State Rep. Jan Pauls might have sponsored Kansas’ ban on same-sex marriage, but its her own life and liberty she fears for. “I have friends who have told me they worry that I’ll be another Gabby Giffords, literally,” the conservative Democrat told the Kansas City Star.
A 21-year veteran of the Kansas statehouse, Pauls has been involved in campaigns to block job discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, to ban gay marriage and civil unions, and to keep sodomy laws on the books even after the Supreme Court ruled they were unconstitutional.
But to hear her tell it, Pauls, 59, is a shrinking violet beset by mean old gay ogres.
Her opponents, she says, have been calling people up, asking that lawn signs be removed. Fliers sent to voters used a photo-shopped trick that showed her seated and smiling next to Gov. Sam Brownback, as if the two were BFFs.
“The fliers against me were nasty.” Her supporters feel it, too. “People have been scared to speak out because of what the gay community is doing.”
Wow, it’s like Jim Crow all over again.
Perhaps Pauls is feeling anxious because, thanks to recent remapping of district lines, she’s faced a tough election cycle for the first time in her career. Her strategy over the decades has been essentially to be the bluest Democrat in the state.
But as a new generation with more progressive values emerges, he strategy isn’t working anymore: In the November election, Pauls is up against Dakota Bass, a socially liberal former Democrat who switched parties just to challenge her.
In the August primary, Paul came within ten votes of losing her seat to Erich Bishop, an openly gay maintenance worker and newcomer to politics. Running against a political dinosaur who’s never had to fight for her seat? That’s practically bullying!
With queer terrorists putting Pauls in their crosshairs, her husband, Ron, has stepped up as a kind of personal bodyguard. And his distaste for the lavender set is even more profound than hers: “Homosexuals don’t love,” Ron says. “Homosexuals are all about the sex… Not love.”
As proof of her victimization, Rep. Paul recounts a story from 2006, when she was drafting the state’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions:
[Rep. Paul] was at a political event called Washington Days, the annual meeting of Democrats at the Topeka Ramada Inn. Standing near a stairwell, Pauls had a view of the atrium — and was next to the meeting room of the party’s gay/lesbian caucus.“A fat guy with a red face,” she recalls, came running out, yelling, fists high in the air. She demonstrates with her own fist in the air.
“I backed up and yelled: ‘Security! Call security!’ I think he was hoping he could throw me over the stairs.” There were throngs of people in the hallway. But husband, Ron, was not at her elbow. He heard her yell and was pushing to get to her.
“I yelled at Ron not to touch him because I knew that could lead to trouble. It was scary.”
She looks at her husband now. Both seem like they’d rather not remember this. No arrests were made, because the man’s friends calmed him down, she says. In her telling of the tale, she thinks she knows who the man was: the same one now orchestrating the campaigns against her, Tom Witt of Wichita, the executive director of the Kansas Equality Commission.
Witt says Pauls is rewriting history: He was there, he admits, but just to calm the real agitator down.
“She came and stood right outside the door of the LGBT caucus. A guy named Larry Hurlbert went out into the hallway to confront her about the horrible things she said about gays. I heard him say, ‘I’m gonna give her a piece of my mind!’?”
Witt said Hurlbert hardly got past the room’s doorway, the yelling lasted maybe 30 seconds. Several caucus members dragged him back in, and no balcony was closer than 10 yards.
Maybe Pauls is so used to breezing through elections she doesn’t understand how politics works. “They’re trying to intimidate and bully people who don’t agree with them,” she moans. “[It's] ironic, because, you know, they shouldn’t be bullying at all.”
Right, that’s your provenance.
“I think most Kansans’ concerns are not that the homosexuals want equal rights but superior rights. That’s what makes this issue so difficult,” she explains. “Homophobia here in Hutchinson? I don’t think so. We would have heard about it by now if we were.”
Um, you’re hearing about it now, lady.