Gay candidate takes on tea-partier for congressional seat

By Crystal A. Proxmire

The traditionally Republican, west Michigan 3rd Congressional District may become the state's first to be represented by an openly gay congressman. Democrat Trevor Thomas, 28, is running for the seat vacated in 2010 by longtime Republican Vern Ehlers, and now held by Tea Party-supported, 31 year-old Congressman Justin Amash.

Thomas has been working with consultant Mark Mellman to launch an aggressive grassroots campaign against Amash for the congressional seat.

"It's no secret Michigan has been hardest hit by our struggling economy and our lawmakers in Washington continue to play politics with our future. That's wrong," Thomas said in the Feb. 13 blog announcing his decision to run. "People my age are fed up and leaving. Michigan was the only state in the nation to lose population in the last Census, and too many who are leaving are under the age of 30. But things won't get better unless we make them better.

"Like many young people, I left Michigan for a while. I went to DC to work on repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, but I came back," he said. "Leaders need to give a reason for young people to come back or to stay."

It is unclear how being an openly gay man will affect Thomas's chances, though Advocate Magazine just listed Grand Rapids as one of the gayest cities in America, and redistricting has made the 3rd Congressional District slightly more Democratic than when Amash ran the first time. "I'm not worried about that," Thomas said. "This campaign is about fighting for the middle class."

Thomas was raised in a working class family, with parents who worked on General Motors assembly lines. He was the first in his family to go to college, attending Grand Valley State University. He worked at WOOD-TV and WGVU, as a reporter and a producer, before becoming part of Gov. Jennifer Granholm's communications team. He was also an active voice in the campaign to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

In his activism with Gov. Granholm and as director of external affairs at Media Matters for America, he has seen how people from all over the country are affected by what representatives do in Washington.

His Libertarian-leaning opponent, Amash, is removed from the plight of the average American, according to Thomas. His father is a wealthy Palestinian tool importer, who sent him to Kelloggsville Christian School and Grand Rapids Christian High School. He also attended The University of Michigan and got his law degree at the U-M Law School, working as a corporate lawyer for a year before entering politics.

In the past year, Amash has championed Tea Party causes and co-sponsored legislation such as: H.R. 2 - Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act; H.R. 3 - No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act; H.R. 217 - Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act; H.R. 358 - Protect Life Act; H.J. Res. 81 - Proposing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution of the United States; and H.R. 2514 - A PLUS Act; which would change education funding. The Congressman's website touts a pop-up appeal to end contraceptive coverage in healthcare plans as the main feature of the page.

He's also managed to get into a Facebook war with the National Rife Association in 2010, over a bill that would allow those with concealed weapons permits to retain their rights when crossing state lines.

While Amash is busy trying to end abortion, access to contraception, uniformity of American freedoms, and funding for education, some in the 3rd Congressional District are wondering, why. In Ionia, a large portion of Kent County, residents are facing issues that directly hit home, most notably the economy. That is why Democrat Trevor Thomas is stepping up to run.

"This is an opportunity for us to be able to fight for families, middle class and working class families that are under attack by the conservative right and we feel that's not right," Thomas said.

"My parents taught me the values of hard work, family, and playing by the rules," he said.

For Thomas, hard work and determination are traits he shares with many middle and working class families. He credits his work at Wood-TV 8 with giving him experience "meeting the people and covering the issues that represent what West Michigan is all about."

The early stages of the campaign are crucial for Thomas. "If there were ever a time to be involved, it's now. In the beginning its a critical time because we need to show momentum. Donate, volunteer, gather friends for a house party, tweet about us and share our page on Facebook."

Both campaigns seem to be focused heavily on social media. Each candidate has an active Facebook and Twitter account, where they will be working to spread the word about their campaigns. Thomas is hopeful that an online presence will help him win the seat.

"Facebook and Twitter come standard in our generation," he said. "I encourage people to leave comments on our website and our blog because I read them and I look at what is posted on them. I just did a live chat on Daily Kos, and we had a couple of other posts up. That is a real opportunity for folks to know who is representing them."

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