If Nathan Deal has his way, gay-bashing is about to become part of the 2010 GOP gubernatorial campaign.
The July primary is expected to end without an outright winner, forcing an August runoff between frontrunner John Oxendine and a second candidate still to be determined. Deal apparently believes that former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel is his top competitor for that spot, and he has decided to use gays as a wedge issue against her.
Deal has accused Handel of supporting the right of gay couples to adopt and of joining the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay GOP group. According to Deal, Handel’s “support of gay adoption offends the conservative values of Georgians throughout the state, let alone those who vote in the Republican primary.”
Handel, to her discredit, says she opposes gay adoption and has always done so. She also claims that Southern Voice, a now defunct gay newspaper, was wrong to report in 2003 that she supported gay adoption rights. (At the time, Handel was running for Fulton County Commission chair, and gay votes are important in that race.)
On Monday, the AJC’s new PolitiFact feature attempted to get to the bottom of the dispute, in the end rating Deal’s claim about gay adoption “barely true” based on the paucity of evidence in the case. But Laura Douglas-Brown, a former writer and editor for Southern Voice, has since interviewed former Log Cabin president Marc Yeager and uncovered considerable evidence that bolsters Deal’s claim.
“Yeager also confirmed that Handel was a dues-paying member of the Georgia Log Cabin Republicans, noting that the LCR database shows she became a member in July 2002 and he remembers receiving a check for the membership from Handel at the LCR booth at the Atlanta Pride Festival, held at the end of June….
On Monday night, Yeager provided copies of three email exchanges between him and Handel from 2002 and 2003. They show the two had a friendly as well as political relationship, with Handel inquiring about Yeager’s vacations while also telling him about gay endorsement interviews and seeking his advice on the Georgia Equality candidate survey.
The first exchange, from July 2002, shows Handel sending Yeager a draft of her answers to Georgia Equality’s candidate survey, and Yeager responding with recommendations.
“As I’ve told you, I do support domestic partner benefits, and confirm my position here, although I do have concerns about a domestic partner registry,” Handel writes in the email. “Bottom line is that I will work with you and other GLBT leaders to develop workable legislation. Give me a call if you have questions. Otherwise, we can talk at the BBQ on Sunday.”
Asked in the GE survey if she has LGBT constituents and about her interactions with them, Handel responded, “I have numerous gay and lesbian friends, and my interaction is mostly on a personal level with these individuals. I am also a member of the Georgia Log Cabin Republicans and participated in this year’s Pride Weekend activities and attended the recent Georgia Equity/Human Rights Campaign forum regarding federal ENDA legislation.
“I believe it is important that, if we are to achieve real progress for Fulton County, we must reach out to all segments of our community, and I am committed to this,” Handel wrote.
In an exchange in mid-October 2002, Handel and Yeager discuss her interview for Georgia Equality’s endorsement and her stand on domestic partner benefits. Handel said she supports the benefits for county workers, but has privacy concerns about a DP registry open to all Fulton residents.”
The emails, if authentic, pretty much nail down Handel’s membership in the Log Cabin Republicans and her support for providing domestic partnership benefits for Fulton County employees. They also confirm the impression that Handel projected at the time as an old-fashioned Republican who was more interested in running government effectively and fairly than in using it to act out various resentments against various groups of people.
Somewhere along the way, though, someone pulled her aside and told her that if she wanted to play the politics game on a larger stage, she had to toe the party line on such issues. She has since followed that advice with an eagerness and avidity that I’ve found disappointing, and she continues to do so in this campaign.
So it’s going to be interesting: Will she now step up her denunciation of people whose support she once sought in order to advance her political ambitions? Can a Georgia Republican win the party’s gubernatorial primary with a record of having supported domestic partnership benefits for gay people? Or will Republicans punish Deal for trying to drag the state back into an era that many thought and hoped we had left behind?
The answers will tell us a lot about the state of the state.
UPDATE: Jim Galloway at Political Insider has posted the three emails cited above. The Handel campaign claims that she never supported domestic partnership benefits, and that the 2002 email from Handel stating otherwise was actually written by a staffer.
It’s a lame explanation, especially since Handel alludes to her support for domestic partnership benefits in another email whose authorship has not (yet) been challenged by her campaign.