Thursday, May 04, 2006

Setting The Record Straight On Garton & The GLBT Community

Following the defeat of 36-year Senate veteran and President Pro Tem Robert Garton in Tuesday's Indiana primary election, AI and its editor, Gary R. Welsh, have been the subject of criticism from certain quarters of the GLBT community (IE) for causing the defeat of the "one of the greatest friends we've had in the legislature". In particular, these individuals believe that by making an issue of Sen. Garton's health insurance for life legislative perk, AI fueled the fire that consumed Garton's re-election hopes.

While AI is very flattered to be credited with causing the defeat of one of Indiana's most powerful politicians, we're grounded enough to know just how ludicrous that assertion is. On our best day, this site is visited by no more than a 1,000 people. And not many of those visitors live in Sen. Garton's district. But if reporting the truth about this absurd taxpayer ripoff in any way contributed to Sen. Garton's defeat, then we gladly accept credit; however, AI would be remiss if we didn't extend credit where it is really due. AI thinks the good work of The Howey Political Report and The Indiana Law Blog in reporting on Garton's legislative perk should merit them in sharing more of this honor.

What really has caused us to pause and take a hard look at this criticsm is that AI somehow failed to recognize the contributions of one of the GLBT's greatest friends in the legislature, particularly when there are so few of them to begin with. Has Sen. Garton been a secret ally of the gay community all these years and we just didn't know it? Inquiring minds want to know.

For the record, in the nearly one year this site has been operating, AI has not once been contacted by Garton or anyone working in any capacity for him to disabuse us of any notion that he was anything but unsympathetic to the GLBT community. In a conversation with a lobbyist, who formerly worked for Garton, the opinion was expressed to me that Garton was not anti-gay like Bosma because he had a very close member of his own family who was gay. As I lifted my jaw off the floor, I couldn't help but wonder why a man who has prided himself in projecting an image of being a statesman and a calming voice of moderation had not only allowed the Senate to hear and pass a constitutional amendment (SJR-7 to ban gay marriages) to discriminate against gays and lesbians, but actually voted for it. And this was not the first time he voted to legalize such discrimination. In 1995, the legislature with Sen. Garton's assistance enacted Indiana's Defense of Marriage Act.

Those within the GLBT community who defend Garton say that I'm not being fair to Garton. They tell me that we have to give him a pass on SJR-7. They tell me that we had to give him a chance to get the monkey off his back so he could satisfy the whackos in his caucus for the time being. Because a constitutional amendment must pass 2 successive sessions of the legislature in the exact same form, they assure me that Garton would never allow it to pass the second time, or at least not in the same form, thereby forcing its supporters to bring the issue back before the legislature yet a third time 2 years later before they would have a chance to submit it to the state's voters. Of course, these same people had earlier felt confident in 2005 that Garton would be their savior on SJR-7. In fact, as its identifier indicates, SJR-7 originated in the Senate, where it passed overwhelmingly before being passed by the House by an equally overwhelming majority with the full blessing and support of Speaker Brian Bosma.

Laying aside the gay marriage debate, Garton's defenders assure me that he has been our best friend when it comes to mean-spirited efforts by the Christian right to deny gays and lesbians the right to adopt children. The reality is that the Indiana Court of Appeals has been the greatest defender when it comes to the parental rights of gays and lesbians. The Indiana legislature has not enacted one single piece of legislation during Sen. Garton's 36-year legislative career to defend that right. And while Garton's defenders may believe he has been instrumental in blocking legislative attempts to discriminate against gay parent adoptions, Garton needed only to rely on a Senate rule barring consideration of legislation that would affect the outcome of pending litigation (See e.g., Indiana Law Blog). If you reflect on those previous legislative attempts, they were in direct response to cases that were making their way through the appelllate process.

On the matter of Sen. Pat Miller and her extremist attempt to regulate assisted reproduction as a means of denying children to gay parents, it was Sen. Garton who killed that idea these defenders maintain. Really, and who put Sen. Miller in charge of health care in the Senate? And those thousands of phone calls that flooded the State House in the wake of a blogosphere-led protest had nothing to do with it? C'mon folks, Sen. Miller couldn't take the heat and got the hell out of the kitchen.

And what about when Gov. Mitch Daniels enacted his own non-discrimination policy for state workers that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity? For weeks, the Christian right launched daily attacks against the Governor for enacting the policy. Did Sen. Garton defend Gov. Daniel's' policy? He didn't have a single word to say about it.

