|by Hastings Wyman|
Will House Pass Hate Crimes Measure?
The Senate has passed legislation that would allow the federal government to use its powers to investigate and prosecute hate crimes, including those based on sexual orientation, but the proposal faces rocky sledding in the House of Representatives.
"I'm confident if we had a vote, we'd win," says Steve Elmendorf, Chief of Staff for House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. The problem is that the House Republican leadership is the gatekeeper for bills that are allowed to come up for a vote, and Majority Leader Dick Armey has already served notice that the bill will not reach the floor.
That means the majority favoring the billmost Democrats and some Republicansare stymied, unless they can successfully implement one of two strategies.
The first is to try an end run around the GOP leadership. The Senate's hate crimes measure was attached as an amendment to the Defense Department's authorization bill. House proponents of the hate crimes measure could pass a motion instructing House members on the House-Senate conference committee to support the Senate's hate crimes amendment, a motion that would not be subject to the leadership's bottleneck tactics. However, even if it passed, the motion would not be binding on the House conferees. Moreover, all but one of the Republican senators on the conference committee voted against the hate crimes amendment when it last came up in the Senate.
Another strategy would be to persuade the House GOP leadership to let a hate crimes bill come to the floor as a separate measure. Minority Leader Gephardt has written Speaker Dennis Hastert asking that the bill come up for a vote, but Republicans don't usually fulfill Democratic requests (and vice-versa).
Republican moderates, however, could put pressure on Hastert and Armey to let members of Congress vote up or down on the hate crimes proposal. Gay-friendly GOPers can cite the fact that 13 Republicans were among the 57 lawmakers who voted for the measure in the Senate. More importantly, they can argue that passing hate crimes legislation would send a signal to moderate voters that House Republicans are not the captives of the far righta signal that is important if Republicans want to keep control of the House. But getting the House GOP leadership to change its position on hate crimes legislation has never worked in the past.
The Senate vote is an important step forwardand a credit to the Human Rights Campaign and its political director, Winnie Stachelberg, who worked long and hard on this issue with Senators Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.).
But don't hold your breath until the House does the right thing. It may take a change in party control of Congress in the November elections to bring that about.
Vermont's Civil Unions Are Big Campaign Issue
Any of the Green Mountain State's same-sex couples planning a civil union better do it sooner rather than later. That's because Vermont's Republican Party has decided to use its opposition to the newly enacted same-sex domestic partnership law as a vehicle for winning a majority in the state's legislature this fall. "There's no question it's going to be a major issue in the fall campaign," says state Rep. Bill Lippert (D), Vermont's only openly gay legislator. If the GOP wins a majority in the legislature, it could weaken or even repeal the history-making law.
Although some of the key legislators who helped pass the civil unions law were Republicans, a majority of the GOP opposes the measure. Recently, the Vermont Republican Party sent out a fundraising letter stressing the party's opposition to the new law: "When Montpelier doesn't listen, it's time for a change." Party officials claim the letter raised more money than any other they have mailed.
Much of the debate is anti-gay demagoguery at its worst, with full-page newspaper ads claiming that homosexuality is a Communist plot to weaken the nation, and attempts to link gay people to child molesting. Other ads list every legislator who voted for the civil unions legislation.
"The upshot," says Sam Hemingway, political analyst for the Burlington Free Press, is that the Republicans "have a decent chance of taking control of the legislature for the first time in more than a decade."
Democratic Governor Howard Dean, who signed the bill, is also getting attacked on this issue, although he remains favored for reelection this fall. And state Auditor Ed Flanagan (D), an underdog in his campaign to become the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate, might face a voter backlash in his race against incumbent Jim Jeffords (R), even though Jeffords is pro-gay.
Our side isn't sitting still. A political action committee has been formed to contribute money to candidates who support the new law. The address: Vermonters for Civil Unions, P.O. Box 1574, Montpelier, VT, 05601.
If a significant number of Vermont legislators who stood by us lose their elections this fall, don't look for civil unions to pass anywhere else anytime soon.
Will Gay Man Win LA Race?
If he wins next year's contest for mayor of Los Angeles, Joel Wachs will most likely become the first and only openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city.
