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Sam Stein

The Huffington Post • stein@huffingtonpost.com

 
Sam Stein

BIO

For Younger Class Of Political Operatives, Gay Rights Issues Often Pit Them Against Their Candidates

March 23, 2011

WASHINGTON -- It's become a political truism to say that there is a generational divide with respect to gay rights, as polling data bears out the fact that younger voters, even conservatives, are far more in favor of same-sex marriage than their elders.

But as the 2012 election, particularly the Republican presidential primary, takes shape, that divide -- even between some presumptive candidates and their younger staffers -- has been drawn more sharply into focus.

Over the course of the past week or so, James Richardson, who served as online communications manager for the Republican National Committee in the 2008 cycle, was signed up by Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) to serve as a communications adviser for his Political Action Committee and, likely, his presidential campaign. A well-respected operative within GOP circles, Richardson had run a personal blog in between those two stints. And at some point in time -- more than two years ago -- he argued that the Republican Party should embrace the philosophical concepts (and political benefits) of gay adoption and gay marriage.

“[T]he Republican Party is at a defining crossroads,” Richardson wrote on his site. “Now is not the time for an echo chamber. And homosexual demagoguery is not the answer to the Party’s woes, particularly when gay men and women represent the only demographic in which John McCain bested President Bush (27% to 19% based on exit polling).”

Such musings are increasingly common among younger conservatives. But, a Democratic source pointed out, after Richardson signed up with Barbour -- who has long opposed gay marriage -- his post was removed, replaced with a “no results found” message.

Richardson declined to comment for this report, but stressed that he took the site down of his own volition, not at the behest of anyone in Barbour's orbit. He could have kept it up, but that would have produced the awkward specter for a candidate and a top staffer arguing opposing sides of a prominent social issue. Communications aides, after all, are supposed to be the messengers, not the message.

Of course, it's not groundbreaking that a campaign hand has a policy disagreement with the boss. But the removal of Richardson’s post underscores a far more telling feature of the modern Republican Party: A large chunk of the GOP operative class has no problem with expanding gay rights, but those staffers nonetheless work for candidates who are principally opposed to such moves.

Steve Schmidt, who managed John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008, waited until after the election to announce that he not only supports gay marriage but also believed the Republican Party would be better off supporting it in its platform. Ken Mehlman, who served as the campaign manager for the 2004 presidential reelection campaign of George W. Bush -- in which the prospect of gay marriage served as a key, divisive social issue -- came out of the closet only after removing himself thoroughly from politics.

Below campaigns' top tiers, such ideological differences are even more common. Liz Mair, who worked alongside Richardson at the Republican National Committee and helped the McCain campaign, joined the firm Hynes Communications after the 2008 election. While at that post, she shifted between the worlds of commentary, campaign consulting and issue advocacy -- the latter of which landed her a gig on the advisory board of the Republican group GOProud, which supports expanding gay rights.

For Mair and other operatives, such juggling has its benefits, not least of which is the sense of ideological liberation that comes from being off the trail. But it also has a self-censoring effect -- essentially discouraging so-called “campaign gypsies” from divulging personal political beliefs lest they be used to haunt their next candidate employer.

“I'd love to live in a world where my political views corresponded 100 percent with those of any given candidate out there, but the reality is, the best-case scenario is that as an operative, you agree with your candidate on 90 to 99 percent of the issues, and 100 percent on those that matter most to you,” Mair told The Huffington Post. “I don't think there's ever a situation where someone agrees 100 percent on everything, though. Certainly, I've never been lucky enough to identify a candidate with whom I do agree 100 percent.”

Indeed, so far only a few candidates in the prospective Republican presidential field have even hinted an openness toward gay marriage. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman endorsed civil unions in his state, and more recently, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer said he was fine with states legalizing gay marriage, though he still supports the federal policy that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

To a lesser extent, the same dynamic that Mair and Richardson face is true on the Democratic side of the aisle. Chris Kofinis, a longtime operative who helped encourage the retail giant Walmart to embrace policies of equality towards gay employees, now serves as the chief of staff to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the only Democrat vote against a repeal of the army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

A number of White House staffers, meanwhile, admit in private that they support gay marriage -- a position that President Barack Obama has kept at arm’s length. Steve Hildebrand, Obama's openly gay former deputy campaign chairman, has walked a fine line with respect to urging the administration to be bolder in its gay rights agenda and openly criticizing its meekness.

