Indiana Congressman and Senate hopeful, Brad Ellsworth, held a liveblog on Blue Indiana Thursday evening that highlighted an important aspect of what LGBT Hoosiers can expect if he's elected to office; they can expect to be ignored and marginalized by the conservative Democrat.
While the state party leadership has a history of taking LGBT voters for granted, the Ellsworth campaign's blatant disregard for queer concerns is indicative of how far away from the party platform the local arm is willing to stray in the pursuit of electoral wins. Not only is the conservative democrat unwilling to budge from his tepid support of LGBT rights, he won't even speak about the topic with gay constituents.
Congressman Ellsworth's extremely poor record on LGBT issues and the major concerns many democrats have with his candidacy should have served as a red flag about the conservative politician's statewide appeal. The state party, however, seems to have anointed Ellsworth as the candidate without actually going through the formality of choosing him - and completely ignoring the outrage simmering in the party's constituency groups.
Privately, many local LGBT leaders and fundraisers have confirmed they will close their pocketbooks if he is the candidate. Recent polls show Ellsworth trailing by large margins behind all the Republican primary candidates. Is the lack of enthusiasm by gay, Latino, and women voters to blame?
The Anointed One
Because Sen Evan Bayh quit before any candidates could file to replace him on the ballot, the Indiana State Central Committee will decide on a candidate to replace Bayh. They are not legally allowed to choose before Primary Election Day.
While State Party Chair Dan Parker has repeatedly told the media that the selection process would be open and transparent, it would seem the deed is already done without a vote being cast. By accepting Bayh's hand picked replacement as the de facto candidate, Democratic leaders got a large donation they can use to elect more Democrats statewide.
Senator Bayh's campaign committee sent an e-mail recently soliciting donations for the Congressman's Senate bid. In the e-mail sent shortly before the FEC fundraising deadline, Bayh paints a glowing picture of Ellsworth. (emphasis Bayh's)
Although we face great challenges, I believe we are blessed with an individual who can rise to the occasion: Brad Ellsworth.
Brad is an independent voice and a fiscal conservative who shares the fierce dedication to public service that you and I value. He has my complete confidence, and I hope you will support him as vigorously as you have supported me.
Brad will bring common sense Hoosier values to his work in the Senate. He will work to get the economy moving again, and he will make sure the Senate stays focused on progress not politics, solutions rather than slogans.
That is why I am urging you to support Brad Ellsworth for the United States Senate.
Shortly before the e-mail was sent out, Bayh gave a million dollars to the Indiana Democratic Party to support this year's campaigns and essentially buying the silence of recalcitrant committee members. The party can spend $857,000 on Ellsworth's campaign, but the rest of it goes straight into the coffers to be doled out for other races.
Gay Donors Flee Ellsworth's Campaign
Several prominent gay and LGBT-friendly Democrats who are usually regular large donors to statewide campaigns and the party itself, have indicated privately that they won't be assisting the Ellsworth campaign. Even progressive organizations that can usually be counted on to endorse a Democrat over a conservative Republican are staying out of this race citing Ellsworth's poor record on LGBT rights.
Last week's liveblog on Blue Indiana with Congressman Ellsworth only served to highlight how little regard he has for the LGBT community. Out of 21 questions left for him by readers, six were about LGBT issues - over a fourth of all questions asked. Most asked about a specific issue, but the Congressman decided to address this general question.
I am a gay Hoosier... I find it extremely hard to "pull the lever" for a candidate who does not support me and my community... I want to know why you think gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, intersexed, and questioning Hoosiers should vote for you if you do not intend to improve your voting record on our issues?
Congressman Ellsworth's reply is the longest public statement his campaign has made about LGBT rights. While queer media, local activists, and gay Democrats have all asked repeatedly to sit down with the Representative to clarify his positions, none have been successful. Most complain that e-mails and phone calls aren't returned.
Ellsworth's smug and condescending reply to the question has set local community members' teeth on edge.
When I was at the Sheriff's office...
I served alongside gay and lesbian officers every day. They will tell you that I treated them with the same respect and trust I showed to every officer on the force. In fact, I instituted the first anti-discrimination policy in our department because it was the right thing to do. I supported ENDA when it came before us last Congress, and I promise I will always be willing to sit down and keep the lines of communication open about these issues.
In case you missed it, let me translate this into "What Gay People Hear" for you:
- I got paid to work beside some gay people once.
- I could have treated them worse than everyone else, but I didn't.
- I should be rewarded for doing the right thing and making everyone else treat the gays equally too.
- Hey, I supported equal employment rights for (just) gay people once.
- Call me.
The Congressman's statement says absolutely nothing but smacks of the "One of my closest friends is black!" defense. At best, the four sentence statement sums up all of Ellsworth's gay positive actions for the past decade while conveniently ignoring all of his anti-gay positions.
Our community doesn't want to bask in his faded glory from his days as a county sheriff. As a Congressman, Ellsworth voted against hate crimes legislation repeatedly, supported a federal marriage amendment to ban same-sex marriage, expressed support for the Defense of Marriage Act, and refused to vote in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) until transgender people were removed from the protections. He also sits on the Armed Services Committee which is where legislation to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell currently rests.
In late February, Ellsworth was asked a question about LGBT issues during a townhall forum in Hamilton County by Bilerico Project co-owner Jerame Davis. He cited his work as a county sheriff again, dodged answering how he'll vote on ENDA, confirmed his opposition to same-sex marriage, and said he wasn't morally opposed to repealing the ban on gays in the military. He closed by inviting gay Democrats to meet with him, but then spent the next month dodging queer media, activists, and voters.
Without the support of the LGBT community and with the grumblings inside many other progressive causes, I'm starting to wonder if Ellsworth can pull this off. No one but Evan Bayh and a few local supporters seem to be excited about his candidacy.
If Ellsworth got out and actually met with his voting base, he'd see his numbers improve. Until then, expect to see his polling continue to sink as constituency groups withhold endorsements and the all-important cash and volunteers.
As one angry gay Democrat wrote, "I can sit this one out and wait on Lugar to retire soon. Hopefully, the party won't make the same mistake again and they'll realize that you don't win elections without Democrat voters."
(Crossposted from my home blog, Bilerico Project. Come visit me there to see why both the Washington Post and the Advocate named us one of the top 10 LGBT political blogs in the nation.)
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