by Gil Duran
Examiner Opinion Editor
In the conservative war against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, few have worked harder than Frank Schubert to harm the LGBT community. That’s why his latest political effort — to help elect California’s first openly gay attorney general — may come as a surprise to people familiar with his history.
In 2008, Schubert engineered the passage of Proposition 8, the ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in California. He went on to lead a nationwide crusade, spearheading efforts to ban marriage equality in other states. “In the roiling state-by-state war over same-sex marriage, the campaign against marriage rights has been masterminded largely by one man,” wrote the New York Times in a 2012 profile.
In 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court killed Prop. 8 and also ruled the anti-LGBT Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, Schubert’s anti-marriage crusade hit a dead end. Undeterred, he launched a new campaign, this one against trans kids. Schubert pounced after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill to allow trans students to use restrooms and try out for sports teams that matched their gender identity. Working with the National Organization for Marriage, he helped create a nationwide movement to support “bathroom bills” banning trans kids from restrooms. The Daily Beast called him “The Man Behind NOM’s New War on Transgender Students.”
“This is someone who has dedicated his entire adult life to denying LGBTQ+ people not only our civil rights but, as the Supreme Court put it in 2015, our equal dignity,” said Samuel Garrett-Pate, a spokesman for Equality California, the largest statewide LGBTQ+ organization in the nation.
Why is a notorious opponent of gay rights now working to elect a lesbian attorney general? It’s not because he’s had a change of heart and wants to atone for past sins. It’s because the AG candidate in question, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, is his sister.
While Frank was making a name for himself as the nation’s chief tormentor of LGBT people, Anne Marie was busy climbing the Sacramento political ladder as an out lesbian with a domestic partner and children. It seems like an especially twisted case of sibling rivalry. Yet Frank has never publicly criticized his gay sister’s family, and Anne Marie usually sidesteps the awkward situation with her anti-gay crusader brother.
In 2022, however, they’ll be fighting on the same side.
Frank is currently advising something called “Public Safety Leaders & Victims, An Independent Committee Supporting Anne Marie Schubert for Attorney General 2022.” I came across the committee last month while writing about efforts to politicize the recent murder of a 61-year-old Sacramento woman named Kate Tibbitts. My column focused on digital ads that falsely blamed criminal justice reforms and Attorney General Rob Bonta for Tibbitts’ murder. I was surprised to find Frank Schubert listed as an advisor and donor to the committee, which had placed the misleading ads.
His involvement seems like an odd move. Anne Marie, a former Republican running for attorney general as an independent, already faces an uphill battle in her campaign to unseat an incumbent Democrat. Her status as an LGBT candidate could broaden her appeal to voters, but her brother’s involvement in the race will enable her opponents to smear her with his toxic politics.
“Schubert in California is a total pariah,” said Fred Karger, a gay rights activist and former Republican who is one of his fiercest critics. “He’s been run out of California, so I’m not sure what this is all about.”
State law requires independent committees to operate separately from official campaigns and avoid coordination. But does anyone honestly believe that this sister-brother political duo can avoid being in cahoots during the most important race of her career?
Documents filed with the California Secretary of State’s office show that the committee has two donors so far. The first donation, a measly $100, came from Chapel Hill Ranch & Farm LLC, which Frank Schubert owns. Pacific Coast Companies Inc., based in Rancho Cordova, donated $25,000. The company’s former president and CEO, David John Lucchetti, is a major supporter of DA Schubert and other conservatives.
“Lucchetti has been the single biggest donor to Sacramento County’s conservative district attorney and sheriff and, this election, is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep Donald Trump in the White House, reassert Republican control of the House of Representatives and defeat a California initiative to raise corporate property taxes,” the Sacramento News & Review reported last year.
These donations signal that Frank Schubert’s independent expenditure committee, which also lists criminal justice reform opponent Nina Salarno Besselman and consulting firm McNally Temple Associates as key personnel, is the one sanctioned by the candidate. Independent committees play an important role because they can raise unlimited money and use unsavory tactics most candidates prefer to avoid. But in a heavily Democratic state like California, does a committee supported by an anti-LGBT bogeyman and a wealthy Trump supporter help Anne Marie’s “independent” campaign?
“Frank Schubert as an endorser is certainly harmful to any candidate,” said Garrett-Pate, stressing that Equality California has not yet endorsed in the 2022 race.
In an interview, Schubert dismissed the idea that his anti-gay activism could become a headache for his sister’s campaign.
“I don’t think it will have any impact,” he said. “If you’d listened to news articles, this was going to be a big problem for her running for district attorney, and yet it had no impact whatsoever on people supporting her independently.”
Schubert said he talked to his sister before forming the committee and said he believes she appreciates the help.
“She didn’t say so directly, but I’m certain that she is,” he said when asked if his is sister supportive of his involvement in the campaign. “Just as Rob Bonta, I’m sure, is appreciative of the efforts being mounted on his behalf.”
Asked if he had any regrets about his work against marriage equality and trans rights, Schubert answered bluntly: “Not at all.”
With Gov. Gavin Newsom likely to cakewalk through re-election after crushing the recall, the AG race will take center stage in 2022. The office comes with broad legal authority, making it California’s second most powerful seat. Whoever wins the seat becomes a favorite for the governor’s office. An old political joke holds that “AG” actually stands for “aspiring governor” because so many California AGs have become governors.
Republican donors, shut out from the governor’s race, may see an opportunity to take out the relatively unknown Bonta. If so, GOP strategists will want to make the race into a referendum on crime, which is why DA Schubert’s credentials as a career prosecutor are so important. But if she survives the primary and challenges Bonta in the general election, his political team can frame the race around her infamous brother and the Trump-supporting funders behind his committee.
It seems like a bad break for Anne Marie, whose brother has a long political track record of damaging gay people.
Gil Duran is opinion editor of The San Francisco Examiner. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.