“[T]his is a bipartisan issue,” Mair said, “but it's also an issue that has arisen because of the kinds of functions that must be performed in campaigns these days, and the fact that for various reasons, operatives are more in the public eye as personalities in their own right than perhaps they once were.”

Sam Stein

BIO

For Younger Class Of Political Operatives, Gay Rights Issues Often Pit Them Against Their Candidates

March 23, 2011

WASHINGTON -- It's become a political truism to say that there is a generational divide with respect to gay rights, as polling data bears out the fact that younger voters, even conservatives, are far more in favor of same-sex marriage than their elders.

But as the 2012 election, particularly the Republican presidential primary, takes shape, that divide -- even between some presumptive candidates and their younger staffers -- has been drawn more sharply into focus.

Over the course of the past week or so, James Richardson, who served as online communications manager for the Republican National Committee in the 2008 cycle, was signed up by Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) to serve as a communications adviser for his Political Action Committee and, likely, his presidential campaign. A well-respected operative within GOP circles, Richardson had run a personal blog in between those two stints. And at some point in time -- more than two years ago -- he argued that the Republican Party should embrace the philosophical concepts (and political benefits) of gay adoption and gay marriage.

“[T]he Republican Party is at a defining crossroads,” Richardson wrote on his site. “Now is not the time for an echo chamber. And homosexual demagoguery is not the answer to the Party’s woes, particularly when gay men and women represent the only demographic in which John McCain bested President Bush (27% to 19% based on exit polling).”

Such musings are increasingly common among younger conservatives. But, a Democratic source pointed out, after Richardson signed up with Barbour -- who has long opposed gay marriage -- his post was removed, replaced with a “no results found” message.

Richardson declined to comment for this report, but stressed that he took the site down of his own volition, not at the behest of anyone in Barbour's orbit. He could have kept it up, but that would have produced the awkward specter for a candidate and a top staffer arguing opposing sides of a prominent social issue. Communications aides, after all, are supposed to be the messengers, not the message.

Of course, it's not groundbreaking that a campaign hand has a policy disagreement with the boss. But the removal of Richardson’s post underscores a far more telling feature of the modern Republican Party: A large chunk of the GOP operative class has no problem with expanding gay rights, but those staffers nonetheless work for candidates who are principally opposed to such moves.

Steve Schmidt, who managed John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008, waited until after the election to announce that he not only supports gay marriage but also believed the Republican Party would be better off supporting it in its platform. Ken Mehlman, who served as the campaign manager for the 2004 presidential reelection campaign of George W. Bush -- in which the prospect of gay marriage served as a key, divisive social issue -- came out of the closet only after removing himself thoroughly from politics.

Below campaigns' top tiers, such ideological differences are even more common. Liz Mair, who worked alongside Richardson at the Republican National Committee and helped the McCain campaign, joined the firm Hynes Communications after the 2008 election. While at that post, she shifted between the worlds of commentary, campaign consulting and issue advocacy -- the latter of which landed her a gig on the advisory board of the Republican group GOProud, which supports expanding gay rights.

For Mair and other operatives, such juggling has its benefits, not least of which is the sense of ideological liberation that comes from being off the trail. But it also has a self-censoring effect -- essentially discouraging so-called “campaign gypsies” from divulging personal political beliefs lest they be used to haunt their next candidate employer.

“I'd love to live in a world where my political views corresponded 100 percent with those of any given candidate out there, but the reality is, the best-case scenario is that as an operative, you agree with your candidate on 90 to 99 percent of the issues, and 100 percent on those that matter most to you,” Mair told The Huffington Post. “I don't think there's ever a situation where someone agrees 100 percent on everything, though. Certainly, I've never been lucky enough to identify a candidate with whom I do agree 100 percent.”

