Laura Ricketts talks family politics, Cubs

July 18, 2012

Becky Vlamis and Kate Dries

Download Story

To say that Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts comes from a family of strong political convictions is a profound understatement. All of the Ricketts men have given large sums of money to conservative causes. Family patriarch Joe Ricketts recently courted controversy when he considered spending $10 million on an ad campaign painting President Barack Obama as a metrosexual with links to controversial pastor Jeremiah Wright. Her one brother, Peter, ran for Nebraska’s U.S. Senate seat as a Republican and lost to incumbent Ben Nelson.

Laura is just as involved, but politically speaking, roots for the opposing team. She bundles for Obama, is openly gay and supports same-sex marriage. In a 2010 interview with the Tribune, she said she decided to fight for LGBT issues after the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004, an election cycle in which 11 states had ballot initiatives to ban gay marriage.

Laura Ricketts joined Eight Forty-Eight Wednesday to discuss LPAC, the new lesbian Super PAC she created with Chicago businesswoman Sarah Schmidt. According to the LPAC website, the group aims to be a mainstream voice in politics that supports causes including LGBT rights, women’s access to health care, reproductive freedom and economic justice.

I don’t like how much money is going into politics. This election is like the wild west. With so much money floating around, I have to think it can’t be good for our political process. But that being said, those are the rules. And we have to play by the rules.

Speaking more about her political epiphany, Ricketts says she was watching former President George W. Bush give a State of the Union address, and heard him say something about a constitutional amendment to protect marriage. “I about fell off the sofa. I knew I had to get more involved and engaged in LGBT rights, equality, civil rights work and politics as well.”

Ricketts was out to some family members at the time, but that was the moment when she realized, “I really need to be honest and open about who I am.”

Some are skeptical that her family could be so supportive of her, given their conservative beliefs, but she says they shouldn’t be.

“When I came out to my parents… I didn’t know how [they] would react," she said. "They’re very conservative. But they’re also very supportive people. And my dad said, you always hold your head up high and be proud of who you are, cause I am. You're a leader. Get involved."

“Each of our political engagement is really driven by deep passion and belief in what is right for this country....A lot of people say to me, how can you get along?...[But] I don’t think we’re different from any other family, people just pay a little more attention to what we do.”

Ricketts also commented on her more recent activism. “I’m a lawyer, or recovering lawyer…and I happened to come across LAMDA legal, which does a lot of LGBT, civil rights and HIV litigation and public policy work, and it just seemed to really ring true to me,” she said. She started doing support work for the organization, and it paved the way for her involvement in LPAC.

“Being a woman and being gay in our society, you have a couple of pretty big challenges…[so] it’s really important that more women get engaged. I feel like the more women we have in government, the better our government will be," Ricketts said. "Woman aren’t as likely to get engaged, aren’t as likely to organize. [They’re more likely to do] so when it’s women-centric and lesbian focused."

Ricketts says that though LPAC has gotten lots of support from PAC's with similar goals like Emily’s List and Lesbian Victory Fund, their work is slightly different. And though their goal of raising $1 million might seem small, it's not necessarily all about the money.

“We wanted to set realistic goals," she explained. "This is an entirely new arena. We have no idea what to expect."

"I think in terms of meeting that goal, we’re really hoping that, yes, there will be a number of women giving significant contributions. [But] this is not only to raise money and have a voice for lesbians but also to get more lesbians to get engaged in the process."

“I don’t like how much money is going into politics. This election is like the wild west. With so much money floating around, I have to think it can’t be good for our political process. But that being said, those are the rules. And we have to play by the rules.”

Ricketts also commented on the recent controversy surrounding the possibility of a revamp for Wrigley Field. “It’s unfortunate the Cubs have been pulled into the political work that all of my family members do. [But] something needs to be done to preserve and make sure [Wrigley] lasts another 100 years.”

“Everyone agrees that Wrigley and the Cubs should be treated fairly and equally. But these are very tough times," she explained.

“My brothers and I all feel a great responsibility that are stewards of this great franchise that means a great deal to history and to the city of Chicago,” she said. But Ricketts thinks that her responsibility might be even greater, as the first out lesbian owner of a Major League Baseball team. “As the owner of the cubs, as a woman, as an out lesbian, I’m in a unique position.”