Pam Spaulding

Q of the day: NC Dems party like its 2004

Filed By Pam Spaulding | May 12, 2008 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: BlueNC, gay friendly, Jim Neal, Kay Hagan, LGBT, North Carolina, U.S. Senate

It's been an interesting and enlightening last few days over at BlueNC since the state primary on the 6th. As you know, Dem U.S. Senate candidate Jim Neal was defeated by Kay Hagan, and the latter will face off against Liddy Dole in the fall. Incidentally, post-primary polls have Hagan at 48%, Dole at 47%. Do-Nothing Dole has a war chest that dwarfs Hagan's, so Liddy will be able to carpet-bomb the airwaves with ads.

Anyway, the post-mortems over at BlueNC have included "thank you" posts by nearly every candidate who has participated in liveblog sessions over there during this cycle, and the one for Kay Hagan took a bizarre, contentious turn when the subject of those now-infamous questions I asked of the state senator during her liveblog came up.

More below the fold, including an important Q of the day that I hope generates a lot of discussion and feedback I can take back to the folks at BlueNC.

For a refresher, here are the questions I asked of Kay Hagan during the April liveblog:

First, thank you Senator Hagan for participating in this liveblog.

Senator Dole has not supported any legislation before her that would extend civil rights to LGBT citizens. What are your positions on matters under consideration in the U.S. Senate that will profoundly affect gay and lesbian taxpaying citizens here in NC. Below is legislation already introduced or about to be introduced that you would cast a vote on during your term if elected.

1. Federal hate crimes legislation. Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1592 / S. 1105).

2. Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). One version has already passed the House. It would prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation. Gender identity is included in the other version of the bill.

3. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal, which would allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. This has been introduced in the House and will likely be introduced in the Senate.

4. The Uniting American Families Act (H.R. 2221, S. 1328), that would enable an American citizen to petition for immigration sponsorship for a same-sex partner, and the INS would treat the relationships between opposite and same-sex couples in the same manner under the immigration code.


LGBT voters and allies in the NC (as well as thousands of my readers around the country) would also like to know your positions on these civil rights issues...

* Regarding civil marriage. In her consistent position in favor of restricting rights of LGBT citizens, Senator Dole voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 1996.

During a Feb. 25 forum at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, you conveyed to attendees that the definition of marriage should be left up to state law.
- How is that reconciled with 1967's Loving v. Virginia, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidated state bans on interracial marriages? Should that have been left a state matter?
- Would you be in favor of overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act in full?

* What legal rights should tax-paying gay and lesbian couples NOT have access to if you believe that extending civil marriage is inappropriate at this time. Do you believe that there should not be parity with opposite-sex married couples regarding:
- inheritance rights
- hospital visitation rights
- equal pension and health care benefits
- and the over 1,100 other legal protections government affords couples via civil, not religious, marriage?

Thank you for your consideration.

The questions were reposted by another BlueNCer, Linda, in the Hagan "thank you" post; she also desired answers to these questions. I personally wouldn't have posted them in that particular entry; I would have made a separate post about the questions themselves because 1) it's about moving toward the general election; and 2) I know that otherwise bringing it up it would immediately result in threadjacking. And yes, it did.

The rest of the "thank you" thread, as a result of the reposting of the questions, erupted into a back and forth over the merits, wisdom or strategy of even asking the questions at all. I'm not sh*tting you. This is so fantastically retro, so 2004 -- remember when the Dem presidential candidates ran screaming away from any questions about TEH GAY, and progressives in many post-election forums tried to blame Kerry's loss on the gay community because of the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

It's a complete 180 this cycle, as most of the Dem presidential candidates participated in a televised LGBT forum sponsored by HRC/LOGO. All of them were asked and answered questions about their positions on various pieces of legislation, some had better answers than others from my perspective. However, the bottom line is that none of them ran from open discussion. The issues were not perceived as something to be hidden away to protect the sensibilities of those uncomfortable with or in opposition of equality for LGBTs.

You know how they say it takes several years for styles and trends to make it outside the large metro enclaves? The discussion in this BlueNC thread was an instant replay of the irrational fears and caving to the Republican framing of LGBT issues in 2004. Some key mind-blowers:

"Questions are a means to a goal, not the goal itself. We don't actually even need to ask questions. We know what we want. We need to pursue the best route to get it."

Basically, I shouldn't have asked the questions of Kay Hagan. Since we "know" what the issues are, we shouldn't rock the boat by asking them in public -- recloset the issues.

My response:

We do need to ask questions -- what you are implying is that a prospective constituent shouldn't ask a candidate about their position on specific legislation (not hypotheticals) because some other voter base may have a problem with the subject matter.

The potential elected official is going to vote on that legislation and I'd like to know their position. I'm going to pay their salary. They work for me. The least they can do is respond -- I may not like the answer, but I will know where they stand. If they do not support my position, I can then begin the process of educating that official in a manner that may change their position in the future.

Another mind-blowing response:

I don't see how demanding an answer helps us. What do we gain? The actual info isn't valuable; the Senate seat is. Demanding an answer is a tactic to win the legislation, and I don't believe it is a good one.

As in, it's not important to know how a prospective candidate would vote on specific legislation. Figure that one out. I said:

The fact is they are going to have to vote one way or the other -- both those for or against that legislation have a right to know where that person stands. And some slice of the population won't like the yea or nay. Either you believe, for instance, that gays and lesbians can be fired from their jobs because of their orientation or not (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act - ENDA, which is on the table). I don't see how you parse that one to please all parties. It's thumbs up or thumbs down.

...Plenty of issues are clearly addressed by candidates prior to an election, some without any reference to legislation. My questions were about specific legislation. You're again failing to answer why the answers themselves would be so inflammatory about LGBT issues that they are worth avoiding. It's not "speaking out" it's stating a position. Again, you're conflating activism with a position. I'm not asking her to march in a Pride parade, I'm asking how she'd vote on a bill.

