Moderate Democrat Attacked Over Marriage, Gender Identity Stands

Printed from:

Homosexuality and transgenderism were flashpoints in a debate Tuesday night between a liberal Democrat trying to unseat a moderate veteran state representative in northern Massachusetts.

State Representative Colleen Garry (D-Dracut) criticized challenger Sabrina Heiser, a member of the Dracut School Committee, for drawing the vast majority of her campaign funds from outside the district, which she charged comes from rich people trying to buy the seat to further their left-wing agenda.

Heiser has received during the past six months five contributions of $1,000 from individuals (the legal maximum) who live a half-hour drive or longer away from the district (two from Boston, two from Lexington, one from Cambridge). She has raised a total of about $21,500 during the past six months, according to the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Heiser said that she actually struggled to raise money when she tried on her own.

“But it turns out that many people from within the LGBTQ community in Massachusetts, who are aligned with Mass Equality, the Stonewall Dems, all knew who my opponent was. So when I announced, they donated on their own without me asking,” Heiser said, as recorded in a six-minute segment of the debate posted on YouTube.

Garry said that isn’t the whole story.

“And she didn’t tell you that five of her donors are multimillionaires who are investing in buying this seat, for the progressive agenda,” Garry said.

Garry says she has never had a $1,000 donor, that 55 percent of her donations come from the district, and that her largest individual donation for her current campaign came from her insurance agent.

“I have said from day one:  This district is the people of Dracut and Tynsborough’s district. I will not allow these multimillionaires, these progressive investors, to come in here and buy your seat. That’s what’s happening,” Garry said, to applause.

The two candidates are vying for the 36th Middlesex House District, which includes the towns of Dracut (population 31,000) and Tyngsborough (population 11,000).

The district is more conservative than much of the rest of the state. While Hillary Clinton crushed Donald Trump statewide in 2016 (60-33 percent), Trump carried Dracut, 52-41, a difference of almost 1,700 votes. He also narrowly carried the much smaller Tyngsborough, by 47.5-45.9, or 105 votes.

Garry, 56, has held the seat since 1995. She is seeking a 13th term.

By most standards, Garry is a moderate Democrat. She has a center-left voting record, and among her major campaign contributors are two prominent unions:  the American Federation of Teachers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

She has a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 28 out of 100, which is relatively low – but happens to be the highest among Democrats in the state House of Representatives. By default, that makes her look like a conservative Democrat, by modern Massachusetts standards.

And left-wing Democrats have noticed.

In June 2007, Garry voted to put a proposed constitutional amendment that would have outlawed same-sex marriage on the statewide ballot. The measure lost in the state legislators’ constitutional convention, 151-45, falling five votes shy of the 50 needed to put the question to the voters, who would have been asked whether to overturn the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s 4-3 decision in 2004 legalizing same-sex marriage.

More recently, in June 2016 Garry voted against adding gender identity to protected classes in the state’s anti-discrimination bill for public accommodations. Supporters say the measure protects basic rights of people whose gender identity doesn’t correspond to their biological sex. Opponents call the measure the Bathroom Bill, because it guarantees access of biological males who identify as women to women’s bathrooms and locker rooms.

Garry isn’t a down-the-line social conservative. This past June 27, for instance, she voted to ban so-called conversion therapy, a bill ultimately failed.

Heiser described Garry’s overall record on such matters as egregious, which she said explains why money is flowing into Heiser’s campaign.

“What happens is, people have gay and lesbian children, and have seen across the state is an effort to throw them under the bus. And so, when I ran they decided to invest in my campaign, without even having a conversation with me. That shows you the level of human decency that Representative Garry has not had for the LGBT community,” Heiser said, to audible groans in the audience,  “ever, in the 24 years, and that’s why people donated to me without ever talking to me. So I actually don’t know the millionaire people. But they know who you are.”

Garry said Heiser has misrepresented her positions.

“It has been an attack that has happened since day one, and it is mischaracterizing my votes. I represent the people of this district. When the gay marriage ballot question was being asked to be put on the ballot, I had a petition of over a thousand registered voters in my district who asked me to vote to put it on the ballot. I felt it was my position as a representative of this district to put it on the ballot,” Garry said.

Garry said she supported granting same-sex couples rights and benefits.

“I was working with a group, with Arline Isaacson and others in the gay community, with legislators, with stakeholders behind the scenes, to try to get a full, all-rights, all-benefits-of-marriage, but under the name of civil union or domestic partnership. We were working to do that, to make sure that the rights and benefits were allowed for same-sex couples. Before we dumped the resolution, the court case came down, and it was granted, and everything was a done deal,” Garry said. “But to say that I am this hatred person, who hates gay and lesbians, you know, it’s just not who I am. And the people of this district know who I am. It’s these outsiders, that you’ve been really good at working, instead of being at Dracut High graduation. You’ve been the one that’s been touting all of this, and this hatred, and it’s not true. You don’t know me. You don’t know my votes.”

On gender identity, Garry said she supports providing protection for transgender people, but can’t abide the Bathroom Bill.

“And I have talked to many people in the transgender community, and I’ve said:  Help me fill that loophole that’s in the law, that allows anyone to be in the wrong bathroom and just claim that they’re transgender. Help me fix that. And no one has come forward to fix it.”

Heiser said Garry’s explanations don’t hold up.

“Separate is not equal in marriage. There is no loophole in an anti-discrimination law.

You either believe in discrimination, or you do not,” Heiser said.

A video of the entire debate had not appeared online as of midday Wednesday.

A story in the Lowell Sun said the two candidates also clashed on guns (Garry gets a B+ rating from the National Rifle Association, Heiser gets an F); injection sites for opioid addicts (Garry is against them, Heiser sounded open to them); and school funding (Heiser wants more from the state, Garry said that’s not the problem with education).

The primary is Tuesday, September 4.