Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Richardson Screws It Up -- Again.

I don't usually deal with issues this off-topic on this blog, but I feel the need this time because I'm so amazed at the hamhandedness at work here.

Gov. Bill Richardson will be in Vegas tomorrow. He's mixing his public appearances with an inexplicably private meeting at the Las Vegas Gay and Lesbian Community Center with a collection of handpicked gays and lesbians. This is supposed to be the event that will help him "make up" to our gays after he screwed himself earlier this month by telling Melissa Etheridge in the first-ever televised gay-issues forum that being gay is a choice. Since his campaign hinges on a decent showing in Nevada early in the process, the fact that he alienated an important Democratic voting bloc - and their friends - is of critical concern.

This event actually was my idea to begin with, but it's being executed in such a pathetic manner that it actually makes the whole thing worse. The morning after that debate, I suggested something like this to both Richardson's openly gay Nevada staffer and a gay Vegas friend who was being asked by the campaign how to fix the damage. I'm not generally in the business of giving out political advice to candidates, but these friends of mine were posing the question to me of what he could possibly do to alter his tattered image with gays. I went on to write a piece in the Las Vegas Weekly this week that argued this point as well.

Rather than such a grand gesture, the immediate response the day after the debate from the Richardson camp was to have the guv call up handpicked gays -- high-profile bloggers and potential donors, mostly -- to apologize to them for his debate answer. None of this did any good in terms of tackling the real problem, which was that it was the image of him looking dour and irritable amongst the gays on that TV show that made his "choice" comments hurt him so much. It was the visual that harmed him far more than the remarks.

The real solution, it seemed to me, would be to put Richardson out in public in front of a diverse crowd of gays and answer their questions. He had screwed up on national TV; he can't fix it in private. If he wanted to make amends to the Vegas gays, he needed to come to them.

Instead, his camp decided to choose a "special" group of gays, do it at the Center as I imagined but close it to the public. That's what's up tomorrow.

I was invited to this meeting but was told I'd not be able to write about it if I attended. I didn't see the point of that, so I declined. When I asked why it was closed, among the answers I got was that some of the "participants" wanted it that way.

That's just weird, bordering on a lie.

Beyond the fact that they're not opening the thing up to all comers, they're saying they can't even find a group of gay people in Vegas who aren't embarrassed to be in the news? Or who aren't in politically sensitive circumstances -- declared supporters of other campaigns, I imagine -- that their presence at a coffee with Richardson would cause them discomfort?

That can't be it. Obviously, they don't trust their own candidate not to step in it again in public with the gays. That's why he only talks to special gays in special circumstances. I've heard the argument, too, that the campaign wants it closed so those present "feel free to speak their minds." Open it to the public and be assured some who show up will feel completely comfortable "speaking their minds."

I was also told that the governor wants this to be a "conversation." Huh? This isn't the queer re-education of Bill Richardson. He's not like George W. Bush in 2000, when the Texas guv met with the Log Cabin Republicans in private and listened for his first time to gay sob stories. Richardson already "gets it" with the gays. He knows many. His record shows he's the furthest thing from a homophobe and, intellectually, his uncertainty as to whether being gay is a choice is, if more eloquently delivered, the true answer. Science hasn't determined that yet. I believe it from my own experience, but is there an irrefutable body of evidence? No.

This is my political analysis: If this campaign really wants to make an honest attempt to repair this damage, they'll have to take a risk. They have to put this man who believes he should be president of the United States out there in public with the gays he offended and show everyone he can take the heat and is earnest about his contrition. If he does that well, he gets a photo op that may help erase the image of himself looking unhappy and crabby at the TV forum, not to mention he helps bring some attention to a Vegas gay center so underfunded that KNPR's Dave Berns asked me on the air last week whether it was a secret that it exists.

If Richardson can't do that, he has no business being president anyway.


Jeff Leatherock said...

Steve, this is my fear with ALL the presidential candidates, today. No unguarded moments allowed. I long for the day we can see Obama smoking a cigarette. Or Romney looking like if he walks like he wants or says what he thinks, the world will not spin off its unapproved by focus group axis. Trying to please everyone is making todays politics truly pathetic.

Darren said...

no wonder this man with such great credentials is in such sorry shape. he's got idiots telling him what to do. sad.

DavidB said...

So, even though Governor Richardson has apologized time and time again in front of every major LGBT media outlet; and even though people like Rep. Barney Frank and Joe Solmonese, President of the HRC and on the panel with Melissa, have made statements in support of Bill Richardson's clarification and his long record in support of LGBT rights; that's not enough for you?

Perhaps this response in the Washington Post, from the Chair of the Los Angeles Democratic Party, a pround member of the LGBT community, will put things in the proper perspective:

"Wag the Blog Redux: OK, so an exhausted presidential candidate slips and
says he thinks being gay is a choice. Minutes later he steps back and says
that the bottom line is all people are equal under the law and should be so

I ponder the importance of the question, the answer and reality.

Here are some simple facts:

As Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson has enacted and fought for an
historic expansion of laws to recognize and protect LGBT citizens of New

Bill Richardson regularly talks about his LGBT record and plans in
presidential forums, big and small, gay and not.

Bill Richardson is not running to be arbiter-in-chief of how people become
lesbian or gay. He is running to be a President of the United States for
every American. Period. Regardless of sexual orientation or other

Having said all of that, it is high time we focus not on trivial
slips-of-the-tongue and minor policy differences, but rather on the fact
that seven years of GOP dominance in Washington has created an America so
divided, so frustrated, so angry that the winds of change are blowing at
category five.

I have not personally decided who I will support, but let me assure you,
I'll take Bill Richardson over any of the lightweights running on the other

At a time of chaos at home and abroad, any one of the Democratic candidates
go a long way towards bridging the divides among us, restoring our standing
in the world, bringing our troops home, restoring our economy, providing
healthcare for every American, facing the challenge of climate change, and
yes, expanding the rights, responsibilites and protections for LGBT

Eric C. Bauman
Chair, Los Angeles County Democratic Party

Dan Kane said...

But why is he only speaking to special gays? Why not do it in public? What is the point of hiding? I'm with Steve here.