Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Murphy's Law: A Vote Against Gays Is Good For GOP

As the vote before the Indianapolis City-County Council neared last April for Proposal 68, which would have barred discrimination in housing and employment on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity, it appeared that a handful of Republican council members were poised to join the measure's Republican co-sponsor, Scott Keller, in supporting the critical civil rights measure. But when the vote was tallied, Scott Keller was the lone Republican, along with ten Democratic council members, to support the measure, leaving it four votes shy of the majority required for its passage. What happened to those other Republican votes? Most observers assumed that the last-hour barrage of e-mails generated by Eric Miller's Advance America against the proposal caused several wavering Republicans to switch their votes to oppose it. Miller's efforts it turns out may not have played as much of a role in the reversal of Republican council members' votes as much as late-hour calls made to them by Marion County GOP Chairman Mike Murphy.

Advance Indiana has learned from a reliable source that Murphy argued to Republican council members that Proposal 68 should receive no support from Republican council members, even though it had a Republican co-sponsor, thereby requiring the support of at least 14 of the council's 16 Democrat members for its passage. Murphy as it turns out had decided to take a page out of House Speaker Brian Bosma's playbook and use gay-baiting as a wedge issue in the next city elections to regain a Republican majority on the council. Murphy theorized that Republicans would be able to hammer incumbent Democratic council members in the 2003 city election for their votes in support of Proposal 68, just as Brian Bosma successfully used gay-baiting in several key legislative races to re-gain control of the Indiana House of Representatives. What Murphy did not expect was that five Democrats, all of but one of whom was African-American, would vote against Proposal 68, causing its defeat by an 18-11 vote.

Mike Murphy, also a state representative for a south-side Marion County district, assumed chairmanship of the party after the drubbing it took in the last elections when Mayor Peterson was re-elected by a landslide and Democrats gained control of the city-county council for the first time since the creation of Uni-Gov more than 30 years ago. As a state representative, Murphy voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriages, and he supported Indiana's Defense of Marriage law, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman. He has declined to support efforts to amend Indiana's Civil Rights Law to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment and housing.

As recently as 15 years ago, the Marion County Republican Party was recognized as one of the largest and most successful county party organizations in the country. But as many middle and upper income whites have migrated to the collar counties and a more diverse population has migrated into the county, including a large number of Hispanics, highly educated professionals and gays and lesbians, the Republican Party's electoral successes in the county have faded. Unfortunately, the party has shown little willingness to moderate its positions to attract the rapidly changing demographics of the county; instead, it clings to its support of issues attractive only to the Christian right, which are alienating to many of the county's newcomers.

Murphy's decision to adopt gay-baiting as a means of electoral success, while not surprising, is very troubling, and it will not bode well for the Republican Party's future in Marion County. It is also not a smart professional move on Murphy's part. According to Murphy's legislative biography, he is Executive Director of Strategic Development business unit of Anthem, which recently merged with WellPoint, making it one of the country's largest HMOs. According to the Human Rights Campaign's survey of Fortune 500 companies policies towards gays and lesbians, WellPoint scored an 86 out of a possible 100, making it a very friendly place of employment for gays and lesbians. The company specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and offers health insurance coverage to employees' domestic partners. Advance Indiana cannot believe that Murphy's employer would approve of his use of gay-baiting for electoral success. If he applied these same practices in his own workplace, he would be subject to disciplinary action, including termination.

While it does not seem to bother Murphy that he may be making the lives more difficult for gays and lesbians by using gay-baiting for political advantage, he doesn't mind profiteering off the GLBT community. In addition to his position with WellPoint, Murphy serves as Chairman of the Board for Monarch Beverage, Inc., which distributes beer products for Miller and Coors in the Indiananpolis market. Among Monarch's customers are more than a half dozen gay bars. Because Indiana's alcoholic beverage regulations allow for the establishment of exclusive territories for beer distributors like Monarch, bar owners have no choice than to purchase their Miller and Coors products from Monarch if they want to offer those products to their customers. While Zink Distributing Company, the local distributor for Anheuser-Busch, has been very generous in giving back to the gay community, Monarch has not. Zink, for example, has given tens of thousands of dollars to Indy Pride for its annual celebration in downtown Indianapolis. Monarch has made no contributions in recent memory. Greg's Our Place owner, Phil Denton, reportedly pulled products furnished by Monarch Beverage recently from his gay establisment after Monarch declined a sponsorship opportunity for a gay-sponsored event.

It simply makes no business sense at all for Monarch Beverage to have someone who is using his political power to block gay civil rights, and for it to turn its back on the GLBT community as it reaps profits from them. Advance Indiana cannot imagine that either Miller or Coors would approve of Murphy's or Monarch's actions towards the Indianapolis GLBT community as both have been very generous in reaching out and supporting gays and lesbians. Coors even once employed Vice President Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter, Mary, as the company's liaison to the GLBT community.

Murphy's Law may be the law of the Marion County Republicans right now, but neither Murphy nor the party can expect much success by following it. It could also prove very damaging to Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi in his bid for re-election next year. Brizzi, who has adopted his own policy of non-discrimination, just as Governor Mitch Daniels and Secretary of State Todd Rokita have, is the Marion County Democrat's number one target for the 2006 county elections. If the Marion County GOP continues to alienate voters through the use of divisive wedge issues, that can only hurt Brizzi if voters fail to distinguish tolerant Republicans like him from non-tolerant Republicans like Murphy and Brian Bosma. One can only hope that the silent majority of Republicans speak out and repeal Murphy's Law once and for all.

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