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Opinion: Gay Iraq War vet vies for Ellen Tauscher’s congressional seat

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The incumbent, Democrat Ellen Tauscher, has yet to resign from California’s 10th congressional seat.

Nominated by President Obama to be undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, Tauscher is expected to leave Congress as soon as the Senate confirms her.

Meanwhile, so many political wannabes are eying the seat that it makes you wonder if every politician just wants to leave for Washington before California’s financial crisis dooms the state to a backwater economy.

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, a Democrat from Concord, has strong labor support and backing from Tauscher and Democrat George Miller in the reliably Democratic district. At first, he was considered the favorite, although Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, working on support from Emily’s List, claimed to have a narrow lead.

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Then California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi decided not to run for governor but to seek Tauscher’s congressional seat instead, presaging a fight among big names.

Amid the heavyweights, a new entry into the race is now stirring notice.

Anthony Woods, a West Point graduate who was awarded the Bronze Star for his leadership in Iraq in 2003, is a gay African American who left the military rather than continue lying about his sexual orientation under the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The decision cost him a court martial and a $35,000 price tag to repay the Army for his education.

‘It’s a small price to pay for being honest,’ he said.

Ironically, Tauscher has been one of the leaders trying to overturn the Clinton-era policy that allowed gays to serve in the military as long as they stayed in the closet about their sexual orientation.

“I actually haven’t had a chance to meet her,” Woods told the Hill, “but when I do, I owe her a big thank-you for her stance ... and her leadership, specifically on the issue of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ ”

Hoping to teach economics at West Point, Woods reflected during his time at the Kennedy School that he was ‘not about to go back to an environment where I have to lie to my commanders, to my soldiers and my friends about who I am and what I’m doing.’ Now, he’s decided to run for Congress.

Born at Travis Air Force Base, Woods is an only child whose mother’s ‘lively’ political opinion informed his childhood. One early political memory: sticking a Mike Dukakis for President poster in his bedroom as an 8-year-old.

“I had to experience what it’s like to have my dreams and my career ripped away from me because of my orientation,” he said. “I have suffered as a result of bad policy situations, and I know firsthand what it’s like to have something that’s important to you taken away, and I’m going to fight vigorously for my district as well as the various communities that I am a part of.”

-- Johanna Neuman

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