At this time of year, many New Jerseyans are thinking more about shore visits than politics. However, this year is a bit different. We are witnessing a very tough, competitive U.S. Senate campaign between Republican Bob Hugin and Democratic incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez.
This is an intriguing race to watch because it's not often that good people give up a successful career in business to run for public office, especially when our politics are so partisan and divisive. But that's exactly what's happening in New Jersey with Bob Hugin.
Now, our state's LGBTQ community is caught up in the furor of campaign politics.
A few months ago, my wife and I had the pleasure of meeting Bob Hugin and speaking with him about why he's running to be New Jersey's next senator. What struck me is how unlike other national Republicans he is and also, how similarly we approach politics. I've approached people from all walks of life, including Democrats and Republicans, to find common ground on the issues that unite us. I always remind people of the Ronald Reagan rule: my 80 percent friend isn't my 20 percent enemy.
As a transgender woman in American politics, this rule has served me well. I've spent the last few years working to advance liberty, freedom, and equality for transgender Americans and to help gain support and understanding for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people – here in New Jersey and across America. I've had success as well because, for me, these issues aren't about party or politics, they're about people.
I have found that Bob Hugin believes these same things, but recently, his political opponents have attacked him as being anti-LGBTQ based on an unfortunate comment he made over 40 years ago. These attacks on Mr. Hugin concern me because they are untrue. I know they are untrue because I have spoken with him about my LGBTQ community.
When my wife and I met Mr. Hugin this past March, I asked him about his commitment to protecting the liberty, freedom, and equality of LGBTQ Americans, and he said that he is for marriage equality and is for non-discrimination protections in employment, housing, and medical care.
Further, I asked Mr. Hugin: "Do you believe transgender Americans should be allowed to serve in our U.S. military?" He responded unequivocally: "Yes. Anyone who is fit to serve should serve and that includes transgender people, and I would have no trouble saying that publicly."
Inclusion, diversity, and service to country are all things that Mr. Hugin learned to respect while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.
By taking this position as a senatorial candidate, Bob Hugin stands with Republican Sens. John McCain, Orrin Hatch, Joni Ernst, Richard Shelby, and N.J. Democratic Sen. Cory Booker. All these senators spoke out forcefully against the Trump administration's proposed ban on transgender military service. Mr. Hugin will add his voice and his vote to protect our transgender service members serving around the world and in harm's way.
New Jersey needs a new senator who will work independently to make Washington work better for us and not the other way around. As a fellow Republican who happens to be transgender, I believe that Mr. Hugin really is the "different kind of Republican" that he says he is and that he will be able to work with those in his own party, as well as Senate Democrats to help make our federal government deliver more for New Jersey. Mr. Hugin has expressed that he will work across the aisle to ban gay or transgender panic defenses in federal courts – a legal defense that was used by the murderers of Matthew Shepard. Coming from a first-time candidate, these are all courageous positions that speak to Mr. Hugin's character and commitment to being an independent voice that promotes inclusion and diversity.
On the night of his primary win, Mr. Hugin said: "You don't ask someone if they are a Democrat or a Republican, or if they agree with you on every issue … you work together as a team and you find common ground to achieve a shared goal."
That is what our state deserves. Shared goals, independent thought, and fearless leadership. We need all of them now more than ever.