The Thrilling Conclusion To A Two-Part Analysis

Gay Democrats Must Move Beyond Impotent Delegate “Goals”

We’re in the home stretch of primary season, but that doesn’t mean all’s well in the Democratic party. Aside from Hillary Clinton‘s commendable tenacity, and the din of her vocal, though dwindling supporters, there’s a new tussle a brewing: the delegate selection tussle.

Many state parties have shown resistance to the Democratic National Committee’s Shay Amendment, a measure that set so-called “gay goals.” These numeric marks were set to help each state or territory include gay people in their overall delegate camp. Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out quite as planned. And, if you haven’t read part one, you’d better catch up.

Like everything in politics, the delegate selection process involves loads of “horse-trading,” to borrow a phrase from Chip Arndt. Arndt’s name may be most familiar from his stint on The Amazing Race, but he’s also made a name for himself as a strategist and Democratic activist.

When asked to explain the role national campaigns and the party play in the selection process, Arndt replied, “Politics is not always logical and we all know that politics is not always fair. Back room deals are made all of the time, sacrificing one piece of “good” legislation for another.” He went on to laud the DNC for adopting the Shay Amendment, although does offer a heavy dose of reality: “There are no guarantees that [gay goals will be met] unless state Democratic Party leaders work hard with LGBT states leaders to ensure that state LGBT goals for representation, which vary from state to state, are met.”

Ardnt’s words bring us back to Louisiana and comments that the state party had been “resistant” to gay delegates – and those distasteful allegations that Obama-supporting locals had nixed queer candidates from the selection roster.

The claim sprang from Clinton-backing Jon Winkleman, whose email to a gay listserve got leaked to me. The Obama campaign dismissed Winkleman’s words, but Louisiana-based leader Stephen Handwerk seemed to corroborate.

[DNC Chairman Howard Dean’s headache has just begun…]
Though Handwerk supports Clinton’s candidacy, he also works as the Louisiana state party’s gay liaison, which means he’s the point person for campaigners from both camps and privy to all-sorts of hot gossip. And that gossip included Winkelman’s claims that Obama locals were working against the gay cause:

[Local officials] were very focused on making sure they were getting African-American individuals and making sure they didn’t have any gay folks on their team. Now, how organized was it? I don’t know. Who was behind it? I don’t know that, either. They wouldn’t come out, as it were, to tell me who was actually behind it.

[The complaints] came in from three different people from three different angles and these people don’t even know or work with each other.

What happened in Louisiana only emphasizes the DNC’s impotence in the matter. Regardless of their edicts, it remains up to the individual states to take them up on their lavender-tinged suggestions. Louisiana obviously hasn’t met their mark. It’s worth mentioning, however, that a number of states have made homo headway, like Massachusetts, Alaska and Arkansas. Comprehensive numbers won’t be available for a few weeks.

Regardless of this federalist progress, many of the people I spoke with, including Arndt, wonder whether the Shay Amendment has “enough teeth.” Said Arndt:

We’ve made progress yes, but we must be careful to give too much credit to the DNC. Howard Dean and the DNC leadership have not equivocally said that each state Democratic Party must have a certain number of LGBT delegates, as a proportion of overall delegates from said state.
Without a mandate from the DNC, and just a “best efforts” by each state to ensure that a fair proportion of LGBT candidates are elected as delegates in relation to over all delegates, the LGBT community could end up with far less representation than we would like to see. That is the fact. And I think that this is why you have heard fellow LGBT Democrats, in some states, speaking out about the reality of LGBT delegate representation versus the rhetoric.

The fact of the matter is that much of this nation remains antagonistic or ambivalent toward gay involvement in the political process. And the DNC knows that.

Rather than laying down the lavender law, as they should have, the DNC made mere “suggestions.” In fact, according to Handwerk, gay DNC leader Phil McNamara, who heads the central party’s delegate rules committee, even told Louisiana Chairman Chris Whittington to give the policy only a “conservative reading.”

State Party Chairman Chris Whittington informed me that he spoke with Phil McNamara at the DNC where it was Phil’s opinion that a conservative reading of this rule could simply mean that he as Chairman would encourage members to pay attention to unmet goals as they were voting.

These and other empty directives have given state parties – and local campaigns – too much freedom over whether they meet their gay goals. And this limp strategy may have set the groundwork for an explosive split between Clinton and Obama’s gay supporters.

Angry at what they perceive to be a queer ignorance on the Obama campaign’s part, some Clinton supporters are threatening to bring up yet another contentious preacher: James Meeks.

A former Representative from Illinois, Meeks holds virulently anti-gay viewpoints and ran on a fiercely “traditional” gubernatorial ticket in his home state. Barack Obama‘s decision not to scratch him from the delegate process, coupled with his campaign’s inability to shore up gay delegate support in Louisiana has some Clinton-supporters crying foul. A source sent me this sour message from a gay list-serve:

I am truly saddened by both the campaign’s position on the issue, as well as the manner and methods it has chosen to defend the indefensible [Meeks].

Despite the campaign’s intransigence, here is a save-face offer: If Meeks is not seated at the convention, we will drop mention of his past in the name of party unity.

I certainly agree that Meeks should have no place in Denver, but, at this late in the game, it’s becoming more and more likely that Senator Obama will be the Democratic party’s presidential candidate and Meeks has already been selected. All gay Democrats can do now is get involved in the process to offset a potentially dangerous character. This means, of course, that people in states that have not yet selected their delegates should throw their name into the ring – and make a show of it, something that didn’t happen in Louisiana. You can get involved over at Pride In The Party.

We can’t control how state parties respond to the DNC’s Shay Amendment, but we can sure as hell struggle for our place at the table. But, even if states fall short, gay Democrats have no choice but to come together.

Yes, it would be unfortunate if we didn’t meet the “gay goals,” but it would be far more unfortunate if this contentious delegate selection process caused Clinton-supporters to back McCain, as some have pledged. This would be a grave mistake, especially considering McCain’s vow to install conservative judges like Sam Alito, as well as his connections to anti-gay Attorney Generals.

Rick Boylan – the National Stonewall Democratic leader who heads Pride in the Party – agrees with my position and referred to potential McCain-backers as “short-sighted.” He emphasized to me that both Democratic candidates, regardless of surrogates’ questionable pasts, share “the same values” as we gays, who come in every shape, size and color.

If the Obama and Clinton camps don’t come together for the convention, then the DNC’s efforts to build an inclusive party, however limp, will have been in vain. And will almost certainly guarantee a Republican victory.