Democratic candidate Mike Levin has a slight but consistent lead over Republican Diane Harkey in the race to fill longtime Republican Rep. Darrell Issa’s seat in California’s 49thcongressional district, which encompasses historically conservative Orange and San Diego Counties. President Trump’s approval rating there is just 39% and two years ago, he lost to Hillary Clinton by seven points while Issa barely eked out a victory by the smallest margin of any congressional election in the country.
Trump threw his endorsement behind Harkey on Aug. 20 and the candidate has since fielded questions on her allegiance to the President. She disapproves of Trump’s “approach” and disagrees with some of his positions on issues like offshore drilling, but she supports his economic agenda, his proposed border wall, as well as his decisions to withdraw from the Paris climate accords and from the Iran nuclear deal.
In an Oct. 2 debate, Levin, a lawyer and expert/advocate on clean energy, argued Trump had abdicated America’s responsibility to close allies overseas.
LGBT issues were not discussed during that debate. However, following the revelation that the Trump administration is considering defining gender as biological, immutable, and assigned at birth—effectively erasing transgender and non-gender conforming Americans—the candidates’ positions on the subject will likely be front-of-mind for many voters.
After Equality California and the Human Rights Campaign endorsed Levin this summer, the groups took aim at Harkey’s allegiance with Trump, as well as her record as a member of the California State Board of Equalization and former member of the California State Assembly.
“Diane Harkey would continue to work against Southern California values—even supporting the debunked and cruel practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy,’”
HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement.
“With the president dead set on turning back the clock on health care, women’s rights and LGBTQ equality,” said EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur, “California’s 49th District can’t afford another corrupt extremist Trump ally like Diane Harkey representing them in Congress.”
While in the California Assembly, the GOP candidate votes were consistently anti-LGB — and especially anti-T. Harkey voted against bills that would: let transgender students use facilities consistent with their gender identities; allow transgender people to change their names without a hearing; and include trans/non-binary communities in Civil Rights protections, anti-discrimination laws, and legislation on hate crimes.
At nearly every turn, Harkey voted against political, social, and legal equality for LGBT people—whether by opposing the ban on “conversion therapy” for minors or by giving the thumbs-down to any measure intended to make life easier for same-sex couples.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling—which she opposed—Harkey voted “no” on a bill to ensure that health care and insurance coverage for domestic partners is equal to services provided to spouses. In 2009, she opposed a bill that urged Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Also that year, she voted against urging Congress to pass the Matthew Shepard And James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act.
Among Harkey’s comparatively few positive votes in favor of pro-LGBT measures was her endorsement of a 2014 bill that prohibits state healthcare exchanges from employing marketing practices or benefit designs that discriminate against LGBTQ people. She also voted to require local medical societies to create and distribute a survey for LGBT and intersex patients.
“The fight for full legal, economic and social equality for the LGBTQ community is far from won,” said Mike Levin, accepting his endorsement from HRC. The subject of LGBT rights has otherwise heretofore been a sidebar in the heated battle for Issa’s seat in California’s 49th district.
Throughout her campaign, Harkey has been trailed by allegations of corruption made against her ex-husband, Dan J. Harkey. A judge, jury, and appellate court each found him guilty of “willful and malicious” breaches of fiduciary obligations to investors in his companies, National Financial Lending LLC and Point Center Financial, Inc. The candidate, who was named in the civil litigation, claims her former husband did not—as has been alleged—operate a Ponzi scheme.
In response, Harkey’s campaign has drawn attention to Levin’s tenure at Bryan Cave, LLP, where he served as a junior associate alongside disbarred Los Angeles attorney Mitchell Roth. The California attorney general’s office found Roth guilty of fleecing distressed homeowners by failing to provide the foreclosure relief services for which his clients were paying him. Levin’s campaign notes Bryan Cave filed the lawsuits against Roth that resulted in his dismissal from the California Bar Association and the $1 million restitution judgment against him.
Earlier this month, Harkey publicly demanded her opponent return a $10,000 donation from a PAC chaired by Democratic Rep. Tony Cárdenas, who is accused of drugging and fondling a teen girl in 2007. “To accept the donation knowing where it comes from condones the alleged activity,” she said.
On Oct. 22, Levin used Twitter to renew interest in a controversy first reported in Newsweeka few weeks ago. On her website, Harkey published her endorsement by the San Diego Patriots, a group that called the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida a “false flag.” The conspiracy theory suggests mass shootings are staged events with “crisis actors” paid to invoke sympathy for gun control. “This weekend,” Levin tweeted, “Fred Guttenberg visited us. He lost his daughter at Parkland. He’s no conspiracy theorist.”