Well, maybe he didn't really help us out on that issue either, but these Garton defenders are very proud of the fact that, with Sen. Garton's help, we were able to get a hate crimes law passed in Indiana which includes sexual orientation a few years ago. Despite correcting these individuals on numerous occasions, they continue to repeat the false assertion that Indiana enacted a hate crimes law. The law they refer to only requires the reporting of hate crimes, which includes hate crimes committed because of a person's sexual orientation. The sad truth is that Indiana is just one of 4 states in the country without a hate crimes law, let alone one that covers sexual orientation. We share that dubious honor with Arkansas, South Carolina and Wyoming. And when Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi approached legislative leaders about his own hate crimes proposal for this past legislative session, which would have included sexual orientation, he was told to forget it.

But these Garton defenders assure me that Brizzi's turndown had nothing to do with Garton's opposition; it was because it was a short session and there wouldn't be time for such matters. Does anyone ever recall a short session which produced more far-reaching legislation than the 2006 legislative session, Gov. Daniels' Major Moves and several unsuccessful anti-abortion bills topping that long list? And the legislature did manage to find time in this session to consider a mean-spirited amendment offered by Rep. Jeff Thompson to the eminent domain overhaul bill, which would have denied the right of local governments to enact ordinances to protect gays, lesbians and transgender persons from discrimination, and which would have nullified all existing ordinances, such as the one passed by Indianapolis earlier this year.

And the real funny part about the Thompson ordeal was when these same Garton defenders explained to me that Speaker Bosma had done a real favor for the GLBT community by asking the sponsor to withdraw the amendment, ignoring the fact that his staff drafted the amendment, and that he was the person sitting in the Speaker's chair who recognized Rep. Thompson for purposes of offering his amendment and allowing a lengthy debate to ensue. Speaker Bosma didn't withdraw the amendment as a favor to the GLBT community, he did it to end the chaotic debate which was erupting within his own caucus and over-shadowing the message the eminent domain bill was suppose to be sending. But this standard refrain from these "leaders" of the GLBT community exemplifies the contorted logic they use in redefining legislative enemies of the GLBT community as friends.

Notwithstanding the valiant efforts of some to defend Garton as a great friend of the GLBT community, I find nothing in his 36-year record to draw such a conclusion. To be fair to Sen. Garton, early in his career, he sponsored the Equal Rights Amendment to the chagrin of many of his more conservative Republican colleagues. At the time, Garton described the amendment as "Indiana's first attack on systemic discrimination'" against women. Critics at the time charged that it would also provide equality to "homosexuals", although there is no indication in the record that was a type of discrimination Garton intended to attack. He faced opposition from Speaker Bosma's father, who was then serving in the Senate. Speaking in opposition to ERA, Sen. Charles Bosma said it "would deal a severe blow to the time-honored relationship between husbands and wifes." Whatever higher ideas Garton believed in 30 years ago when he sponsored ERA, they seemed to have fallen by the wayside in favor of his hunger for power.

If AI's analysis of Sen. Garton's 36-year record on GLBT issues is missing something, please correct us for the sake of the record. The real problem is a matter of perception. Some people think because a politician meets with you, treats you politely and listens to what you have to say, that makes him a friend of your cause. Sen. Garton has been very good at doing that and nothing more for the GLBT community in our opinion. If he knows that is all he has to do to make him a "friend", why need he do more and risk offending someone; he never has anything to fear.

I learned long ago that politicians are far more likely to stand up and take notice of someone who is willing to strike a little fear in them than someone who simply wants to rub shoulders with them. Sen. Garton never feared Indiana's GLBT community as his record reflects. Call me cynical if you want, but with friends like Garton, who needs enemies?


Johnny Doe said...

hi there, been reading ur blog for 2 weeks now, find ur articles interesting, it could have been better if your blog's layout is of something pleasent to the eye. Try searching Google Search for blogspot templates, there are many high quality templates available out there. Gecko&Fly has lots of free blogspot template. keep up the blogging. :) cheers.

Anonymous said...

God, why would he fear the GLBT community if some of them still love him after that horrible track record. With friends like that, who needs enemies! Thanks for the insight Gary, I for one, am very glad that you shed light on the "health care for life" perk.

Anonymous said...

