After Redistricting, 30-Year GOP Rep Must Court Gay Palm Springs Voters

Ken Calvert opposed same-sex marriage and was a big “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” fan but his House district suddenly got a lot more inclusive

Congressman Ken Calvert, 69, is a small business owner as well as the longest-serving GOP member of California’s congressional delegation. First elected to represent the Inland Empire in 1992, Calvert has managed to keep a seat for himself in the U.S. House of Representatives ever since—largely by opposing gay rights.

However, as the Los Angeles Times reports, with the redistricting that came in 2021 following the ten-year U.S. census, Calvert’s new 41st Congressional District is heavily influenced by Palm Springs, the very gay-friendly town that elected the nation’s first-ever all-LGBTQ+ City Council.

He was against the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling, for example, that legalized same-sex marriage. Calvert now says he doesn’t think it should be overturned.

“It wasn’t always my position,” Calvert told the Times. “It’s a different country than it was 30 years ago.”

Whether that statement is actually connected to anything he believes, the congressman’s critics are loving his predicament after a career highlighted by such choices as voting for the Defense of Marriage Act—allowing states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages—and against the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

“It’s poetic justice,” Sam Garrett-Pate, a spokesman for Equality California, which has endorsed Calvert’s opponent in the upcoming election, told the Times. “I don’t think there’s any other way to put it than what goes around comes around.”

Ah, yes, the opponent…

Running to deprive Calvert of an astonishing 16th term in the Riverside County district is Democrat Will Rollins, a 37-year-old former federal prosecutor who worked on Jan. 6 insurrection cases and who campaigns with his partner, Paolo Benvenuto.

In 1994, Calvert’s opponent in the congressional race was Mark Takano, who one of the congressman’s allies outed as gay. As the Times notes, Calvert’s campaign responded by sending voters hot pink and lavender mailers that claimed the Democrat had a “secret agenda” and questioned whether Takano, who hadn’t come out publicly, would be a “Congressman for Riverside… or San Francisco?”

Takano was elected to Congress in 2012 and has represented western Riverside County ever since, while Calvert explains, “I’ve never had any animosity to the gay community. I come out of the restaurant business, for goodness’ sake. A lot of people who worked with me were gay.”

John Falcone, the treasurer of the Log Cabin Republicans of Coachella Valley, said that, as a candidate, Calvert is “fine.” Although he admitted he was initially wary when Calvert reached out to the gay GOP group this year, after meeting him for more than an hour, the 59-year-old bank analyst said he believes Calvert seems adequate to the task.

“We talked about gay issues and his past record, and he was very, very open and very accepting,” Falcone told the paper. “I give him credit for reaching out and I found him authentic. Going in, I was skeptical, but coming out, I thought, OK, he’ll be fine.”

Also in the incumbent’s favor is the support of Trump in a district that retained 7 out of 10 voters from Calvert’s current district, and where the largest city is Calvert’s hometown of Corona. He’s also raised nearly $1.9 million to Rollins’ $1 million as of May 18, according to the Federal Election Commission.

GOP redistricting expert Matt Rexroad tells the Times that national crises such as inflation hitting 9.1 percent—the worst since 1981—and soaring gas prices make the race Calvert’s to lose this time around, but in the future perhaps not so much.

“Where this seat is in 2028 or 2024, I’m not sure,” he said. “I think it’s probably a good seat this time, but [it] is trending the wrong way in regard to the breakdown of voters in the Coachella Valley.”

Another thing about Calvert some new voters might take into account is the fact that he voted against certifying the electoral college votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania, claiming he believes there were voting irregularities in those states. Still, he acknowledges that Joe Biden is president.

And that’s super.

Rollins, meanwhile, says he became interested in public service after seeing the World Trade Center collapse as a junior in high school. He became an attorney, eventually going to work for the national security division at the Justice Department, focusing on domestic terrorism cases in Southern California. He left that job last year to run for office.

“The threats that the country is facing have changed, and some of those threats now come from within,” Rollins told the Times. “I didn’t want to look back on my life and regret not stepping up when one of these House Republicans is right in my backyard and voted to undermine our democracy after Jan. 6.”

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