By David Hill - 10/04/06 12:00 AM EDT
The “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell” policy that serves as our military service policy isn’t going to work in Republican politics. That’s the only conclusion one can reach about the mess created by former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) last week.
A key chapter in this story occurred in 2003 when forever-smoldering rumors about Foley’s sexual orientation were being fanned to a blaze by Democrats. Reporters were asking questions. Foley’s response, according to the St. Petersburg Times, was, “Don’t ask, won’t tell.” Once the Florida congressman gave up his ambitions for Bob Graham’s U.S. Senate seat, the reporters went away. But Foley’s secret life kept smoldering and the whole thing finally exploded.
When are gay Republicans in Washington going to realize that they must either come out of the closet or retire from politics? The irresponsible tactic of living a lie isn’t a viable long-term political strategy. Democrats, from Bill Clinton on down, are all too happy to pull down gay Republicans’ trousers and expose their lifestyles. Some Democrats will deny this, but it is clear that partisan considerations have often played a role in clandestine efforts to out GOP gays.
The interesting question is why so many gay Republicans stay closeted. Perhaps it’s because they fear losing their positions. But is there conclusive evidence that would occur? Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe, representing a conservative Arizona district, was reelected several times after coming out in 1996. Earlier this month, a Minnesota state senator, Paul Koering, was narrowly re-nominated in a Republican primary after disclosing that he is gay.
Although a candidate’s homosexuality will always be a key issue, it will rank second to honesty. Honesty always scores near the top of any set of candidate traits that voters seek. Serial dishonesty is never acceptable.
Gay sex isn’t the only problem. In the summer of 2004, businessman Jack Ryan, fresh off winning a four-way GOP primary for Illinois’s U.S. Senate seat, was forced to drop from the race on account of a sex scandal involving visits, with his wife, to swingers’ clubs around the globe. My own opposition researchers had heard all about this long before the primary. One of our indirect sources was Jack himself. A young man that interviewed several times for a position on the Ryan campaign asked on his last visit with the candidate if there was anything that might wreck the campaign, ending his employment. Ryan reportedly told the applicant that he had done things that would make some people think he is a pervert. Now, if Jack Ryan tells a job applicant who is a virtual stranger that there are things in his closet that some people would consider perverted, shouldn’t that have made Ryan think twice about running?
So why do “perverted” politicians keep on running when their lies are almost always eventually exposed? Do they enjoy living on the edge until their outing? Many obviously think that what they do after hours is their own private business. Well, here is some news. It’s not private business, especially if you are running with the imprimatur of the Republican nomination. And if you are living a lie, you are killing your party. Look at what’s happened in Florida. Republicans are forced to throw hapless Joe Negron into the fray as a last minute replacement for Foley. With only a month left, what’s the poor guy to do?
All of this could have been avoided if reports are true that virtually everyone in “leadership” knew what was happening. As in Illinois two years ago, the truth of Foley’s circumstances was known in Florida and D.C. long before it was revealed. Republicans in Washington have got to get their heads out of the sand about candidates who are living lies before we risk losing more seats.
Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.