Indeed, so far only a few candidates in the prospective Republican presidential field have even hinted an openness toward gay marriage. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman endorsed civil unions in his state, and more recently, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer said he was fine with states legalizing gay marriage, though he still supports the federal policy that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

To a lesser extent, the same dynamic that Mair and Richardson face is true on the Democratic side of the aisle. Chris Kofinis, a longtime operative who helped encourage the retail giant Walmart to embrace policies of equality towards gay employees, now serves as the chief of staff to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the only Democrat vote against a repeal of the army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

A number of White House staffers, meanwhile, admit in private that they support gay marriage -- a position that President Barack Obama has kept at arm’s length. Steve Hildebrand, Obama's openly gay former deputy campaign chairman, has walked a fine line with respect to urging the administration to be bolder in its gay rights agenda and openly criticizing its meekness.

“[T]his is a bipartisan issue,” Mair said, “but it's also an issue that has arisen because of the kinds of functions that must be performed in campaigns these days, and the fact that for various reasons, operatives are more in the public eye as personalities in their own right than perhaps they once were.”

Sam Stein

BIO

Tim Kaine 'Increasingly Likely' To Run For Senate But No Decision Yet

March 23, 2011

WASHINGTON -- Top Democratic officials say Democratic National Committee Chair Tim Kaine is “increasingly likely” to announce a run for the Virginia senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jim Webb but has not yet made a formal decision, despite some reports to the contrary.

The Virginia Democrat, who is fresh off a personal vacation and resuming his chairman responsibilities, reportedly told a class of students on Monday that he was going to challenge former Senator George Allen for Webb’s senate seat. That report, which originated on local radio after a caller claimed friends in the class had heard Kaine declare his candidacy, caused an uproar on Twitter. Among campaign rollouts, an unexpected announcement in a random classroom would have been most peculiar.

Not surprisingly, the DNC was quick to throw a bit of cold water on the story.

“In response to a student’s question, Governor Kaine told his law school class today what is already widely known, which is that he is increasingly likely to run,” said the committee’s Communications Director Brad Woodhouse. “However, no final decision will be made or announced until the governor has had a final round of consultations with folks about how he can best serve the president, the people and the causes he cares about; he is assured that the Democratic party will be in good hands should he choose to make the race and leave the DNC; he has the support that would be necessary to mount a successful campaign and he completes commitments for travel and fundraising he has made to the party and the president through at least the end of the month.”

The key phrase in the quote is, of course, “increasingly likely” -- a description of Kaine’s thinking that, despite Woodhouse’s insistence, was not previously known. Indeed, signs seem to be pointing towards Kaine mounting a run for office, which party operatives have stressed would be the ideal development.

As for his current mindset, however, the former Virginia governor is, as one confidant put it, “still working it out.”

Sam Stein

BIO

Obama Administration To Hold Gun Policy Meetings With Goal Of Policy Changes

March 23, 2011

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration has conducted informal discussions with groups from both ends of the gun-policy spectrum, including law enforcement and gun-rights organizations, and is set to hold formal meetings as early as this week in an effort to chart out a set of new firearms policies, administration officials say.

Spearheaded by the Department of Justice, the talks were described by one individual involved in the discussions as a “feeling-out process.” With more official meetings set to begin shortly, they provide the clearest indication to date that the White House is readying a response to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 19 others at Tucson in early January.

“As the president said, we should focus on sound, effective steps that will keep guns out of the hands of the criminals, fugitives, people with serious mental illness, and others who have no business possessing a gun and who are prohibited by laws on the books from owning a gun,” Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. “We will be meeting with stakeholders on all sides of the issue to discuss how we can find sensible, intelligent ways to make the country safer.”

The goal is to finalize a set of policy changes, including, perhaps, legislation that could pass through a Congress hostile to abridgments of Second Amendment rights. The last serious bite at the apple occurred following the shootings at Virginia Tech in April 2007.

