Chuck Carpenter, Oregon, 1994


Chuck Carpenter was the first openly gay Republican elected to a State Legislature in the nation. He lost his third run for office in the primary election to a widely known, staunchly anti-gay, unsuccessful former congressional candidate by only 44 votes.

Chuck Carpenter (R)

Born January 31, 1962

State Representative, District 7

Portland, Oregon

50,000 constituents

Career Overview

Elected November 1994

Re-elected 1996



Interview with Chuck Carpenter for Out and Elected in the USA

Q: You made headlines when you pulled a parliamentary maneuver to call a bill out of committee and bring it up for an immediate floor vote. It essentially shut down the business of the House for three days. How did that come about?

A: It was the 1997 legislature and we were trying to pass a non-discrimination in employment bill. The House was 31-29, with the Republicans controlling it by just one seat, so I was a swing vote. Through January and February we had negotiated with the leadership to allow the bill for the statewide ENDA to at least have a hearing in the Commerce Committee. Well, we got into February, the bill came out and was assigned to a committee by the Speaker who was supposedly supporting the legislation, but he sent it to Judiciary, which was a hostile committee. We told the speaker that this would have to be resolved by April 15th. We went through February and March, getting into April, and he just dragged his feet. So, with Jim Hill, another Republican, the two of us along with the Democratic Caucus, decided the best thing to do at that point was just to be bold.

It was April 15th and I made a motion on the House floor to withdraw the bill from its committee, and at that point everything came to a screeching halt. A lot of the Republicans, as I recall, fled the building because they were afraid they would actually have to face the issue. The Democrats just held with me and Jim, and I negotiated with the Speaker, and after about two or three days of this the Speaker finally agreed the bill would be re-drafted and assigned to the Commerce Committee, and that we would have a public hearing, and within a week, a vote. We had the public hearing and a work session one evening and we passed it out of committee with only one “no.” That was the frustration of the thing – we knew we had the votes – and it was just people playing games with us; lying and being deceitful. Then we passed it on the House floor a couple of days later 40-20. A very large margin – we were surprised with the bipartisan support.

Then it went over to the Senate where we did not have the leverage that we had in the House, and that was it. It was one vote short in the Republican caucus and it never went forward. It’s just the way politics tends to be. That’s the way it goes. But we were exhilarated. I was exhilarated that we could make a difference, that we raised these issues very successfully in the House and that we passed it. I felt great about that – and I was terribly disappointed that we weren’t able to pass it in the Senate.

Q: Are there any other moments you think back on as being particular high points?

A: I think the other high point for me was when I was Chair of the Human Resources Committee and we were at the end of the session. With very little notice the leadership wanted me to cut 13 million dollars out of the budget. We had spent a long time on this budget, and then, they wanted us to whack out 13 million dollars in a fifteen-minute hearing. So when the leadership notified me that they wanted me to have this hearing in the morning, I asked for permission to have it later in the afternoon, which they granted. I basically told he activists and the lobbyists that were involved with health care issues and human resources issues, to, you know, load the program up with as many people as possible. We started at 5:00 that afternoon and we had two overflow hearing rooms in addition to the committee hearing room.

I opened the hearing by asking the people who were advocating for the cuts to come forward and to explain where those cuts could be made. Well, of course no one came forward. I asked the clerk to call the leadership office and nobody would come down. They wouldn’t come down! I was just supposed to make the cuts. So I said, “Well, we’re just going to give everybody a chance to say what they think.” We spent like three hours having these people parade through, and still no one would come down and advocate why these cuts had to be made. Finally the other Republicans on the committee must have gotten tired and disgusted and they brought the committee co-chairs down to try to get it through. The way the voting is set up, the Chairman votes last. Everybody voted and it was a tie vote, so I was the deciding vote. I denied ‘em the cuts. It was a great feeling to be honest with you, because we stuck it back in the leadership’s face. But really at another level it was a wonderful feeling too, because when those three rooms of people came in they thought the leadership was going to get their cuts regardless of what they said. It showed them that they can make a difference and I felt really, really good about that.