Social Moderate/Fiscal Conservative Tom Campbell May Be GOP Challenger to Barbara Boxer

05/12/2010 02:48 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

tom campbell hsTom Campbell does not look or act like the Republican politicians LGBT people are used to seeing on cable news. He's more Clark Kent with a sense of humor. But underneath that collegial demeanor is the steel spine of a strongly principled moderate/conservative Republican with a laser focus on federalism, less government and more individual freedom.

Less than a month away from the June 8 Republican primary, a May 11 Survey USA poll gives Campbell a strong 11-point lead over rich former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina in the three-way primary race to challenge U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in her November re-election bid. Fiorina was the odds-on favorite until her bizarre online "Demon-Sheep" ad (see below) attacking Campbell backfired. Tea Party favorite Assemblymember Chuck Devore seems more interested in undoing Fiorina than Campbell.

Interestingly to LGBTs, Campbell is leading among the usually anti-gay Republicans, despite his long-held views as a pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-marriage equality social moderate. That's because the different wings of the GOP are finding common ground in response to the bad economy, Campbell told me during a 45-minute interview before a recent Log Cabin Republican-sponsored gathering.

"I care about reserved federal power. I am a conservative on constitutional matters and I care about equality so I want my state to treat gay couples equally," said Campbell, a fiscal conservative. But unlike his primary race against far-right Bruce Hirshenson in 1992, which was perceived as a battle for the soul of the Republican Party, "the economy has been so dominant, so much of a center issue, that this primary represents who has the best chance to reign in the excessive amount of spending at the federal level" - and that is uniting Republicans.

Campbell said he doesn't have "a negative view" of the Tea Party movement, which to some LGBTs looks energized by hate.

"The emphasis of the Tea Party has been economic. I have not been challenged for my social views at any Tea Party gathering. And I don't hide my social views....The focus on the economy is so dominant that [being pro-life and anti-gay as a requirement for consideration as a candidate] is no longer the case. Somebody who defines themselves as a social conservative will nonetheless tolerate a candidate who is not socially to the right."

This is of concern to progressive Democrats such as openly gay State Sen. Mark Leno, with whom I discussed the race at the recent California Democratic Convention.

Mark Leno"My guess is that Fiorina will surpass Campbell--which, I think from our perspective in support of Barbara--that's a good thing. Because I think she's very vulnerable. And you want to talk about being a corporate leader--Fiorina's anti-choice and she doesn't have a policy bone in her body. She is whatever she thinks can get her this office. So she's positioned herself somewhere between Campbell and Chuck Devore. And I think a real moderate like Tom would be more difficult [to defeat] because the anti-incumbency fever is real."

Campbell with political consultant and LCR member Scott Schmidt[/caption]

Campbell is no stranger to the LGBT community. He has been a friend to Log Cabin Republicans since 1988 when he started his five-term career in Congress representing the Silicon Valley. Additionally, he remains friends with formerly closeted gay Republican congressmembers Jim Kolbe and Steve Gunderson. His stand for equality was considered courageous at a time when fiercely anti-gay politicians such as California Congressmembers William Dannemeyer and Bob Dornan were more representative of the Republican Party. But Campbell, who has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago (his faculty advisor was Milton Friedman) and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard Law School in 1976, has remained firm, even when it cost him politically. In October 2008, he wrote an op-ed in Reason magazine, for instance, explaining why Republicans should vote against the anti-gay marriage Prop. 8 ballot initiative.

"The philosophy of limited government and more individual freedom is consistently applied by restricting the growth of government over business and over individual lives. And so, in the Republican Party, I find myself with a philosophy that doesn't have contradictions. Nevertheless, I know that it's not the philosophy of the majority of the Republican Party, but I defend it quite strongly. Who wants more government decision-making over how we create wealth, create opportunity, how much we get to keep, how the government intrudes in our decisions about healthcare, for example? We Republicans feel we should be empowering the individual. Now where did I miss the briefing paper that says we want the government to make distinctions based on orientation or take a woman's most intimate decisions away from her? And so, pro-choice and pro-gay rights is quite consistent with me, from the first time I was in Congress. I was a sponsor of the Human Rights Amendment, which, as you know, adds orientation to Title VII. We have it already in California."

Asked why he supports marriage equality, Campbell said,

"Freedom. Individuals should be allowed to do and be who they are. The government has no justification for interfering and treating people differently based on orientation. It is a matter of freedom."