We sure do appreciate the smile and the pat on the back that goes along with our second class citizenship. Playing soft ball with people in power never garners respect. And this is why the GLBT community is where it is today: one step beyond nowhere. When we grovel and beg for our rights as opposed to demanding them, we have a problem.

For some reason party affiliation seems to trump GLBT rights - esp in this state. Republican legislators who are nice to Kathy Sarris to her face but then vote against her with SJR7 seem to continue to garner her respect. Birds of a feather. Garton's successor will likely not give Sarris the smile and pat on the back considering he is much more conservative than Garton.

Perhaps Sarris and her cronies were just shy of some sort of back door deal that would ensure Garton's support for killing SJR7. Sarris seems to like those Karl Rove-like manuevers (sans the Karl-Rove IQ) And from where I sit she wants her cake and she wants to eat it too. Well, in Indiana anyway, you can't have it both ways. Or at least not now. Garton's constituents have spoken and they want a more conservative candidate. Obviously if you compare candidates, Garton is more moderate, but he's still not a friend to the GLBT community. Sarris and company would rather have a non friend Republican legislator than a friend to the community who is a Democrat.

Sarris found her Scott Keller, but he is rare in Indianaississipi. Garton is no Scott Keller. In my exchanges with Garton last year, he was adamant on his stance regarding SJR7. His vote speaks for itself. So if IE believes he is such a friend to the GLBT community, they need to pony up hard facts as to why they think so. Until then they need to stop crying over spilled, spoiled milk.

Anonymous said...

Gary - AMEN, Brother!

It absolutely amazes me that some LGBT community leaders continue to talk about how "supportive" some legislators are in "secret meetings" from which these self-proclaimed LGBT leaders emerge with assurances that the legislators supposedly support us wholeheartedly. BUT, of course, we can't expect them to actually vote for us or sponsor bills for us or give us rights or anything like that. (THIS IS RIDICULOUS!)

Then these LGBT leaders will expect, because they were able to have these special secret meetings with people like Garton, that we're supposed to continue to trust their leadership even though they fail to make any progress again and again and again. Hogwash! It's time for a change in the Indiana Senate as much as its a time for a change in the statewide LGBT political leadership who've repeatedly failed to deliver.

You're also absolutely correct in your recollection of the so-called "hate crimes" legislation that has been touted as their big success of the past. We were thrown less than a bone with this watered down excuse of a reporting requirement. You're right that Indiana is one of only four states without a true hate crimes bill. Sad, sad, sad -- but true.

Marla R. Stevens said...

Not to dispute the things you've discussed here, Gary, but, to be fair, it must be stated that Garton was one of the key figures in the astonishing "failed for lack of a second" killing of Waterman's proposed adoption ban -- reportedly on the heels of that gay family member's entreaty to do something about that dreadful bill.

He also appeared at the highly charged stockholder's meeting of Cummins where their new domestic partner benefits policy was assailed. His silence in the meeting and comparative public cordiality with both Cummins' leadership and their policy's supporters in the general public before and after the meeting spoke a tacit support for Cummins that shocked Eric Miller's troops to their core.

In addition, he is as responsible as anyone for there not being a direct-to-ballot citizen initiated referendum process in Indiana, which we have more to be grateful for right now than just about anyone else.

He's also been an active and powerful advocate, at least in the theoretical sense, for increased citizen access to the legislative process, which is a good thing and rather rare in Indiana.

But he was not above using the process to stymie public access when it served his purposes. You see, in addition to being a wall to LGB (there was no T offered at the time) civil rights legislation and no friend to hate crimes penalty legislation (with or without a queer-inclusive or -exclusive laundry list), Garton rewarded Waterman, the off-the-wall-wierd-on-gay-issues Patriot Militia supporter*, with an ultra-smooth ride for Waterman's odious Battery by Body Waste legislation that has sparked an unending stream of abusive police and prosecutorial actions against gay men in Indiana.

Garton threatened the bill's committee chair with removal if she did not hear it and supported what amounted to an ambush hearing, not giving notice of its Monday holiday date until long after business hours on the preceding Friday afternoon.

It wasn't illegal but it was hardball to the point of being dirty play in favor of a bill that all involved admitted would never have seen the light of day had Garton not wanted to issue a political nose-thumbing to the Democrats and to reward Waterman for making that possible. We and the idea of equal protection were unimportant enough to him to be acceptable sacrificial pawns in that.

