One of the most interesting elections this November is taking place in a district formerly overseen by Utah’s only openly gay Senator to date. There, the Senator’s replacement, a straight but gay-friendly former mayoral aide, is squaring off against the openly gay chairman of a gay-friendly Republican caucus.
Democrat Ben McAdams took over for Sen. Scott McCoy when McCoy left to take on a weighty case at his legal firm before his term was up. McAdams has spent the last few months introducing himself as a candidate, rather than a delegate-appointed replacement, to residents of his traditionally Democratic district, which is also traditionally supportive of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Unlike most other races in Utah, gay and transgender rights are not a hot-button topic in this election. Both Republican candidate Mel Nimer and McAdams are of the same mind here, from letting Utahns sue in cases of a partner’s wrongful death to supporting adding sexual orientation and gender identity to statewide employment and housing anti-discrimination laws.
“It’s refreshing to have a Republican candidate who agrees with me on LGBT issues,” said McAdams.
The two also hold similar positions on issues like education, reforming the state budget and opposing an immigration bill modeled after a controversial piece of legislation passed in Arizona earlier this year. The differences between them lie mainly in their approaches to tackling these problems. While, for example, McAdams favors a careful examination of the budget that wouldn’t eliminate essential functions (such as Medicaid access for poor children), Nimer sees support for small businesses — which include a relaxation of Utah’s liquor laws — as a key to stimulate the state’s plodding economy. And while McAdams favors more state funding for education, Nimer thinks funds for schools can be secured by giving Utah more control over its land (70 percent of which is federally owned) and the power to earn revenue from that land, which includes gaining the ability to mine in some national monuments, like the controversial Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument.
“They’re not separate topics,” he said of the interplay between jobs and education. “They’re all combined and interlinked and there is no one answer for each problem. We have to look at the much bigger picture in order to solve all these little problems.”
Another difference between what both men bring to the office lies in their party affiliation. Although McAdams has experience on Capitol Hill that Nimer lacks, Nimer maintains that a gay and transgender-friendly Republican can help the community out a lot in the Senate.
“The only other big advantage I offer everyone in the district is that they’ll have a seat at the Republican table, so they’ll have a seat at the super majority table, which may be good, may be bad. But for our community, for the first time ever, they’ll have someone they can count on to try and swing the Republican majority more clearly in our favor,” he said.
McAdams, however, said that he can work across party lines to get legislation passed, and to keep legislation that could hurt gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Utahns from making it to the Governor’s desk.
“My distinct point of view is reflective of the district,” he said. “The district wants a counterpoint on many issues and in my short time in the Legislature, I believe I’ve offered that counterpoint.”
Ultimately, however, the two are in agreement on one final point: respect for Utah’s increasingly diverse population, whether that means protecting the Latin community from racial profiling that an Arizona-like immigration bill could cause or making sure that all of the state’s students have an equal opportunity for a good education.
“For me, it’s a consistent message: looking out for our minority community whether they’re sexual or ethnic minorities,” said McAdams. “We need to send a message and be a welcoming society. That’s what America was founded on, and that’s who we need to be.”