategic and look at the map and see if there are any reasons that makes sense there. And same for .”
Anti-LGBTQ attacks by extremist groups, especially those against young people and the trans community, are up this year. Three events — in Idaho, where police arrested 31 members of a white supremacist group packed into the back of a U-Haul truck, apparently on their way to a local LGBTQ+ pride event; in California, where a crew of Proud Boys interrupted a drag queen event in an attempt to intimidate parents and children; and Texas, where a group of extremists screamed abuse and threatened attendees at an adults-only drag brunch — took place over just one weekend and demonstrated why fears over the community’s safety are so acute.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court this week kicked off a new term that will see the justices likely decide if businesses that sell goods and services to the public can reject LGBTQ couples as customers on the basis of religion. And as I’ve reported, it’s only a matter of time before there’s a challenge to the right to same-sex marriage that would give Justice Clarence Thomas and the court’s conservative supermajority the chance to overturn a 2015 landmark decision that gave same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry. (The Senate is expected to take up a bill enshrining marriage equality into law after the election.)
“We can’t control the court and what the court does, but it makes the state-level elections even more important,” Bordelon said. “And I think that that’s where we’re kind of looking forward is like [2023 and 2024], being active in not only federal races, but in state-level races.”
Despite all of this, Bordelon said the source of his optimism is that Agenda PAC has found a niche that needs to be filled and that after Roe v. Wade was overturned, people from marginalized communities realized why it’s no longer safe to be asleep at the wheel.
“As a community or interest group, if you’re not at the table then you’re on the menu. And I think that for too long there hasn’t been a response to horribly anti-LGBTQ politicians,” Bordelon added. “As we continue to grow and become more established, we want to do the counterpunch to these bigoted politicians and to put them on notice and have them know that there’s a group out there that I try to push my radical anti-LGBTQ agenda, there’s a group out there who very well could place ads in my district and potentially put me out of my seat.”
Another reason for optimism: Bordelon not doing it alone. In fact, Agenda PAC has assembled a formidable leadership team, including Malcolm Kenyatta, the first out LGBTQ+ elected official of color elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the first openly LGBTQ+ man of color to run for US Senate, who serves as chairman of the board. (Kenyatta lost the Democratic primary to Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who’s in an increasingly tight race to flip a Republican seat and help Senate Democrats hold their majority.)
State Sen. Shevrin Jones of Florida, the first gay person and first LGBTQ+ Black person elected to the Florida legislature and state Rep. Joshua Boschee of North Dakota, who was the first openly LGBTQ+ person elected to his state’s legislature, also serve as board members.
And Bordelon shouted out board member Megan Hunt, the first openly LGBTQ+ person elected to Nebraska’s legislature, as someone who led the charge on reproductive rights in Nebraska after Roe v. Wade was overturned.
“I think that these are up-and-coming rising stars who all have a really bright future,” he said. “But I think the fact that they’re involved with this is a testament just to how the trajectory of what our group is going to be able to do. And also just the fact that there is such a great threat right now that these folks wanted to get involved and put this together.”
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TODAY IN POLITICS
President Joe Biden this morning traveled to Hagerstown, Maryland to tour Volvo Group Powertrain and speak on his economic agenda. The president this afternoon will travel to Philadephia en route to Wilmington, Delaware for the weekend.
Vice President Kamala Harris this afternoon will ceremonially swear in Shefali Razdan Duggal to be the US ambassador to the Netherlands.
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden this afternoon will visit the University of California, San Francisco Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center to highlight breast cancer research. She will be joined by Dr. Monica Bertagnolli, director of the National Cancer Institute. The first lady will also attend and speak at a women’s conference for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee before traveling to Tacoma, Washington to visit a technical college and discuss job training programs as pipelines to technical careers.
The House and Senate are out.
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IN THE KNOW
WH downplays Biden’s comments on Putin: President Biden made news last night at a fundraiser in New York City when he said that Russia poses a nuclear threat the world hasn’t seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis 60 years ago. Biden added that President Vladimir Putin of Russia is serious when he talks about the potential use of tactical nuclear, biological or chemical weapons because his military is underperforming in the war in Ukraine. The White House said Biden was reinforcing what he’s been saying for months, which is how serious the administration is taking Russia’s threats about nuclear weapons and how irresponsible Putin’s talk of using nuclear weapons because there's no way to use them without unintended consequences. The administration reiterated that it has not seen any reason to adjust the US’s nuclear posture or any indications that Russia is prepared to use them.
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