Campbell also noted that the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is

"about the clearest example of [gay] second-class citizenship. You are able to die for your country, but not if you are honest about who you are. That seems terribly wrong. At one time in my life I had the great privilege to meet [the late Arizona Senator and leader of the conservative movement] Barry Goldwater. I loved his statement, 'You don't have to be straight to shoot straight.' And that's the core of libertarian Republicanism."

Asked about his view on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, he noted that he said,

"as a country we've reached that consensus that we should not permit discrimination based on gender and based on race. And it strikes me appropriate as well that we should not permit discrimination based on orientation. We Californians have already come to that conclusion and adopted it in our state."

He apologized for not knowing that the latest ENDA bill included protections based on gender identity and promised to look into it. But off the top of his head, he said,

tom campbell hs1"it may be similar to the question of whether Title VII protected orientation when it protected gender--and that issue was debated early on. It strikes me that if a male and a female who are identical in all other respects are treated differently, then it is a gender discrimination issue. And if the manner in which they are treated differently has to do with identity and gender, then why wouldn't it be covered already? So the only hesitation is--I want to read it. You shouldn't treat people differently, and if the only difference is that if a woman behaved in an effeminate manner, she would not be discriminated against, but if a man does, he will be, that seems to me a gender discrimination issue and it's already reached by law."

Campbell said he would be active in support of LGBT equality in the U.S. Senate, authoring and co-sponsoring legislation.

"I was very active as a congressman. My record in the House shows that. In a way, I would feel less if I didn't. My view is equality, liberty, freedom. I strongly believe it and so--sometimes if you pay a tiny price, sometimes not so tiny--it makes it all the more important to do it."

Campbell cracks up, thinking about the ad by the National Organization for Marriage comparing him to Boxer as "two peas in a pod," supporting marriage equality and higher taxes.

"Well, they're wrong on my being like Sen. Boxer on the taxes. But what does that say? They didn't think that charging me with supporting individuals' right to marry is somehow enough and so they needed to come after me [on taxes]. Isn't that interesting? They were wrong on the tax issues. But that's what I meant by a 'tiny price.' It's not been unnoticed by my political opponents."

Campbell laughs even harder at the infamous Omen-esque online "Demon Sheep" attack ad from rival Carly Fiorina. The long ad with Monty Python-style animation and Satanic organ music--so bizarre and bad, it quickly went viral--suggests that Campbell is a red-eyed devil wolf in sheep's clothing--a FCINO (Fiscal Conservative in Name Only).

"This is the only time in my political career where I re-promulgated an attack ad. I put it on my own website and then I sent out an email to my entire database," Campbell said, noting that the San Jose Mercury News took it seriously enough to issue a strong editorial calling the ad "misleading" and "unfair."

"It will probably be perceived as the greatest boomerang in recent history," said Campbell. "I think it cost Carly Fiorina a lot of credibility at a time when she was trying to build credibility, build gravitas."

tom campbell side shotAn issue that will certainly take center stage in the November election with Barbara Boxer is immigration reform. Campbell and Devore support the harsh new Arizona immigration law that empowers local police to stop someone if they have a "reasonable suspicion" that the person may be in the country illegally and demand to see documentary proof of citizenship. Fiorina supports the law but knocks the GOP tone of "racism."

On Wednesday, the City of Los Angeles is expected to join the cities of West Hollywood and Santa Ana in calling for a contractual boycott of the state, though LA is expected to make exceptions for the LAX airport and two key ports.

Campbell told the Sacramento Bee, "I support it ... I don't think it deserves the negative attention that it's received, if you take a look at it and actually read it."

Campbell told the Bee he agrees that cities and municipalities should comply with federal immigration law and noted that police are only allowed to ask about immigration status after making a legal stop.

"Nothing controversial should have been inferred....The stop has to be legal to begin with, and the Supreme Court has as long as 1968 upheld the right of a police officer to make a stop and inquire based on reasonable suspicion, not probable cause."

Campbell is "not sure" if California should pass a similar law "until I see how it works in Arizona."

The Obama administration is considering challenging the constitutionality of the law--does it encourage racial profiling? That should result in interesting questions for Campbell, who believes both in federalism and that, "you to must not do that which you believe to be unconstitutional if you have taken an oath to uphold and defend the constitution."

For more information on Tom Campbell's positions, visit

A version of this story first appeared in Frontiers In LA magazine. All photos by Karen Ocamb.