Saturday, July 23, 2005

GOP Lets Daniels Twist in the Wind While Christian Right Conducts Smear Campaign

For the past three months Republican Governor Mitch Daniels has been subjected to an all out war on his administration's EEO Policy of non-discrimination towards gay, lesbian, and transgendered state employees waged by the Christian right. First, Micah Clark of the American Family Association led the air campaign, and now Eric Miller of Advance America is leading the ground campaign. Their war of words against Daniel's policy has been loaded with assorted bigoted statements, exaggerations, misrepresentations and outright lies. Throughout the war, Daniels has remained steadfast in his belief that his policy is the right policy for the state's public servants. In defending himself, Daniels has found himself all alone in his own party, receiving virtually no show of public support for his policy from the Indiana Republican Party. In fact, not a single, elected Republican officeholder in the State of Indiana has spoken out in support of Daniels' policy other than Scott Keller, an Indianapolis City-County councilor who co-sponsored a similar EEO policy of non-discrimination for the City of Indianapolis, which was defeated last April.

The lack of support Daniels has received for his policy of non-discrimination from the Republican Party speaks volumes of its current state of affairs. House Speaker Brian Bosma as much as declared war on gays after successfully using gay bashing, wedge issues in several key legislative races to gain control of the Indiana House in the 2004 elections after laboring in the minority for eight years. A constitutional ban on gay marriage was one of the state's highest priorities he declared. Bosma's lack of support is no surprise, but the silence of the state's longest serving Senate President Pro-Tem, Robert Garton of Columbus, is a surprise. The independent-thinking Garton has never been viewed as a fan of the Christian right, which offered little support for his unsuccessful bid for Governor several years ago. Garton's largest employer in his district, Cummins Engines, has been at the forefront among Fortune 500 companies in adopting non-discrimination and same sex policies for its gay and lesbian employees. He has also demonstrated a willingness in the past to send such divisive proposals to the legislative graveyard. Yet, he even openned up the floodgates to Eric Miller's anti-gay initiatives this year. State Party Chairman, James Kittle, whose furniture store business profits from gay and lesbian customers, has also offered no words of support for Daniels' policy.

Interestingly, two major Republican office-holders with nearly identical non-discrimination policies have escaped any criticism from the Christian right. Secretary of State Todd Rokita at the beginning of his first term, and Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi more recently, adopted similar non-discrimination policies for their offices. Neither Rokita nor Brizzi have offered any public words of support for Daniels' policy, perhaps fearing the wrath of the Christian right if they do. A newly formed, moderate Republican organization, which calls itself First Republicans, made an appearance in an earlier Indianapolis Star article reporting on the criticism Daniels' policy had come under from the Christian right. The organization's leader, Indianapolis attorney Syd Steele, who is also employed by House Speaker Brian Bosma's law firm, spoke out strongly in defense of Daniels' policy. Unfortunately, the group has had little success so far in getting more moderate voices within the party to speak out in support of Daniels.

With no support from his own party and his public approval ratings hovering below the fifty percent mark, Daniels has had to rely on reports in the mainstream media to convey his message. The maintstream media, disappointingly, has simply repeated the false claims of Micah Clark and Eric Miller about the policy, drowning out Daniels' message of tolerance. As the old adage goes, if you repeat a lie enough times, it eventually becomes the truth, making it all the more important for the public to be accurately informed about Daniels' policy.

The Christian right has showed no compunction when it comes to bending the truth about Daniels' policy. Miller and Clark, in both press releases and e-mail alerts to their members urging them to contact the Governor's office, continually repeat the false assertions that the policy creates "special rights for homosexuals", and that it establishes an affirmative action plan for "homosexuals and cross-dressers". Miller and Clark have both described it as a "new and radical" policy, even though the same policy has been effect for many years, having first been adopted by the late-Governor Frank O'Bannon and re-adopted by Governor Joe Kernan. Moreover, at least 16 states, hundreds of local communities and many of the nation's Fortune 500 companies have adopted similar policies including locally-based Eli Lilly and WellPoint. Ironically, neither Miller nor Clark (both Republicans) publicly complained when the former Democratic governors adopted this same policy. Both were also silent went Democrat Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson adopted an identical policy for city workers at the beginning of his first term.

Miller and Clark have falsely implied that a non-discrimination policy towards gays and lesbians will force the state to hire "homosexuals and cross-dressers", and it will legally mandate same sex marriages. As Keith Beesley, an attorney with the State's personnel department told the South Bend Tribune, "[T]he policy's affirmative action statements refer only to populations specifically mentioned in state law", which Beasley said "include[s] women and racial and ethnic minorities, but not gays, lesbians, bisexuals or the transgendered." Beasley told the South Bend Tribune that "no state agency ever asks employees or applicants about sexual orientation or gender identity, and keeps no records on those groups' representation in the state work force." Beesley correctly concluded, "It sounds to me like it's more of a political debate than something related to our actual practices." As to Miller's and Clark's arguments that it will legally mandate same sex marriages, Indiana already has a state law on the books prohibiting same sex marriages as do many other states--courtesy of Miller--and the federal Defense of Marriage Act provides that Indiana does not have to recognize same sex marriages recognized by other states.

According to Daniels' press office, Miller's latest e-mail missive to his Advance America members has generated 288 e-mails and six phone calls by late Wednesday, including 67 that support the governor, as reported by the South Bend Tribune. Daniels' Press secretary, Jane Jankowski, said the governor's office has logged more than 5,000 e-mails on the topic over a period of months, most in response to e-mail campaigns launched by other conservative groups according to the report. Jankowsi assures us that "the governor is not changing the policy" despite Miller's and Clark's best efforts to convince him otherwise.

Daniels rightly believes that, if the state is to move forward economically, it must be willing to embrace cultural diversity; otherwise, the creative class that is so much a part of every thriving economy will simply choose to live in places other than Indiana. Unfortunately, the Indiana Republican Party appears more interested in maintaining Indiana's negative image as a hill-jack, backwater, franchise community that chooses bigotry over diversity, and shallow-thinking over intellectual curiosity. Daniels' success in this regard is all the more important for our state's future. Let's hope that the "silent majority" within the Republican Party steps out of the shadows of narrow-minded, gay-bashing bigots like Eric Miller and Brian Bosma and becomes the true voice of the Party of Lincoln.

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