Gill Action, the LGBT political group whose stealth work to defeat antigay lawmakers has helped to transform state politics in recent years, has hired Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham to lead its organization into the November elections.
Fordham’s start date at Gill Action is slated for April 16. A former Republican congressional staffer, the 44-year-old Coral Gables, Fla. resident served as campaign finance director for former Florida senator Mel Martinez in 2004. Before that, he was Rep. Mark Foley’s chief of staff for 10 years prior to the congressional page scandal that resulted in the GOP congressman’s 2006 resignation. Fordham has headed the Everglades Foundation for more than four years.
Since its launch in 2005, Gill Action, the independent political arm of software mogul and Obama campaign supporter Tim Gill’s namesake foundation, has raised more than $14 million through its LGBT donor network to support pro-gay candidates and shake up political races featuring antigay lawmakers.
Some elected officials with anti-LGBT stances have been blindsided by the group’s involvement, only noticing post-election the trickle of sizeable, out-of-state donations on their opponents’ campaign finance reports (in 2007, the Atlantic monthly wrote on Gill Action’s modus operandi, available here).
Fordham’s partner, Mike Cevarr, is a research analyst for Fannie Mae. The couple will relocate from Florida to Denver, where Gill is based.
Fordham told The Advocate that his decision to leave the Miami-based Everglades Foundation for the world of LGBT political advocacy stemmed in part from his new young family: Fordham and Cevarr have two sons, Lukas (13 months old ) and Levi (seven months old). “It’s motivated me to get much more engaged, to work on the state and local levels so that we can make the quality of life much better for LGBT families,” he said.
Though Fordham said the group is weighing what role it may play in upcoming marriage equality ballot fights in states such as North Carolina, Maine, and Minnesota — and quite possibly Washington and Maryland, two states that have recently passed marriage legislation vulnerable to referendum — he is also focused on a more comprehensive approach to equality in legislatures nationwide.
“It’s incumbent upon groups like ours to look at employment nondiscrimination laws, antibullying laws — especially in less progressive states where we have LGBT families residing without any protections in the workplace and in schools,” Fordham said.
In a Thursday statement, Gill Foundation founder Tim Gill said of Fordham, “Kirk has a great mix of political experience and personal character to impressively lead the work of Gill Action in the years ahead. He is a seasoned political operative, successfully works with both Republicans and Democrats, and is deeply committed to winning full equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families ‑ including his own. We welcome his leadership and vision.”
Last month, Gill and his husband, Scott Miller, were among the co-hosts at an LGBT fundraiser in Washington, D.C. for President Obama’s 2012 campaign, one that netted more than $1.4 million for the reelection effort.
Fordham’s appointment as executive director drew praise Thursday from Democratic National Committee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.
“As we continue our march forward to protect the right of every LGBT person to enjoy every opportunity this nation has to offer, I look forward to working with Kirk to build on the progress that has been made by groups like Gill Action,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.
Such a working relationship between the DNC and groups like Gill Action could be critical in upcoming months, with LGBT advocates increasingly pushing the DNC to come out strongly against anti-marriage amendments — as well as affirm the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in its upcoming Democratic platform.
Gill Action Names Kirk Fordham New Executive Director
Former Congressional Chief of Staff and Everglades Foundation CEO
Will Lead State, National Political Initiatives
DENVER, March 1, 2012—Gill Action today announced that Kirk Fordham, a veteran political strategist and senior Congressional advisor, would lead the organization as its new Executive Director.
Founded by philanthropist and entrepreneur, Tim Gill, the political operation has established a reputation for its highly focused, strategic and bipartisan efforts to advance policies ensuring that all Americans can work, attend school, marry, and raise a family, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression.
“Kirk has a great mix of political experience and personal character to impressively lead the work of Gill Action in the years ahead,” said Tim Gill. “He is a seasoned political operative, successfully works with both Republicans and Democrats, and is deeply committed to winning full equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) families–including his own. We welcome his leadership and vision.”
“Gill Action has proven itself one of the nation’s most nimble and impactful organizations advancing equal opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and families,” said Fordham. “I can think of no more exciting opportunity than to partner with some of the best advocacy groups and most passionate individuals across the country to enhance the quality of life for those living deep in the heartland of America.”
For over four years, Fordham has served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Miami-based Everglades Foundation, the leading conservation group providing science, advocacy, communications and legal support for the world’s largest ecosystem restoration initiative.
Previously, Fordham served for 14 years as a chief of staff and senior legislative advisor on Capitol Hill for three members of Congress. In 2004, Fordham was the architect of the successful fundraising effort for a winning U.S. Senate campaign in Florida. In Washington, he later managed a wide range of corporate public affairs campaigns at the DCI Group and his own firm, Rock Creek Strategies.
Since his earliest days on Capitol Hill, Fordham has been a determined advocate for the LGBT community. Working with fair-minded lawmakers, the business community and other allied organizations, he helped build bi-partisan support for the successful 2007 votes in the House of Representatives to pass both the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Fordham played a leading role in organizing the internal effort to secure 63 House Republican votes against then-Rep. Joel Hefley’s (R-CO) attempt to overturn the Clinton Administration’s new policy protecting gay and lesbian federal employees from workplace discrimination.
In 1999, Fordham worked with LGBT groups to rally 35 Republican members of theHouse of Representatives to join a strong majority of Democrats in defeating, for the first time, an anti-gay adoption measure regularly approved in prior Congresses.