In a Sunday op-ed for the Arizona Daily Star, President Barack Obama called for a three-pronged approach: enforcing the laws already on the books, including the National Instant Criminal Background Check System; pushing for greater state-to-state coordination; and expediting background checks and the release of relevant data.

“It was a promising sign that the president understands that 86 percent of the public, including around 80 percent of gun owners, think that a simple background check for every purchase includes next to zero burden for law-abiding citizens and can save countless live,” said Mark Glaze, the executive director of the coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG).

The contours laid out in the op-ed are similar to the plan currently being pushed by MAIG and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Schumer, who has also been in touch with DOJ officials, held a press conference with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg several weeks ago announcing plans to beef up the national background-check system, including eliminating a loophole that allows individuals to buy firearms at gun shows without submitting to a background check.

Though official talks have not yet begun, the Obama administration is expected to aim mostly at such low-hanging fruit, leaving issues like the legality of the high-capacity magazine -- which allows even pistols to fire more than 30 shots without reloading, and was used in the Tucson shootings in January -- to remain unaddressed for the time being. The principal debate, then, will likely center around the application of background-check standards to private dealers.

“They have been meeting with us and also with law enforcement groups and industry,” one gun-control advocate said of the administration. “This is what the White House does when they want to put a serious legislative apparatus together ... The game now becomes effectively demonstrating, in a way that is meaningful, what we know is the overwhelming support for universal background checks.”

Sam Stein

BIO

Obama Administration To Hold Gun Policy Meetings With Goal Of Policy Changes

March 23, 2011

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration has conducted informal discussions with groups from both ends of the gun-policy spectrum, including law enforcement and gun-rights organizations, and is set to hold formal meetings as early as this week in an effort to chart out a set of new firearms policies, administration officials say.

Spearheaded by the Department of Justice, the talks were described by one individual involved in the discussions as a “feeling-out process.” With more official meetings set to begin shortly, they provide the clearest indication to date that the White House is readying a response to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 19 others at Tucson in early January.

“As the president said, we should focus on sound, effective steps that will keep guns out of the hands of the criminals, fugitives, people with serious mental illness, and others who have no business possessing a gun and who are prohibited by laws on the books from owning a gun,” Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. “We will be meeting with stakeholders on all sides of the issue to discuss how we can find sensible, intelligent ways to make the country safer.”

The goal is to finalize a set of policy changes, including, perhaps, legislation that could pass through a Congress hostile to abridgments of Second Amendment rights. The last serious bite at the apple occurred following the shootings at Virginia Tech in April 2007.

In a Sunday op-ed for the Arizona Daily Star, President Barack Obama called for a three-pronged approach: enforcing the laws already on the books, including the National Instant Criminal Background Check System; pushing for greater state-to-state coordination; and expediting background checks and the release of relevant data.

“It was a promising sign that the president understands that 86 percent of the public, including around 80 percent of gun owners, think that a simple background check for every purchase includes next to zero burden for law-abiding citizens and can save countless live,” said Mark Glaze, the executive director of the coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG).

The contours laid out in the op-ed are similar to the plan currently being pushed by MAIG and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Schumer, who has also been in touch with DOJ officials, held a press conference with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg several weeks ago announcing plans to beef up the national background-check system, including eliminating a loophole that allows individuals to buy firearms at gun shows without submitting to a background check.

Though official talks have not yet begun, the Obama administration is expected to aim mostly at such low-hanging fruit, leaving issues like the legality of the high-capacity magazine -- which allows even pistols to fire more than 30 shots without reloading, and was used in the Tucson shootings in January -- to remain unaddressed for the time being. The principal debate, then, will likely center around the application of background-check standards to private dealers.

“They have been meeting with us and also with law enforcement groups and industry,” one gun-control advocate said of the administration. “This is what the White House does when they want to put a serious legislative apparatus together ... The game now becomes effectively demonstrating, in a way that is meaningful, what we know is the overwhelming support for universal background checks.”

03.15.2011 > < 03.13.2011