To the extreme

Local Assembly candidate Andy Pugno isn’t your everyday conservative

Above and below: Local nurses and other activists took to the street outside a Pugno fundraiser to protest his positions.

Above and below: Local nurses and other activists took to the street outside a Pugno fundraiser to protest his positions.

Photo By kel munger

Outside a Chinese restaurant in downtown Sacramento, members of the California Nurses Association and Planned Parenthood have crashed a fundraiser for Assembly candidate Andrew Pugno, who hails from Folsom. Amid chants of “Andy Pugno, hear our voice! It’s our body, it’s our choice!” protesters argue that Pugno is just too extreme for Sacramento—even for a conservative.

But you would never know Pugno’s stance on issues such as gay rights and abortion based on his campaign website. The lawyer is running for state Assembly in District 5, which includes parts of eastern Sacramento County, Arden Arcade and Folsom, as a small-government proponent. But if his political activity over the past decade is any indication, Pugno—attorney on behalf of Proposition 8 and long-standing anti-abortion advocate—is anything but a run-of-the-mill conservative.

At the Pugno protest, Elizabeth Pataki, a retired nurse and member of the CNA, said that most voters don’t know his history of opposing abortion in all circumstances, including rape, incest or to save the life of a pregnant woman. “His position is really extreme,” Pataki said. “Choice belongs to the patient, not the Legislature.”

Others agreed. “We think voters need to know that [Pugno] is too extreme on women’s reproductive rights,” said Raquel Simental, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman.

Of course, there are many far-right Republican candidates running nationally who argue that all abortions should be outlawed. U.S. Senate candidates on the Republican ticket in Alaska, Colorado, Tennessee, Delaware and even neighboring Nevada all support a ban of abortion with no exceptions. But unlike those candidates, Pugno is from California, a traditionally moderate state. And also unlike those candidates, Pugno has actively spent most of his professional life fighting against abortion and gay rights.

As Sacramento Life Center board of directors vice president, Pugno represents a “crisis pregnancy center” that provides pregnancy tests, nondiagnostic ultrasounds, referrals to services that won’t terminate a pregnancy, and counseling designed to encourage adoption or parenting. SLC does not, though, offer obstetric and gynecological services, nor does it provide any form of contraceptives. The centers only solution to preventing unwanted pregnancy is abstinence (see SN&R’s feature on SLC, “My so-called life” by Liz Cazares; SN&R Feature Story; January 24, 2008).

Still, Pugno made his biggest mark on California in the arena of marriage equality as one of the authors of Proposition 8, the initiative passed by voters in 2008 that made same-sex marriages illegal in California. Prop. 8 was recently ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge, and Pugno is one of the lawyers defending the initiative as the case makes its way through the federal courts.

But Pugno does not discuss his careers as a Prop. 8 and pro-life supporter.

“It’s kind of odd that he doesn’t mention [his anti-gay-rights work], considering that’s all that he’s been doing for the last 15 years,” said Chris Moore, president of the Sacramento Stonewall Democrats, who are so opposed to Pugno’s candidacy that they’ve set up a website,

Photo By kel munger

Moore also points out that Pugno has received hundreds of thousands fighting for Prop. 8. According to state campaign-finance records, the Law Offices of Andrew P. Pugno received $200,473.79 from, the major proponent of Prop. 8, for consulting, petition processing, office support, professional legal and accounting services and travel in 2008.

“Obviously, his history working to take rights from GLBT people is offensive,” Moore said. “[But] he’s spent his entire career as a political operative. No matter what issues you’re working on, if you’re simply a political operative on one single issue, that does not qualify you to represent half a million people in the state Legislature.”

Pugno’s opponent, Richard Pan, is a medical doctor with a lengthy history of working on public health issues, including the First 5 Sacramento program. This is in contrast to Pugno, who, as Pan noted in an interview, has been working politically over the last decade to limit the equality of gays and lesbians.

Pugno also neglects to mention that his first real job, before he became a lawyer, was working for the notorious anti-gay state legislator William “Pete” Knight, who was the driving force behind Proposition 22, the first anti-gay marriage initiative that was declared unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court in 2008.

Also absent is Pugno’s work with the Alliance Defense Fund, which litigates cases involving religious liberties for Christians. ADF insists that it’s not a law firm and is instead a ministry, which means it won’t hire anyone who is not Christian. It was founded by conservative radio pastor and self-proclaimed family expert James Dobson in 1994. ADF was the major legal arm of the Prop. 8 campaign and defended the measure in court.

Repeated attempts by SN&R to interview Pugno or a campaign representative were unsuccessful. Robert Smith, the candidate’s campaign manager, told SN&R that Pugno “is definitely talking about Prop. 8,” but then referred all questions to Matt Rexroad, who is handling communications for the campaign and also sits on the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. Repeated calls to both Rexroad’s office and cell phone were not returned.

So, Pugno may be “talking about Prop. 8”—he’s frequently quoted as a spokesman in media coverage of the federal case—but he isn’t touting all that experience in his campaign material. Or talking to the press.

Andy Pugno, candidate for the state Assembly in District 5: looks like a lawyer, but acts like an anti-gay activist.

PHOTO courtesy OF Andy Pugno’s Facebook page

Instead, his political agenda purports to be all about the economy: He wants fiscal responsibility, a no-tax pledge, the end of furloughs by passing a budget, more prisons to keep offenders locked up, local control of schools and more charter schools, a tough-on-illegal-immigration stance, no raiding of transportation funds and no water sent to Southern California.

Sounds like every other Republican—except Pugno’s brand is to the extreme.