Politics

05.23.14

Did a Pennsylvania Republican Lose Because He’s Openly Gay?

Mike Fleck ran unopposed three times, but appears to have been beaten by a write-in candidate after coming out in 2012.

Pennsylvania may have become the 19th state to allow same-sex couples to marry Tuesday but did it also vote out a state legislator for being gay on the very same day?

Mike Fleck is a four-term Republican state representative in a mountainous rural district in central Pennsylvania who appears to have lost to a write-in candidate, county treasurer Richard Irvin, after winning his last three bids for re-election unopposed. One thing has changed since his last election: Fleck has come out as gay.

In the initial tally, Fleck had 3,398 votes, while a total of 3,700 votes were given to write-in candidates. In a statement on his Facebook page, Fleck noted that the race wasn’t over. “It’s safe to assume that my opponent received the bulk of the write-ins but a quick glance at the write-in tally’s posted on each of the polling precincts show that a handful at each precinct were either misspellings or for simply for a third candidate. So we will not have the official count until Friday.” Fleck also noted that it was possible that he could have the Democratic nomination as a write-in as well.

Fleck’s journey from a married evangelical with a degree from Liberty University to the only openly gay Republican state legislator in the country at the time he came out in 2012 received national attention. He was profiled in The New York Times and was named one of “12 State Legislators To Watch” by Governing Magazine. It also put a target on his back, and Fleck complained about what he described as a “vicious… deceitful and… personal” campaign. This included a false claim that the incumbent state representative supported “grown men dressed as women being able to use the restroom with little girls” as well as fliers being distributed at churches that showed Fleck allegedly ducking questions on issues like “sharia law.” But Fleck may not have lost because of his sexual orientation.

The state representative had long been targeted by conservative groups for his opposition to school vouchers and for being “a big-government Republican” backed by unions.

The final tally of write-in votes won’t be available until Friday and Fleck, whose staff was directing reporters to his Facebook statement, won’t concede at least until then. But it serves a jarring contrast that while Pennsylvania has become the 19th state with gay marriage—a judicial decision that incumbent Governor Tom Corbett announced he wouldn’t challenge on Wednesday—an incumbent state legislator might have still lost election at least in part because of his sexual orientation.