Meet The Openly Gay Alabama Environmentalist Running To Replace Jeff Sessions

In a state whose politics is ruled by evangelical conservatives can Michael Hansen win their votes?
Is Michael Hansen the breath of fresh air Alabama and America needs?
Is Michael Hansen the breath of fresh air Alabama and America needs?

Openly gay, executive director of an anti-air pollution health advocacy group, and a Democrat. Any of those descriptions would make it difficult to win a U.S. Senate special election in Alabama. Combine them all, you have Michael Hansen, and he intends to do just that.

In a field of 19 seeking the seat, Hansen is one of eight Democrats running for that party’s nomination. When asked how he, in a GOP controlled state, would stand out in such a large group Hansen said that his experience in working with government bodies on drafting different pieces of legislations and ordinances gave him an inside look at how to get things done.

He also pointed to the lack of trustworthy leadership within the state recently “We’ve had our share of corrupt politicians here, especially lately.” Referring to the recent scandal and resignation of Gov. Robert Bentley, and corruption conviction of Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard who has sentenced to prison. It also includes Chief Justice Roy Moore’s suspension for ordering State Judges to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. “I think people are sick and tired of that sort of business as usual, shady politics and corruption,” adding “my record of integrity is pretty impeccable.”

Hansen is well aware of the uphill battle he is facing in the state, especially with conservative evangelicals who make up a huge portion of the voters in Alabama. “I grew up in Memphis Tennessee, in a conservative, Republican, Christian, Southern Baptist home,” he said, “that was my life, I thought I was going to end up in the ministry. So I understand the Christian faith.” He continued “What I know though, there are gay kids in those homes all over the state.” He said while many of them don’t have it easy, a large number of them do have families who love and accept them and once it involves someone in their family people are much more likely to be receptive. “I’m optimistic that if people get to know me, they will be willing to have a conversation.”

His group, GASP, is an Alabama-based non-profit whose mission is to reduce air pollution focused on major sources of pollution like power plants and other large industry. Speaking about his environmental stance in a state that has a significant history in coal production Hansen said, “The reality is everyone has to breath clean air, has to have clean water to drink a safe place to live and make sure the food they eat isn’t going to poison them.” He added, “That is a universal thing; I don’t think that is a liberal thing,” and “it’s not contrary to conservative values to talk about taking care of our planet.”

Commenting directly about those currently employed in the industry in his state “I’m a big fan of coal miners,” he said, “I think they do wonderful work that is a real sacrifice.” He then noted, “But the reality is we are moving away from coal, and we have to take care of the people who have made that sacrifice.” He went on to say that you can talk about the environmental impact and support those communities at the same time.

Hansen says that a face to face showdown with Ten Commandments Judge Roy Moore would be his dream matchup this fall. “I want to be all about empathy and kindness,” something he says is lacking in our culture, “Roy Moore is the opposite of all that.” Saying that Moore’s brand of vitriol is the kind of rhetoric that makes gay kids hate themselves. “That’s what I want to fight against, the perception that that is all Alabama is.” He wants to be face to face with Moore to say “We’re here, we’re not going anywhere, and we’re people too.” He said Roy Moore in his opinion does not represent conservatism or Christian values at all. Continuing to say that “If people have a problem with that, I would say, It’s 2017 let’s get on with it, and let’s talk about policy.”

On illegal immigration and its impact on the state, particularly in agriculture, he said, “Immigrants are an important part of not just our nation’s history but our current system.” Saying we need to make sure we are treating immigrants well, “Like humans and not like slaves.” Pointing to the passage in 2011 of HB56, an anti-immigrant law in Alabama, Hansen said that farmers in his state ended up suffering because of a lack of labor to help bring in their crops. He wants to work toward comprehensive immigration reform and paths to citizenship. “Not building a wall and deporting millions of people.” which he called both inhumane and an absurd waste of money.

To many, the biggest hurdle he has to come is his party affiliation. In Alabama, the GOP controls all of the statewide offices and all but one of its current nine delegation members in Washington is Republican. When asked how he would overcome that kind of obstacle Hansen said in Alabama “There’s an opportunity because of the corruption on the Republican side of the aisle that people are fed up with.” He continued “Donald Trump is doing everything he can to make it easier for us.” But mainly he said that his understanding of struggle in the working class blue-collar communities like he grew up in would help his message reach those voters. “I get it, I’ve worked three jobs before and had to make a choice between prescriptions and groceries.”

Speaking about his party’s recent history in the state he said, “Not just me, but Democrats have to talk to people and listen to their concerns,” and his party needed to, “tailor their policies to the things that impact people’s lives, not just the left vs. right policy making.” Emphasizing a need to make sure that people have their basic needs met and they have a chance at a good life. A message that he believes will resonate with voters in the state. “I don’t think we have enough listening.”

As an Alabama native myself, I can understand the skepticism many have about his candidacy. It, however, isn’t unheard of for an openly gay candidate to win there. Patricia Todd was elected to the Alabama House in 2006 as the first openly gay candidate in the history of the state and has been reelected twice.

Michael Hansen isn’t going in blind here, and he knows the difficulties he will encounter in filling the seat formerly held by current Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Knowing that, Hansen’s campaign may just be the breath of fresh air Alabama, and indeed the nation, desperately needs.