Democrat Ray Lutz held hunger strike to force a debate with Republican opponent
By Pat Sherman/GSD Editor
An East County Democrat who says he left his church because it wanted to force a lesbian minister to remain celibate is challenging antigay U.S. Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Alpine) for the 52nd district congressional seat.
In August, Ray Lutz lost 17 pounds while on a much-publicized hunger strike that eventually caused his opponent to agree to a debate, which took place on Oct. 15 at Cuyamaca College.
It was the only debate Duncan D. Hunter, son of long-serving Congressman Duncan Lee Hunter, would agree to. By comparison, his father debated opponents five times while an incumbent; U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Carlsbad) agreed to three debates with Democratic challenger Francine Busby during the current election.
“You don’t want to say, well, you know, it’s the Chargers against the Raiders; I think the Chargers will win, so I’m not even going to watch the game,” Lutz said. “You still should have them play, even though you’re pretty sure one side is going to win. You never can tell.”
The debate, which included Libertarian candidate Mike Benoit, can be viewed at copswiki.org/Common/M1071 or voteraylutz.com. Lutz said the idea for the hunger strike was suggested by Jim Bates, a Democrat who served in the 44th district congressional seat from 1983 to 1991, before disgraced Republican Congressmember Randal “Duke” Cunningham defeated him by a narrow margin.
Both Hunter and Benoit failed to respond to requests for comment on this story. Lutz said he feels Hunter Jr., who served in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, basically “inherited the seat” from his father.
While in office, Hunter’s father sponsored a bill that would have defined life as beginning at contraception, voted no on allowing human embryonic stem cell research, voted to ban funding for Family as part of foreign aid, voted yes to define marriage as between one man and one woman in the U.S. Constitution, voted no on prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation and voted yes on banning gay adoptions.
Hunter Sr. received a 0 percent approval rating by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Oct. 25, the HRC gave Congressmember Bob Filner, who has endorsed Lutz, a 100 percent approval rating. Lutz, an electrical engineer and business owner, also has been endorsed by Congressmember Susan Davis, state Assemblymember Marty Block and San Diego City Councilmember Marti Emerald.
When it comes to LGBT rights and social issues, Lutz said the young Hunter is, “further to the right than his father was.”
“He’s going to take every possible position against the LGBT community, without any exception whatsoever,” Lutz said.
Since assuming office in January of 2009, Duncan D. Hunter, 33, has repeatedly stated his opposition to same-sex marriage.
Lutz, a progressive environmentalist who supports same-sex marriage, realizes he faces an uphill battle in conservative East County, where religion has a strong hold on voters and their decisions. Even many of the East County Democrats Lutz said he speaks with, who may be progressive on other issues, supported Proposition 8.
Speaking with voters who oppose same-sex marriage based on religious beliefs, Lutz said he first asks whether they believe in a “strong god or a weak god.” Most say they prefer a “strong god,” Lutz said.
“I say, ‘Well, in that case, do you think we need a law for every sin? … If it’s actually sinful, let God take care of it.’”
Though Lutz said he is not attending a church at the moment, he has at times attended the LGBT-affirming Unitarian Universalist Church and a Methodist church.
“I actually left (the Methodist) church because they had a minister who was a lesbian and they said, ‘It’s okay to be a lesbian and still be a minister, as long as you don’t have a relationship with anyone.’ She eventually admitted that she was in love with her partner and they said, ‘Well, in that case you’re out.’ She was ejected, and that’s when I left the church.”
When broaching the issue of same-sex marriage with East County voters, Lutz said he uses what he calls a “strong family model”—“even though that sounds like the ‘strong family values model’ or ‘traditional family values.’”
Lutz said he frames the issue with something East County voters tend to stand behind: less government intervention.
“Although the gay community should know that I’m on their side, in order to win out here I have to not make that my number one point,” Lutz said. “Strong family values means that the family is strong and that the government doesn’t get to tell it what to do. So you get to decide who’s in the family, whether gay, straight, whatever. A woman gets to decide a pregnancy termination, whether it’s appropriate or not, and end of life (decisions).
“As soon as you start to probe into the family—the government telling the family what to do—that’s when I think you’re violating the strength of the family and you weaken it
“Making laws about these things doesn’t mean people won’t do them … especially if it’s important personal decisions,” Lutz said. “Making abortion illegal, they’ve found, doesn’t mean that people will have fewer abortions and making it legal doesn’t mean they’ll suddenly start. People, whether they fall in love with somebody of the same sex or of opposite sex, if that’s right for them, that’s not something that a law’s going to affect.”
In 2006, the elder Duncan Hunter was challenged for the 52nd district seat by an openly gay man, John Rinaldi. Though he received the Democratic nomination, Rinaldi did not receive the backing of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund or the Human Rights Campaign, and was ultimately defeated by a 33-percent margin.
East County wasn’t always a hotbed of red, Lutz said.
“It used to be a blue area,” he said. “El Cajon was quite progressive back in, like, the early ’60s.”
Lutz said he believes East County Evangelical churches have played a large part in the shift in views during the past few decades.
“I was just talking to somebody who worked at the airport running a charter air service,” Lutz said. “I said, ‘Gee, the economy’s down; you must be really hurting. Who can afford charter air travel?’ He said, ‘No, actually business is up and it’s all these big churches out here. They’re rolling in money.’ These churches here are broadcasting nationwide from this area. In Santee, you’ve got the Creation Museum. … So, this is the kind of mindset.
“One good thing about the LGBT community is that they are usually more open-minded about everything … so as a result they tend to veer to the left.”
Though neither the local Log Cabin Republicans’ chapter nor the San Diego Democratic Club have endorsed a candidate in this race, Lutz received the endorsement of the San Diego County Democratic Party, whose chair, Jess Durfee, said his working relationship with the candidate goes back many years.
“He’s outspoken on very progressive things, including marriage equality and LGBT issues,” Durfee said.
Durfee said he thought Lutz’s hunger strike was a “completely outside the box sort of approach to campaigning.”
“I was at a DNC (Democratic National Committee) meeting in St. Louis when that came up and I actually had people talking to me about it” who heard about it on CNN,” Durfee said. “That’s the sort of exposure that a candidate in a district with numbers like his would never, ever see.”