Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s decision to run for governor is good news for the LGBT community.
While the mayor has not been out front on LGBT issues like Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley or San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, he has been generally inclusive of the community in recent years. He has shown his symbolic support by marching in the Milwaukee Pride Parade. This fall, he proclaimed Sept. 15 LGBT Center Awareness Day as part of a national campaign to showcase the vital role that our centers play in our lives.
With such actions, Barrett has demonstrated perhaps a new openness to LGBT constituents who were disappointed with his vote for DOMA while serving in the U.S. House of Representatives.
As the mayor was weighing his decision to enter the race, he sent a congratulatory letter welcoming Wisconsin Gazette to the local media scene. We hope this signals the direction of his campaign.
Current polls show Barrett neck-and-neck with the front-running Republican in the race, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. Walker has a lead both in campaign organization and fundraising.
The difference between the two prospective candidates on LGBT issues is stark. Walker has positioned himself as a right-wing social conservative. He recently announced that he would veto a proposed plan to provide health insurance benefits for the domestic partners of county employees, even though the plan has yet to be drafted.
While Barrett has some catching up to do in pulling a campaign together, he is ahead in the critical area of likability. In addition to his straightforward style and the personal warmth he projects, Barrett was internationally acclaimed in August when he was injured while trying to protect a grandmother and a baby from an attack. Barrett has been admirably humble and dismissive of attempts to brand him a hero.
This is not an early endorsement of Barrett. In the coming months, we’ll watch to see who else enters the race and the stance that the mayor’s gubernatorial campaign takes on LGBT issues. We’ll also evaluate the Republican candidates to see how far they’re willing to run to the right. Former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, the Republican candidate who’s second in the latest polls, amassed an extremely anti-gay voting record in Congress.
With Walker and Neumann leading the Republican pack, the entry of an electable Democrat like Barrett is a positive development.