|by Hastings Wyman|
"No on Knight" Revving Up
With a $300,000 jump-start from Kathy Levinson, president and COO of the online brokerage E*Trade, and her partner Jennifer Levinson, "Californians for Fairness"the group fighting the anti-gay Knight Initiativeis preparing to wage a big-money, big-muscle campaign. The California ballot initiative would define marriage exclusively as between a man and woman. It was proposed by state Sen. William J. "Pete" Knight and goes before Golden State voters on March 7, 2000.
In the money department, the "No on Knight" campaign had been trailing badly before Levinsons' giftthe forces backing the ban on gay matrimony had raised $839,000, the Fairness forces had raised only $223,000. But our side now has some $800,000 on hand and is planning a total budget of $5 million.
As for muscle, gay-friendly forces are lining up to fight the initiative. Republican Rep. Tom Campbell was the first member of Congress to oppose the measure. Big-name opponents include David Pottruck, chairman and COO of Charles Schwab, the nation's largest investment house; the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce; the Los Angeles City Council; the California Teachers Association; and the American Association of University Women.
In 1978, when the Briggs Amendment to ban homosexual teachers came before California voters, Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan came out against the initiative. Mike Marshall, "No on Knight's" statewide campaign manager, says he is "pretty optimistic" that Democratic Gov. Gray Davis will also "do the right thing" and oppose the measure. Marshall expressed hopes that Democratic presidential candidates Al Gore and Bill Bradley will speak out against the initiative.
There's no word from the GOP, but six Republican candidatesGary Bauer, Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes, Orrin Hatch, Alan Keyes and Dan Quaylesigned an anti-gay pledge that includes opposition to same-sex marriage. George W. Bush, Elizabeth Dole and John McCain have not signed.
The politics of the Knight Initiative could get tricky. A poll by Research 2000 of Rockville, Md., taken May 27-29, showed 54 percent of California's likely voters supporting a ban on same- sex marriage, to 38 percent opposing such a ban. Support for the ban crosses party lines60 percent of Republicans, 50 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents favor it.
"No on Knight" hopes to reverse the tide by recasting the contest as a fight between fairness and homophobia. In the coming months, look for a lot of front-page, primetime attention to this issueand not only in California.
Is ENDA Sponsor Shays in Trouble?
Connecticut U.S. Rep. Chris Shays is one of a minority of Republicans in Congress who can usually be counted on to take a pro-gay position. He is a prime sponsor for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which bans job bias against gays, and the Human Rights Campaign gives him a 100 percent rating on its legislative scorecard on gay issues.
But Shays, reelected in 1998 with 69 percent and in 1996 with 61 percent of the vote in the Nutmeg State's 4th District, hasn't pleased the right wing of his party. As a result, he has already drawn a primary opponent and may get another.
Jim Campbell, a high school teacher who managed a congressional campaign in the neighboring 5th District last year, has formed an exploratory committee. Campbell's main gripe with Shays is that he deserted the party on key votes, such as campaign finance reform. Campbell is generally moderate on social issuespro-choice and pro-gun control. Campbell has little name I.D. and would have to wage a high-budget campaign to compete seriously with Shays.
Shays's other potential challenger has a much higher profile. She's conservative news commentator and constitutional lawyer Ann Coulter, an articulate, feisty and glamorous (a blonde, yet) right-winger whose main complaint with Shays is that he opposed the impeachment of President Clinton. "There's nothing so loathsome as a moderate Republican turncoat," Coulter wrote in George magazine. Coulter's libertarian views lead her to oppose such gay-related measures as ENDA and the hate-crimes bill, but she tells me, "I also oppose the National Endowment of the Arts, and not because I hate art." If Coulter runs, she will wage an aggressive, attention-getting campaign that could put Shays on the defensive.