He's an old man with old ideas who is making progress on the concept of LGBT people as equal humans too slowly to tolerate, conservative district notwithstanding as they've moved beyond him on these matters.

But his party's new champion in that district is far, far worse and the district isn't known to be friendly to Democrats. Worse, the short list of possible successors to his President Pro Tem job is dominated by people who aren't any better where we're concerned and plenty are worse.

I worry, therefore, that we could well be sorry to see Sen. Garton go -- at least in the short term.

* Legislative staff have termed Waterman "functionally illiterate" and called him the living argument for restoring actual full bill readings in the legislature as they did in the old days before it was expected that all the legislators could actually read the bills. (He's poorly educated and subsequently ignorant but country fox smart enough to understand the spoken word.) One told me that the Republican staff who wrote his floor speeches were instructed by their leadership to set the Flesch scale on their word processor to a maximum of fourth grade for any oeuvres Waterman was to read in public -- and he managed to regularly mangle his speeches even then.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Marla--again--the famous Senate rule, properly applied at the time, would not allow for the gay adoption ban bill since there was pending litigation on the issue.

My recollection of Garton on Cummins is slightly different. He was not entirely pleased at the time that the company had brought about so many high profile Democrats.

Marti said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Marti said...

I wish I could say I'm shocked, but I've spent my time inside the beast... and I've seen the crap that goes on within IE... it's all par for the course.

Wally Paynter down in Evansville (TSA) is our enemy, but Garton is our friend? This group has some ******* up priorities.

But really... who is surprised?

Gary R. Welsh said...

An important point not to miss is that it was not at all clear Garton would be re-elected as leader if he got re-elected to the Senate. He barely survived a challenge from Murray Clark last time and the Senate has only become more conservative since then. The 8 most recent arrivals are solidly in the far right camp. Even if he had managed to get the leadership post again, he would have been compelled to hear issues like SJR-7 whether he wanted it heard or not. The one thing that is clear, he has demonstrated a willingness to move to the right as the ideological mood in his caucus shifted.

Anonymous said...

OK, let me get this straight.....IE is NOW saying that Bob Garton was responsible for stopping Patricia Miller's whacky bill. Wow. I remember when THEY took credit for stopping the bill and shared the credit with no one.

Where are the results of all these "behind the scenes" deals going on between IE and all these various republican officials? On the state level, NOT ONE republican has been even remotely close to being an ally of the GLBT community.

Anonymous said...

Gary, congrats on the power of your blog! See what you can do about getting Bosma ousted, okay? Thanks!

Marla R. Stevens said...

Regarding the rule about pending litigation and adoption: It's a stretch to begin with, as the litigation was not as on point to that as the rule properly applied would have required. But, even if you were entirely correct, it's a case of thinking like a lawyer instead of a politician. Garton has, as you've aptly pointed out, had to walk a tightrope with his caucus in order to retain the power to act at all and applying that rule would probably have been too directly confrontative at the time. A creative tactic worked better instead and, although he was not its author, his cooperation was both sought and willingly given.

About Cummins: I don't dispute your assertion but it does not contradict mine as they could and did exist simultaneously.

As for his President Pro Tem job being on perilous footing even had he won the primary, of course it was, as was the harsh reality of that making it virtually impossible for him to act the way we'd all like for him to have regarding SJR7 and other gay-related legislation. But I'd rather have someone in place who might act in a tempering way from time to time than someone who is an RPE true believer like Long.

That doesn't make me anyone's pawn, by the way (or anything but Wally Paynter's as well as the diverse people of IE's colleague). That just makes me a realist who's making the best of hard times that all too often present near-Hobson's choices.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Marla--I will make one final point with you on the gay adoption bill. It was the position of the Attorney General's office that the Indiana Adoption Act did not permit gay couples to adopt. It was the view that the issue would get cleared up in the courts and no legislation would be needed. Of course, that didn't stop them from doing the Defense of Marriage Act even though gay marriages were not legally recognized under Indiana's family law. Instead, the opposite happened. The Court of Appeals has consistently affirmed the right of gays parents to have custody of their own children and adopt childen not related by blood, and our Supreme Court has avoided directly dealing with the issue like the plague. That is what spawned efforts in the House and the Senate to remake the way appellate judges are chosen and retained; affording the legislature a strong say in the matter as a threat to the courts to decide cases the way we want or we'll toss you out.