As you continue down the thread, I make note that Sen. Hagan had answered two of the questions I had asked in the only TV debate that was held. She supports the repeal of DADT, and she volunteered that she supports passage of hate crimes legislation. Obviously she didn't think answering the questions in that venue was going to deep-six her candidacy.

That renders moot the whole justification for avoiding the questions, then, doesn't it?

In my last comment on the thread, I summarized the insanity as I saw it:

It appears that my questions have stirred up a hornet's nest for some because of (feel free to amend, challenge or add):

* A belief that somehow, civil equality issues are too complicated or controversial to discuss in an open manner with candidates lest it harm their candidacy if they may be supportive of them (The Closet Syndrome).

* A fantastic assumption that somehow asking questions of a potential elected official who will represent me about specific legislation is a Subversive Radical Homosexual Agenda ActTM. You'd think my posing these questions in the logical, factual and respectful manner I did in the liveblog was the equivalent lobbing a political Molotov cocktail into the room.

* A belief by some that we must coddle and court the Democratic homophobic vote by closeting the issue rather than discuss it out in the open. IMHO, all this does is give the impression that there is something unseemly about civil equality issues that requires advancement to occur in back channel communication.

* A strategy conveyed here that NCDP (NC Dem Party) endorses the kid gloves/policy closet approach only, and that any other approach is counter productive.

Another thread was launched and some folks continued fixating on my questions. It's like I stepped in that DeLorean and turned the clock back, I tell you -- a lot of progressives treating LGBT equality like a crazy aunt in the attic they are ashamed of -- until they want her to open her purse and dole out the dough.

The NC Dems who are squeamish need to remember that any right-wing attempt to talk about The Homosexual Agenda or family values in NC need only to look at prime examples of Republican hypocrisy here -- Patrick McHenry and Coy Privette.

Seriously, we're simply not going to recloset the issues; candidates need to take a page from the current crop of presidential candidates who did just fine by addressing the issues and moving on.

My questions for you -- and elaborate on your sense of what is going on here. I'm stepping back to hear what you have to say.

* Is it off mark to ask polite questions in a town hall forum -- of someone running to represent you -- about how they would vote on specific LGBT legislation?

* Is it OK for the candidate to not only not respond to the questions, but for the campaign to simply not acknowledge any follow up requests from several prospective constituents on the topic? Is it appropriate or acceptable that a candidate when asked the same questions from LGBT media?

* How does that reflect on the candidate's future responsiveness as an elected official? What impression do you have?

* Is the act of asking the questions in public somehow more damaging to the progress of LGBT rights than working behind the scenes (e.g. in the closet), to effect change?

I want to make it clear that discussing this larger picture has little to do in the end with Kay Hagan -- I want Elizabeth Dole out of office -- and more to do with changing the fossilized, homo-paranoid thinking among progressives and party officials in Red/Purple states that openly discussing civil equality is politically "dangerous" and we need to wait silently and patiently and hope progress will happen if we fold our hands and wait quietly for rights to be granted.

We've seen what happens when you don't ask for your rights -- it's always:

1) Shh. I have your back, just wait until I'm elected.

2) I know, I know, you gave and helped us win -- but I have to get re-elected. Not yet.

3) No, I can't help you right now, we need more of a majority and these Blue Dog Dems you helped get in are, unfortunately as homophobic as those folks across the aisle.

Sound familiar?

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The same could be said for progressive politicians on issues that are of importance to African-Americans, Latinos, the poor, women....

The bottom line is that until we stop running campaigns based on Republican framing of issues because we are 'scurred' of the bigot vote, we are setting ourselves up for electoral defeat.

As Sen. Obama's campaign is proving, returnng to the FDR-JFK progressive values, laying out a positive vision of the future, telling America the truth, and honestly answering the tough questions instead of evasive spinning is the way to go.

I hear you, Monica. In the same thread over at my pad, I was told to "give it up" because getting 60 Dems in the Senate is the real goal to focus on. Of course we want to hit that number 60, and I'll still vote for Kay Hagan.

As I replied there, I'm pointing out that there is a strong segment of the progressive movement that is so afraid of the discussing LGBT issues aloud in NC (even in a primary, for god's sake) that they believe it will automatically deep-six a candidacy if we engage in open discussion.

Hagan's campaign came to the conclusion that she could answer, in the TV debate, two of the questions I originally asked. How and when did DADT and hate crimes become acceptable/safe to go public with? Hate crimes and DADT repeal legislation have resulted from open discussion, personal stories, good public advocacy work from the likes of SLDN and HRC, for instance; it certainly wasn't all back channel communication with folks on the Hill.

And there's the rub.

I feel your pain. We've got a shot at getting rid of Mitch McConnell here in Kentucky, and I can guarantee that whoever the Dem nominee is for that Senate race will run from progressive issues like the plague during the campaign.

Ironically Mitch McConnell is running ads trying to compare himself to former DEMOCRATIC Senator Majority leader Alben Barkley.

It's funny that biogted, anti-progressive have-mores corporate Republicans always run campaigns in which they appropriate the legacies of progressive Democrats and our own Dems are too obtuse or chicken to call them on it lest they appear as 'too liberal'.

It's as if we're supposed to just accept the label and be happy. I know lots of Democrats that aren't our friend. Not that Hagan isn't, just to point out that it's good to ask questions!

Are Democrats more concerned with sliding into a few offices or with building the Democratic brand? Since when has a Republican ever been afraid of opposing LGBT rights legislation publicly and then voting against it once in office? They know that they have to use whatever opportunity they have to build support for their positions, including in their answers to constituents' questions.