Gay marriage factors in Senate race in Michigan

Domino’s Pizza CEO David Brandon, like any Republican mulling a Senate bid, must walk a fine line when it comes to gay rights — placating conservatives, on one hand, while not alienating middle-of-the-road voters on the other. But as Pete Coors, the Colorado beer magnate-turned-Senate candidate, can testify, striking a politically palatable balance as a corporate chieftain can be particularly challenging.
Domino’s Pizza CEO David Brandon, like any Republican mulling a Senate bid, must walk a fine line when it comes to gay rights — placating conservatives, on one hand, while not alienating middle-of-the-road voters on the other.

But as Pete Coors, the Colorado beer magnate-turned-Senate candidate, can testify, striking a politically palatable balance as a corporate chieftain can be particularly challenging.
file photo
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.): Could face GOPer David Brandon.


In 2004, Coors faced harsh criticism from his primary rival, former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R), for the beer company’s policy of giving partners of gay employees health benefits. Coors won the GOP nomination, but not without scaring away some on his right flank. In the end, he lost to Ken Salazar (D) on an election night dominated by Republicans.

In Michigan, where Brandon, 53, is considering a bid for the GOP nomination to take on Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) next year, gay marriage has already figured into the Senate race. Pastor Keith Butler, seeking the Republican Senate nomination, issued a statement last week calling for Stabenow “to take action on the constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.”

The statement came in the wake of a recent ruling overturning the Nebraska Defense of Marriage Amendment. Michigan was one of 13 states that passed anti-gay-marriage measures last year.

Referring to that vote, Butler said in his statement that Stabenow should “stand up for the 59 percent of Michigan residents that voted to keep marriage between a man and a woman.”

Unlike Coors’s more liberal policy, Domino’s does not extend health benefits to partners of gay employees.

Dana Harville, a company spokeswoman, said in an e-mail message that the pizza giant “offers benefits coverage to our full-time members, their children and to their opposite-sex spouses.”

Harville added that Domino’s, with 150,000 “corporate and franchise team members worldwide,” conducts “diversity education programs throughout the U.S. that incorporate sexual orientation equally with race differences in our program. Our Legal Guide for Team Members (first distributed company-wide on May 6, 2003) specifies that harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited and will not be tolerated.”

Brandon, in an interview yesterday with The Hill, declined to discuss his company’s personnel policies. “I’m not here to represent Domino’s Pizza on this or any other issue,” Brandon said. “I’d just as soon not branch off into the pizza business.”

Brandon said he has yet to make up his mind about the Senate race, adding that he is taking his time to decide. He also declined to endorse any of the Republicans who have already thrown their hats into the ring or have signaled that they plan to do so.

“I think the best GOP nominee is the one who has the best opportunity of beating Debbie Stabenow,” Brandon said.

Asked if Jane Abraham, the wife of former Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), would make a good Senate nominee, Brandon said, “Jane Abraham is a friend of mine. … I was very supportive during Spence’s runs for the U.S. Senate.”

Jane Abraham, a conservative activist who is said to be leaning toward a Senate run, is expected to announce her plans by the end of the month.

Sean Kosofsky, the director of policy at the Triangle Foundation, a gay-rights group in Detroit, said that Brandon is not viewed as particularly hostile to the gay community but that Domino’s has a bad reputation among gays because of its founder, Tom Monahan. Monahan is well-known for his opposition to gay and abortion rights. Brandon has been chief executive officer of Domino’s for six years.

Kosofsky said same-sex marriage is certain to play a prominent role in the campaign, given that Butler and Abraham oppose gay marriage.

David Doyle, a spokesman for Butler, said that he did not expect gay marriage to factor into the GOP primary but that anything is possible.

Kosofsky added that gay-rights activists across the country would help Stabenow, whom Kosofsky called a “terrific leader,” win a second term. The Triangle Foundation has 2,500 donors and 40,000 people in its database, he said.

Republicans in Washington have privately voiced concern about a Senate GOP candidate attacking Stabenow for her views on gay marriage, abortion rights and other so-called social issues, noting that suburban women, who tend to be more supportive of gay rights than their male counterparts, are a critical swing vote.

Other conservatives argue that tacking right on gay marriage will help the GOP nominee, saying that would bolster support among working-class Catholics in the Detroit suburbs, Flint and elsewhere who, they say, like guns and don’t think much of abortion and same-sex marriage.

Brandon gave no indication in his interview yesterday what he thinks about gay rights or other federal issues, saying that voters know his views from his having run statewide successfully for a seat on the University of Michigan’s Board of Regents.