Eastern Connecticut sees wave of gay Republican candidates for state House
In eastern Connecticut, four state House of Representative candidates have added three letters to the LGBTQ acronym: GOP.
John Scott, Ken Richards, Shaun Mastroianni and A.J. Kerouac are among the six gay candidates statewide who are running as Republicans for the state legislature.
Democrats make up 78.4 percent of LGBTQ elected officials nationwide compared to 2.9 percent for Republicans, according to a recent report from the Victory Institute, a political action committee that seeks to increase the number of LGBTQ elected officials. From November 2017 to this June, the number LGBTQ elected officials rose by 24.8 percent overall while falling by 15.7 percent among Republicans.
So, what makes Connecticut different?
“Social issues, like same-sex marriage, are water under the bridge,” Scott said. He noted that when he represented the 40th District in 2015 and 2016 — he is hoping to take the seat back from Rep. Christine Conley — there was no interest “in making any changes with the social issues, like same-sex marriage.”
Scott and Kerouac spoke to The Day last week in Scott’s Mystic home, while Richards and Mastroianni each talked over the phone. After the Hartford Courant ran a story earlier this month about the Republican “rainbow wave” in the state, the candidates have been getting some national attention.
Scott and Kerouac also talked to NBC News, while the conservative website The Daily Caller and the online news magazine LGBTQ Nation each rehashed the Courant’s article.
Connecticut in 2005 became the first state to adopt civil unions without going through the courts, and in 2008 it became the second state to legalize gay marriage.
Scott got married at the end of 2015, and he said the first thing House Minority Leader Themis Klarides did at the start of the session was to congratulate him and his new husband. He got a standing ovation.
“Now that we have same-sex marriage, I think the LGBT rights are pretty well-protected,” he said of Connecticut.
Both he and Kerouac were pleased to see legislation banning conversion therapy pass in the legislature last year, though they were disappointed the bill didn’t define conversion therapy and had what Kerouac called “obvious loopholes.”
Kerouac is running against incumbent Democrat Pat Boyd for the 50th District seat, which stretches from Brooklyn to Woodstock to Union in the “Quiet Corner.”
He recalled a person in a coffee shop asking if he was “a self-loathing homosexual.” Richards feels he gets more flak in Connecticut for being Republican than being gay. Mastroianni gets told he’s part of a party that doesn’t support him.
Richards is running for Joe de la Cruz’ 41st District seat, covering parts of Groton and New London, while Mastroianni is running for the open 43rd District seat in Stonington and North Stonington.
Some people tell Richards that President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will take his rights away, but Richards is doubtful.
He is “absolutely” certain that if rights were taken away on the federal level, the state legislature would act to protect them in Connecticut. Richards feels that Connecticut has bipartisanly been socially progressive.
“The fact that we’re running really takes away a huge talking point for the Democrats,” Scott said, noting that Democrats “love to throw at the Republicans that we’re anti-gay, anti-women.”
In Connecticut, women hold a slightly higher share of the House Republican Caucus than the House Democrat Caucus.
A desire to focus on fiscal issues
“We should be what we feel is right for us,” Scott said, “and for us, it’s to be a socially liberal, fiscally conservative Republican.”
Similarly, Richards said he feels the Republican Party is more closely aligned with his feelings on financial obligations. He said he always has been more concerned about fiscal than social issues because he believes the social issues in Connecticut have been well-addressed.
“I don’t like asking for handouts,” Richards said, noting he worked two or three jobs to make sure he and his husband had enough money to buy a home.
Kerouac talks about learning the value of hard work, having held down a job from age 14 on, while Scott’s work as an insurance agent shapes his views of what businesses need to be successful.
“Businesses large and small need to see stability in the state budget, and every year it’s a roll of the dice,” Scott said. His message is that people are tired of paying taxes and don’t want tolls on the highway.
Mastroianni is not sure why Connecticut is seeing a surge of gay Republican candidates that isn’t seen elsewhere, but he thinks it might be that times are changing and being gay is more acceptable.
“I honestly think that sexuality has nothing to do with running for politics,” he said. “It’s really about like your ethics, your beliefs, and wanting to do something good for our state or for our government.”