Freelance assignment: Moeller Time

THE JUST OUT: Oct 15th, 2010
Vancouver’s pioneering legislator faces an uphill battle

The Jackie Robinson of Washington State’s gay politicians is on the ropes. Jim Moeller, 55, has been in government since 1995, when he became the first openly gay elected official in Washington State history. Now seeking his fourth term as House Representative for Vancouver’s District 49, he faces his toughest election yet. His opponent, Republican Craig Riley, has been riding a national wave of popular discontent. Moeller says that for the first time, he’s got an opponent who’s challenging him on the issues and not on the fact that he’s gay.

In mid-October The Columbian, Clark County’s largest newspaper, endorsed Moeller’s opponent. It’s the first time in his career that Moeller didn’t win their endorsement. Moeller’s gone from being a pioneer to working in one of the country’s most gay-friendly legislatures. Considering that, and the “enthusiasm gap” among his constituents, one has to wonder if Moeller isn’t being taken for granted this election cycle.

In 1995, when Moeller won a seat in the Vancouver City Council, he was the state’s first gay elected official. In 2002, he went to Olympia as a state representative and became the first gay elected leader in the state house.

“Maybe it was a chiffon ceiling?” posesMoeller, playfully considering what it was like to break through the velvet ceiling.

Moeller remembers it wasn’t easy being gay in Vancouver. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, hanging out at bars like the North Bank Tavern, he and his friends were routinely harassed or attacked.

But Moeller believes an effort to defeat a 1992 Oregon ballot measure that would have excluded sexual minorities from state programs and funding helped educate Vancouver residents about gay rights.

“Because we’re all in the same media market, we got all that information,” says Moeller. “If it hadn’t been for that campaign I would never have gotten elected. I got a lot of hate mail when I was running. But it all stopped the moment I got elected.”

When he made it to Olympia in 2002, few batted an eye.

“People were more surprised that I was gay from Vancouver more than anything else,” says Moeller.

By 2008, Washington had the second largest gay caucus in the nation.

The Columbian has described Moeller as “tenacious” and “among the state’s hardest-working legislators,” who’s worked to protect services and programs for vulnerable citizens.

With jobs being the first issue on every campaign list, Moeller points to the fact that he helped get Referendum 51 to voters this November. The referendum promises to create some 36,000 new jobs through a $3 billion bond measure to upgrade and weatherize public schools.

Moeller has fought to increase revenue for state programs. This year, he reinstituted a program that recouped millions in vehicle registration fees from Vancouver residents who register their cars across the river in Oregon. He’s also backed a controversial $300 million temporary tax on soda, candy and bottled water that he says was necessary to help fill the state’s $12 billion biannual budget shortfall.

Given that, Moeller also believes the state is too dependent on sales tax revenue. He supports Bill Gates Sr.’s Initiative 1098, which would create the state’s first income tax for individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and would cut statewide property taxes by 20 percent.

However, his unapologetic, pro-tax stance has made him a target for conservatives and voters frustrated by the recession. His opponents have labeled him the “Taxman.” Even Moeller admits he’s more vulnerable than he’s ever been, but that people just assume he’ll always be there.

“In some ways I think I’m such a fixture,” says Moeller. “They think, ‘Oh, Jim, you’re going to win,’ so they don’t get involved in the campaign.”

Moeller states that you don’t have to be a Washington resident to help the campaign.

“People can volunteer, make phone calls, make donations,” he says. While Moeller does make public appearances encouraging gay citizens to become more involved in politics, he says it’s not limited to the LGBT community.

“Everyone should be more involved.”

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