Edward Flanagan, Vermont, 1992
Edward S. Flanagan (D)
Born December 18, 1950
State Senator, Cittenden, District 6
Elected State Auditor November 1992
Came out before 1996 election
Re-elected in 1996, 1998
Elected State Senator November 2004
News article about Ed Flanagan
Gays Seek Higher and Higher Offices
by Deb Price
The Detroit News, September 20, 1999
Vermont State Auditor Ed Flanagan is a bulldog credited with transforming a once-toothless elected office into a fierce protector of his state’s taxpayers and consumers. Ripping into wasteful or bumbling state agencies, Flanagan has fought for better enforcement of patients’ rights and for tougher day-care regulations. When necessary, he has championed new laws to safeguard Vermonters’ health and wealth. Now the tenacious Flanagan, a 48-year-old progressive Democrat, hopes to take a bite out of the Republicans’ majority in the U.S. Senate.
Flanagan is the first and only openly gay American elected to statewide office. Serving his fourth two-year term as auditor, Flanagan has been re-elected twice since disclosing in 1995 that he is gay. His current challenge to Republican Sen. Jim Jeffords, if he wins the Democratic primary, also makes him the nation’s first credible openly gay Senate candidate. By the end of June, the penny-wise Flanagan had raised an impressive $221,486. That was more than enough to propel him into the top ranks of Senate challengers and to ensure that friend and foe alike will take his bid very seriously.
The Flanagan Senate race is the latest advance of a remarkable political wave - campaigns in which successful gay officials are seeking higher office. All those campaigns are benefiting - financially and emotionally - from this year’s awesome demonstrations of the importance of having openly gay lawmakers. In New Hampshire, for example, a gay man led a successful fight to repeal his state’s ban on gay adoptions. Nevada’s first openly gay lawmaker got his state to ban anti-gay job discrimination. Lesbian lawmakers in California pushed through bills to create a statewide registry for domestic partners and to protect gay students and teachers from harassment.
Flanagan, an All-Conference defensive end while on the University of Pennsylvania’s football team, believes his election to the Senate would help dispel stereotypes. “It is hugely important to have a living, breathing member of the gay and lesbian community there on the Senate floor,” Flanagan says.
“In debating health care and defense policy, they will remember that this Flanagan guy is gay. After I have gained respect, that’s when the bigotry will be evaporated.” Flanagan, whose sexual orientation has been treated as a non-issue by most voters in his enlightened state, stands a good chance of winning his primary. Then, he would face an uphill but not impossible battle against Jeffords, a moderate Republican re-elected in 1994 with a bare 50 percent majority even though it was a very good year for his party. (If Vermont’s lone House member, liberal Independent Bernie Sanders, surprises analysts by jumping into the Senate race, Flanagan says he would then run for the House seat.)
“Flanagan can be very strong. He really surprised people with the amount of money he raised,” says Jennifer Duffy, Senate campaign analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “I have the sense that he’s not well-loved by the Democratic establishment, probably because he’s investigated them a few times. But that probably makes him very appealing to voters.”
A Flanagan-Jeffords contest would force gay Vermonters to choose between a longtime ally and a member of their own community. As head of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, Jeffords has helped boost AIDS funds and wants to outlaw anti-gay job bias. He was one of two Republicans among the 25 senators whose 1997-98 records rated perfect scores from the gay Human Rights Campaign. Yet, the undeniable truth is that Jeffords’ party affiliation means that a vote for him is a vote to keep anti-gay Majority Leader Trent Lott in power.
The rising political fortunes of dogged gay candidates are bringing higher and higher offices into sight. Never underestimate a pack of public-spirited bulldogs.