Even though the primary will be confined to Republican voterstypically more conservative than the electorate as a wholeShays should be able to defeat Campbell, or even Coulter. He already has a respectable, though not lavish, $152,000 in his campaign war chest. Moreover, the district which includes Stamford and other upscale areashas a long history of moderate Republicanism: Stewart McKinney, who had strong ties to the gay community, represented the district for 17 years until he died of AIDS. On the other hand, there's precedent for an acid-tongued celebrity blondeplaywright Clare Boothe Luce once held this seat. Watch this one closely.
Gays in the Military Won't Go Away
Like the man who wasn't there again today, "don't ask, don't tell" continues to get talked about in American politics. In Vice Presidentand presidential candidateAl Gore's recent Advocate interview, he endorsed the current gays-in-the-military policy but urged "more compassion" in the Pentagon's enforcement of the rules, bringing back an issue that most Democratic strategists consider a no-win topic.
Gore may have been prompted to revisit the issue by Bill Bradley's surprisingly well-financed campaign for the Democratic nomination. Though Bradley hasn't made a big deal over gay issues so far, he is going after the Democratic left in his quest for the nomination. Despite Gore's current strong support in the gay political establishment, most of the Democrats' gay muscle is considered part of the party's liberal wing and a prime target for Bradley. The vice president may be attacking current Pentagon policy to make sure Bradley doesn't poach delegates from his gay preserve. By citing the military issue, Gore hopes to shore up the administration's major weakness with lesbian and gay votersthe worse-than-before "improved" policy on gays in the military.
Of interest: The Army Times, published for but not by the military, has over the past few weeks taken an interesting stance on Pfc. Barry Winchell, the gay heavy weapons operator who was murdered at Fort Campbell, Ky. "He was generally well-liked," says the Army Times, and "he loved the Army." By contrast, Pvt. Calvin Glover, his alleged killer, "was an unpopular, argumentative soldier." But the newspaper hasn't called for rescinding "don't ask, don't tell." Rather, editorialized the Army Times, the Army needs "to ensure that barracks are safe, habitable dwelling places... That's the real issue in this case." Sure it is.
Gay Republicans Hopeful In Philadelphia
The Democratic primary victory of John Street, who as City Council chairman led the opposition to domestic partnerships, has given Republican Sam Katz, a former school board member, a major boost with lesbian and gay voters in Philadelphia's upcoming mayor's race.
Moreover, Katz is not relying solely on Street's unpopularity among gays; he is himself wooing gay votes with a series of pro-gay stances and actions. Recently, he persuaded GOP legislators in Harrisburg to defeat a measure that would have eliminated Philadelphia's domestic-partners policy. He has also endorsed hate-crimes legislation.
In response, some gay leaders have formed Gays and Lesbians for Katz, which, along with the city's Log Cabin Republicans, is raising money for the GOP candidate. The membership includes, for example, Frannie Price, the influential executive director of Diversity of Pride. The Pennsylvania Gay and Lesbian Alliance (Pagala) is also expected to endorse Katz - "That's huge," says David Greer, the local LCR president.
So is the Pride of Philadelphia Elections Committee, which has regrouped after a disastrous primary season.
But not all gay support is going to Katz. In this City of Brotherly Love, white gayslike white straightsare more likely to back Katz, who is white, while black gayslike black straightsmore likely to support Street, an African- American. Street also benefits from the city's strong Democratic tradition. Many gay leaders hold city jobs, courtesy of Democratic incumbents.
The November 2 election comes at a time of organizational turmoil for Philadelphia's gay politicos. Gay leaders were divided in the primary, and that helped Street, the only anti-gay candidate, win the nomination. "Victory 99," an electoral arm of POPEC, raised only a fraction of the funds it had hoped for. POPEC has reorganized, but another group designed to "restore the community's clout," as one gay politico puts it, is being formedit won't, however, endorse a candidate in this election.
History suggests Democrat Street will win, but polls show Republican Katz is within striking distance. And gay voters are in a pivotal spot, which is good.
Hastings Wyman has been a D.C. insider for more than three decades. He publishes Southern Political Report, a nonpartisan biweekly political newsletter. He can be reached in care of LETTERS from CAMP Rehoboth or at HwymanSPR@aol.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 9, No. 13, Sept. 17, 1999