April 01, 2007
Richardson hits the right notes
Posted by: Chris
Bill Richardson continues to hit pretty much all the right notes in his underdog run for the Democratic presidential nomination. In a speech last weekend at the Human Rights Campaign's Los Angeles black-tie dinner, the New Mexico governor justifiably trumpeted a record of actually doing, rather than just talking, when it comes to gay rights.
A story about Richardson's speech in the Washington Blade gave top billing to his forceful call for repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which Richardson actually voted against as a member of Congress in 1993 — if Hillary disagreed at the time with her husband's support for the so-called compromise on gays in the military, she has never said so publicly. It's also worth noting that Richardson's HRC speech was pre-announced and open to the press — seven TV stations and a bevy of print reporters were there — unlike Hillary's stealth, press-free chat with the HRC board last month.
A few of the high notes from Richardson:
- On domestic partnership legislation in New Mexico: "The reason I have to leave [immediately after my speech] is that I called in my New Mexico legislature into a special session to keep pushing my agenda, which is a full domestic partner rights act. (Applause) Now, it was a special session, it lost by one vote in the senate on the last night, just eight nights ago. And the next day, with the legislature adjourning until next year, we thought we had secured one more vote, but we couldn’t get it to be considered on the floor of the senate. So I said, not good enough! … I’m pushing this bill because I believe all families deserve our respect, no matter their race, creed, or sexual orientation. I think people realize this bill is a victory to fairness and equality as well as to open hearts and open minds."
- On workplace protection and hate crimes: "I don’t take just votes, I don’t debate issues; I actually get things done. And I know that your top priorities this year are passing federal hate crime and workplace discrimination legislation. I want you to know I don’t just support these bills, because we did it two years ago in New Mexico. They were my bills."
- On domestic partner benefits for government workers: "I ordered personally, through executive order, that access to health insurance and benefits be extended to domestic partners of state employees. And now, I am fighting for full and equal rights for all domestic partners, including gay and lesbian families."
- On openly gay political appointees: "I also appoint gay and lesbian individuals to important posts throughout my administration: in the cabinet, division directors, boards and commissions, and I’ll do the same if I’m elected president. Leading an administration that truly looks like America."
- On "the politics of division": "This country is tired of the politics of hatred and division. What we need in this country is someone who can bring us together. And we are fed up, we are fed up with Karl Rove’s machinations, and Ann Coulter’s ignorant epithets. (Applause) Actually, we’re fed up with Ann Coulter, period!" (laughter)
- On being Latino (note he is unafraid to draw comparisions many white Democrats won't make with race and ethnicity): "As a Hispanic American, I’ve known in my life what it is to be different, to be singled out and throughout my entire career I have fought against discrimination."
- On "Don't Ask, Don't Tell": "If I’m elected president, I will end this disastrous, disrespectful policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ And, once again, I am not a latecomer to this issue. I voted against this initiative when I was in Congress. And, I was one of the Democratic whips with President Clinton. And I continue to oppose it today. It makes no sense to turn away and turn out well-qualified recruits at a time when our country needs them most. There are approximately 65,000 gay and lesbian soldiers serving in our military. They are no less patriotic and their lives and sacrifice no less valuable because of their sexual orientation."
- On Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace: "Homosexuality, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, is not immoral. Asking someone to hide their identity and devaluing their sacrifice, is."
- On federal legal recognition for gay couples: "Gay and lesbian families deserve respect. And, if I’m elected president, [I’ll wage] a principled stand with you to fight for it. What we don’t need [are] constitutional amendments, designed to exclude supportive, devoted couples. We need to extend the rights due to all of us as Americans. For instance, the right to visit a sick or dying partner in the hospital. The right to make necessary legal and financial decisions when a partner can no longer do so."
- On HIV/AIDS: "I pledge to you, if I’m elected president, that this will be the highest priority in our foreign policy. And the AIDS commission that is appointed and disappointed and is not active will be a priority in my administration and the AIDS commission chairman will be the vice president of the United States."
There are important issues Richardson didn't address, like his 1996 vote for the Defense of Marriage Act. Does he stand by that vote and both of DOMA's twin provisions: banning federal recognition of state-issued marriage licenses to gay couples, and allowing one state to ignore gay marriages from another state?
He spoke of "domestic partnerships," while Hillary, Barack Obama and John Edwards talk about civil unions. The difference may be simply semantic, since DP laws and civil unions can be rough equivalents (compare domestic partnerships in California and D.C. with civil unions in Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey). But that should be clarified. And he gave examples of federal recognition for gay couples, but didn't flesh out everything he would support, including tax, Social Security and immigration rights. The three leading candidates are already on record in support of the first two and Edwards for the third.
But speaking of Edwards, Richardson's L.A. appearance was dramatically better than Edwards' gay debut, at the Atlanta HRC dinner in May 2003. I was there and, like many in attendance, was disappointed. Given the opportunity to make his case for gay votes, the then-senator from North Carolina chose instead to give his stump speech with small additions backing ENDA and hate crimes. Richardson has a much stronger record to run on than Edwards (then or now) and a much better start four years later.
The important thing to watch now is whether HRC pressures Richardson and the other Democrats to flesh out their positions on federal recognition of gay couples. Even though HRC's top priorities in the current session of Congress are ENDA, hate crimes and perhaps "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal, the Democrats campaigning for gay support in their White House runs should be pressured to hit even higher notes on the long campaign trail ahead.
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