Wachs has been on the Los Angeles City Council for more than 20 years. Last year, in a TV interview, he was asked if he is gay. He answered yes. But while he has been in the closet for most of his political career, he was not shy about supporting the gay community. He authored the city's first civil rights bill that applied to gay people and has consistently supported pro-gay measures. Once a Republican, Wachs left and became an independent, a good word for this aggressive, populist moderate.
The scuttlebutt is that the board of the influential Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund has already decided to endorse Wachs, which will help him with gay votersand gay moneynationwide. But is Wachs guaranteed a lock on L.A.'s gay and lesbian voters? "Oh, Lord no," says a Los Angeles lesbian journalist. "All of the candidates are making a special effort to reach out to the gay community. And all of them have a very viable [pro-gay] background."
Here's a rundown of the other major players:
City Attorney Jim Hahn, whose father was a longtime political power in the city, was a major force at the height of the AIDS epidemic in making sure those with the disease did not suffer discrimination. He's caught some flak for a less-than- aggressive stance on recent police scandals, and some gays are opposed to his stand supporting certain lewd conduct prosecutions.
Antonio Villaraigosa is the former speaker of the California Assembly who is being forced out of office by the state's term-limits law. He has been a staunch supporter of gay causesjob rights, hate crimes, domestic partnershipsin the legislature and has the support of lesbian legislators Carole Migden and Sheila Kuehl, as well as gay Los Angeles Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg. Villaraigosa is considered the most liberal of the contenders and is "handsome and charming," says a gay male politico.
Steve Soboroff is a wealthy businessman with the backing of pro-gay incumbent Republican Mayor Richard Riordan. The public has barely heard of him, but with the backing of much of the business community, he's tops in fundraising. Soboroff has made significant contributions to the city's gay and lesbian youth center and has stood up for the rights of gays who work with youths.
Congressman Xavier Becerra represents a large contingent of gay voters who reside in his district and rates a perfect 100 on the Human Rights Campaign's scorecard on gay issues. Becerra has been an important supporter of the Latino gay and lesbian community, as well as the Latinos generally. He is likely to compete for this key groupabout 18 percent of the votewith Villaraigosa.
On the fundraising front, at the end of 1999 Wachs had $466,000 in his campaign kitty to $1,097,000 for Soboroff, $517,000 for Hahn, and $309,000 for Villaraigosa. Becerra did not begin his campaign until this year. A Los Angeles Times poll of registered voters taken this spring showed Hahn with 16 percent, Wachs 14 percent, Villaraigosa 11 percent and Becerra 10 percent. Soboroff was picked by only 1 percent. Several unpublished polls limited to "likely voters"which are usually more reliablealso reportedly show Hahn in the lead. The nonpartisan election will take place April 10. If no candidate receives a majority vote, there will be a run-off election June 5.
Homophobia in Southern Primaries
South Carolina. The good news is that an openly gay officeholderouted by his fellow GOPerswon 49.6 percent of the vote in a Republican primary in South Carolina. The bad news is that Solicitor (Prosecuting Attorney) David Schwacke lost his office after a bitterly homophobic campaign by Christian conservatives to drive him out.
Not only did Schwacke's straight challenger, former Assistant Solicitor Ralph Hoisington, outspend Schwacke by $120,000 to $34,000, but he also raised sleazy issues, for example, charging that Schwacke mishandled a child molesting case. Schwacke carried cosmopolitan Charleston County by about 1,000 votes, but lost suburban/ rural Berkeley County by some 1,200. While a recount could reverse the election in the state's 9th Circuit, it looks like heterosexual Hoisington won by 217 votes out of 30,677 cast.
Virginia. A photograph of two men kissing probably influenced the outcome of a Republican primary for U.S. Congress in the Old Dominion's 1st District, which includes the city of Newport News. Two-term legislator Jo Ann Davis, a conservative Christian, won a surprise victory over big-spending entrepreneur Paul Jost. But her victory came at the expense of tolerance. Davis and Mike Rothfeld, another Christian conservative, attacked heterosexual Jost for his past supportwhich he stuck byof a local gay rights measure. Rothfeld distributed the photograph, along with the caption, "Paul Jost's vision of Virginia." Davis is a heavy favorite against Democrat Lawrence Davies in November.
Hastings Wyman publishes Southern Political Report, a nonpartisan biweekly political newsletter. He can be reached care of this publication or at HWymanSPR@aol.com. For more Capital Letters, visit www.planetout.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 10, No. 8, June 30, 2000.