Gay Man Running
February 21st, 2012
Josh Marshall sees a silver lining in the Paul Bebau story:
But one thing shines through to me as perhaps the most significant part of the whole media storm: You have a hard-right Republican, with intense political ambitions outed as gay and accused of serious abuse of office. He vigorously denies the charges but says, Yeah, I’m gay. And by the way, I support gay marriage and I also think that gays should be able to serve openly in the US military.
Given what was contained in the original story, it’s not like Babeu had a great deal of choice about disclosing his sexuality. But then that hasn’t stopped others from trying. No comical denials (a la Larry Craig), no slinking off into a shamed obscurity (a la too many sad stories to mention). Just, yeah, I’m gay. And I’m still running for office.
That’s a rather slim sliver of a lining. Unlike with Craig, there are photos and screengrabs floating around which blocked the option of comical denials. And so we’re left with Babeu’s temperment which keeps him from “slinking off into a shamed obscurity.” That much is worthy of admiration, but it’s more an act of bravado than a calculated assessment of the political landscape he finds himself in now.
There is a reason Babeu didn’t talk about his personal life before. When a man runs for public office in the most conservative parts of a state that ranks as one of the most conservative states in the country, the assumption will be that the Republican candidate who calls himself a staunch conservative would naturally be against any sort of gay equality. And that assumed position would naturally be a very popular one in a conservative district in a conservative state. It’s true that Babeu hadn’t yet raised any of these issues in either his nascent congressional campaign or in his runs for sheriff (where LGBT issues typically don’t come up). But as long as he doesn’t say anything to the contrary, the default position, as Dan Savage put it, is that “Conservative voters will assume he holds anti-gay political beliefs and they will expect him to vote anti-gay should he be elected to office.”
So when a candidate speaks at CPAC — which this year excluded GOProud because their brand of conservatism can no longer countenance openly gay people supporting gay marriage — and calls himself the only true conservative in a three-man GOP primary, then the assumption, without any explanation to the contrary, is that he naturally holds his audience’s definition of conservatism. Particularly where the audience’s definition of conservatism is not at all difficult to ascertain. Until now, Babeu was running with those assumptions and he did nothing to disabuse them.
Until now, and Babeu’s campaign chair put on a brave face and said these revelations won’t “make a bit of difference” with voters in Congressional District 4. The Boston Herald agrees, and is all kinds of excited that Babeu’s candidacy makes him the fourth openly gay or bi candidate running for Congress in Arizona. They attribute it to Arizona’s “deep libertarian roots,” which I guess writers in Boston might find significant, but Arizona’s “libertarian roots” are highly localized, and they just happen to include the two congressional districts the other three candidates (all Democrats) are running in. (Two are vying for Reps. Jim Kolbe and Garbrielle Giffords’ old seat. The other encompasses Tempe, Chandler, ASU and the gayborhood of North Central Phoenix.)
But the Libertarian swath however doesn’t include CD4. The redrawn map for CD 4 (PDF: 1 pages, 2MB) now starts in the heavily Mormon districts of the East Valley and Gila County, wraps around northwestward to deeply conservative Yavapai County before spreading out west to Yuma, La Paz, and Mohave Counties. The central Arizona districts of CD4 are heavily Mormon and Evangelical. The three western counties, culturally and politically, have much more in common Bakersfield and California’s Imperial Valley than they do with any romantic Western libertarian ideals of live-and-let-live. And all of the counties which make up CD4 are very anti-gay. In 2008, those counties collectively approved Prop 102, Arizona’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, with yes vote tallies of about two-thirds verses around one-third against. Something tells me that one-third isn’t made up of very many Republican primary voters.
I’m glad that Babeu’s out and running as a gay Republican who supports marriage equality. I wish he had come out under his own steam and not because he had no other choice. As it is, it’s hard to know whether he would have held these positions anyway or if, like the pre-outing Rep. Jim Kolbe who voted in favor of DOMA, he would have maintained anti-gay stances to protect his political closet. But you have what you have, and he’s probably making the best of the cards that have been dealt him. Unfortunately with the Republican base in central and western Arizona, you also have the voters that you have. And in the game they’re playing Babeu’s playing a dead hand.