Fordham was recognized in 1995 by National Journal as one of the “Rising Stars on Capitol Hill” and later by Campaigns and Elections magazine as one of “Capitol Hill’s Best Chiefs of Staff.”
He has served as a member of the Victory Fund Campaign Board and currently serves on the board of Florida Together, a statewide federation of LGBT advocacy, social and community groups. Fordham played an early role in raising funds to support the Florida Red & Blue campaign to defeat Florida’s “Marriage Protection Amendment.”
While leading the Everglades Foundation, Fordham grew annual revenues from $3.9 to nearly $6.5 million in the midst of the state’s deep economic recession.
Working with Foundation-funded conservation partners, he cultivated solid bi-partisan support for the Everglades in Washington and Tallahassee paving the way for over $1.4 billion in state and federal appropriations to fund seven large-scale restoration projects, now under construction. During challenging economic times, he also led a coalition of conservation and business groups to support the state’s successful purchase of over 26,000 acres of land from U.S. Sugar Corporation for Everglades water quality treatment marshes.
Fordham lives in Coral Gables, Florida, with his partner, Mike Cevarr, and their two sons, Lukas and Levi. The family will relocate to Denver, Colorado.
Few names inspire as much loathing among Colorado Republicans as Tim Gill, the gay entrepreneur who used his considerable wealth to help elect Democrats to office.
But Gill has hired yet another Republican — this one with a national profile — to oversee his gay-advocacy group, the Gill Action Fund.
Kirk Fordham, who starts work for Gill in April, is a registered Republican whose first political job was working for then-U.S. Rep. Jim Imhofe, a conservative Oklahoman.
Fordham spent most of his political career on Capitol Hill, where he said he was part of a “gay Republican SWAT team” that worked with moderate Republicans to push back on anti-gay legislative efforts. When former U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley of Colorado Springs sought to overturn a Clinton administration directive to protect federal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, the team helped defeat the bid.
The Gill Action Fund attempts to advance the equality of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals by working through the political process.
Fordham, 44, is gay.
“I think the Tim Gill philosophy is if you engage with Republicans and have a conversation about what issues are important to gay and lesbian families, you can actually change minds and shift votes,” Fordham said.
“I think that is certainly what he is trying to do in the Colorado legislature with civil unions.”
Gill started the Action Fund in 2005, one year after teaming up with three other wealthy Colorado Democrats to do what had been considered impossible: win control of the state legislature.
Since then, the group has been instrumental in helping finance candidates nationwide, both Republican and Democrat, who support gay issues.
Gill was a behind-the-scenes player when the New York legislature last year voted to allow gay marriage.
“There’s no reason why Tim Gill should have to invest money to take out Republicans if the leaders would move along as quickly as their rank-and-file,” Fordham said.
“There’s a misperception out there that you have to somehow pander to a small and shrinking anti-gay faction of the party to win Republican primaries. It’s fairly apparent that over the long term, that’s a losing strategy for Republicans.”
Michael Carr of the gay organization Log Cabin Republicans expressed the same sentiment last month when he testified at the Colorado statehouse in favor of the current civil-unions bill. He told a state Senate committee he fears young Republicans with gay friends and family members will hold a “grudge” against the party if it continues its “hateful, bigoted” behavior.
The bill is expected to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate but face a much tougher time in the House, which Republicans won back by one seat in 2010.
Supporters say if they could get it to the full floor, it stands a chance. A similar measure last year died in a GOP-controlled House committee.
“Most Republicans you talk to these days behind closed doors will say they just wish this issue would resolve itself,” Fordham said. “Public opinion is shifting at breakneck speed as most people come to the realization that it makes sense to allow their gay neighbors and family and friends to enjoy the same rights as every other American.”
Attorney Mario Nicolais, a Jefferson County Republican who supports civil unions, said he hears those kinds of comments quite a bit. He is one of the founders of Coloradans for Freedom, a group of Republicans who back civil unions.
“If you are talking about limited government and equal rights, you are talking about conservative principles,” Nicolais said.
Gill said Fordham “has a great mix of political experience and personal character.”
“He is a seasoned political operative, successfully works with both Republicans and Democrats, and is deeply committed to winning full equality for all LGBT families — including his own.”
While in Washington, Fordham also served as chief of staff to the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and in 2004, he was finance director of then-Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez’s winning Senate campaign.
It was in Washington that Fordham met Rick Palacio, a congressional staffer who now is chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party.
“I can say with confidence that Kirk is one of the most decent, honorable people one could work with and a sharp political operative to boot,” Palacio said. “Kirk knows what Coloradans have always known — that lasting progress comes as a result of a collaborative process and a desire for a common good. Tim Gill is fortunate to have him as part of his team.”
Fordham said he has an unusual connection to Colorado.
“My parents were avid listeners of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family radio show,” he said. “For three years after I came out to them, they sent me books and tapes encouraging me to try to change my sexual orientation.”
These days, Fordham said, his parents adore his partner of 23 years, Mike Cevarr, and the children they recently adopted, 13-month-old Lukas and 7-month-old Levi.
Fordham currently serves as chief executive of the Everglades Foundation, a Florida-based group that advocates for the restoration and preservation of the Everglades.
At the Action Fund, he will succeed Patrick Guerriero.