In a preview of the May 8 California gubernatorial debate, the Los Angeles Times predicted that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom would tout his history-making stand in favor of marriage equality, the subject of his moving first TV campaign ads. He didn’t. In fact, none of the six candidates—four Democrats and two Republicans— mentioned the LGBT community once during the 90-minute debate that included praising the state’s diversity.
However, in an ironic twist, a gay man was invoked as the final arbiter of a lively dispute between Trumpian populist Republican Assemblymember Travis Allen and GOP businessman John Cox. The two Republicans fought over credit for leading the effort to scuttle the gas tax, endorsed by all the Democrats as necessary for infrastructure repairs. Cox told Allen to ask gay former San Diego city council member and radio talk show host Carl DeMaio, organizer of the Gas Tax Repeal, which gubernatorial candidate helped put the initiative on the June 5 primary ballot.
Much has been made of recent polls showing Newsom well ahead of the pack with Cox edging ahead of former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who most pundits expect to wind up as Newsom’s challenger after the top-two primary. State Treasurer John Chiang and former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin both had moments during the debate, but nothing to ignite a surge.
Of California’s almost 19 million registered voters, 8,471,371 (44.6%) are Democrats, 4,827,973 (25.4%) are Republican and 4,734,847 (25%) are No Party Preference as of January. The stakes are extremely high with so many Democrats in “jungle primary” down-ballot races that the 25 percent No Party Preference vote could make a critical difference—which is why Cox’s candidacy cannot be taken lightly.
Neither Cox nor Allen won the nomination of the California Republican Party. Their angry spat continued on the gubernatorial debate stage with Allen playing the bombastic populist fully embracing Trump, while Cox trying to reach out as an outside businessman who now regrets that he didn’t originally vote for Trump. Cox heralded his recent visits to the White House as proof he is now onboard—but he also claimed to be a “Jack Kemp Republican.”
Problem is—which Jack Kemp? Kemp favored expanding immigration, including granting amnesty to undocumented workers, and in 1989, when he was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Kemp said: “I want to be known as a civil rights Republican; somebody who is promoting what President Bush calls ‘’an equal opportunity society.’”
Kemp didn’t mind homosexuals in the late 1980s but didn’t want gays teaching in schools. Many of his positions changed dramatically in the early 1990s, before he became Sen. Bob Dole’s vice presidential running mate. It is hard to fathom that Jack Kemp, a Republican Establishment gentleman who also worked across the aisle in congress, would have tolerated the crude incivility and outright racism of Donald Trump.
After the Mercury-News reported last February about Cox’s anti-LGBT comments during a 2007 Values Voter Summit, Cox told the Los Angeles Times that his views have changed.
“Like many Californians, my views have evolved over the last decade. I concluded that it was inconsistent with my support for individual liberty, limited government and the right to privacy,” Cox said. “The focus of my campaign is economic growth and freedom and I’m looking forward to engaging the LGBTQ community and all Californians to revive the California Dream.”
But Cox has not retracted his 2007 comments: “We also have this problem with transvestites who want to be school teachers,” Cox said then, adding: “We certainly need to stand up for the proper behavior, we absolutely need to do that, but we need to use common sense, and talk about the fact that we can’t open the floodgates to polygamy and bestiality and all kinds of other things.”
While issues of character and decades-old sexual affairs were raised during the gubernatorial debate—Cox was not asked about his evolution. None of the candidates were asked nor did they volunteer their views, past or present, about LGBT issues, despite clear evidence that Trump and his administration are intent on rolling back protections for LGBT people. California has the most military bases in the country, and the most transgender service members at risk of being banned from their military jobs and serving their country, for instance—which is why Attorney General Becerra on behalf of the state of California joined the Equality California lawsuit as a plaintiff fighting the Trump ban. LGBT DREAMers and LGBT people seeking asylum are among the immigrants about whom the candidates spoke as well, with many facing certain death if returned to the country from with they escaped or never knew. No one thought to mention them.
Interesting, too, is new research showing LGBT people are embedded and leaders in the very social justice causes about which the candidates do speak.
“Lesbians, gays, and bisexuals were more than twice as likely as heterosexuals to join anti-war, environmental, and anti-corporate movements,” writes Eric Swank of Arizona State University in his new study published in the journal Social Science Research. This may reflect the fact that they are “more aware, and less accepting, of social inequalities than heterosexuals. Additionally, “Approximately one out of five gays, lesbians, and bisexuals have joined the LGB rights movement,” he reports, “while less than one out of 100 heterosexuals have done the same thing.”
Most likely, the gubernatorial race will come down to voters’ judgment of character—which is what the Los Angeles Blade discussed with Newsom and Villaraigosa in this issue.