A gay Republican talks about trade

Rep. Jim Kolbe says he's not the GOP's prime-time poster boy for tolerance. He wants to tell you about NAFTA.

By Jake Tapper
Published August 1, 2000 9:15PM (EDT)

At 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., will take center stage at the Republican National Convention. Kolbe, who backed his fellow Arizonan, Sen. John McCain, in the primaries and was once a page for former Sen. Barry Goldwater, will be addressing international trade, which he calls "one of my signature issues."

"Trade, in promoting economic security, helps to promote national security," Kolbe said Tuesday, explaining how his speech fits into the evening's theme of national security and defense.

What Kolbe doesn't mention is that he will also be the only openly gay person to address the Republican Convention -- a fact Kolbe himself downplays. "I am not here as a representative of gay Republicans," he told Salon. "I am here because of my work in Congress on trade."

Tuesday night's speakers will also include Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf; World War II veteran and former GOP nominee Bob Dole; Bush international affairs advisor Condoleezza Rice; Vietnam veteran Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska; and McCain. Everett Alvarez, the longest-held Vietnam prisoner of war -- who served with McCain in the Hanoi Hilton while Bush was leading his "young and irresponsible" youth -- will recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

But while Kolbe downplays the significance of his sexual orientation, Log Cabin Republicans president Rich Tafel and others think his presence on the platform Tuesday night will speak volumes about the legitimacy of Bush's rhetoric about inclusiveness.

A few reporters caught up with Kolbe on the convention floor Tuesday morning to ask him about his prime-time role.

One of the criticisms of Bush from the right, and Gore from the left, is that there is little difference between the two parties on the subject of trade. Both support NAFTA, both support GATT. How are the parties different at all on trade?

Well, the rhetoric of the Democratic Party under Clinton has been good; the actions haven't been very good -- all you have to do is look at the voting records of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. They have not supported fast-track authority, they have not supported permanent normal trade relations with China, they have not supported NAFTA or the WTO. So the rhetoric of Clinton may be there, but his actions have been very tepid and not so strong. Except for NAFTA, he has not been willing to confront the liberals within his own party and push his position. Even on China-PNTR, he has been very subdued about that and allowed the Republicans to really get it through to do it.

And you would make that same argument to distinguish between Bush and Gore?

Absolutely. Gore even more so. Gore I don't think has any of the kind of natural instincts about trade that Clinton does, coming as governor of a state. Clinton has very strong instincts about free trade, but I don't think you find that at all with Gore. And my fear is that during this campaign he will feel that he needs to shore up his liberal base and he will take a much more anti-trade position than he has adhered to as vice president.

Your speech also means something else to some other people. Individuals like Rich Tafel talk about you speaking tonight as a sign of the inclusiveness of the Bush campaign and this convention. How do you feel about that?

Of course I embrace the inclusiveness of the Republican Party, and I am very pleased that I have been chosen to speak. But I am not here as a representative of gay Republicans. I am here because of my work in Congress on trade.

But isn't this the first time that an openly gay person has spoken at a Republican convention?

Actually, I don't think it is. I think in 1996, Steve Fong from San Francisco [a Log Cabin Republican leader] addressed the convention briefly. So I don't think it is the first time.

What do you make of Lynne Cheney's reaction to a question about her daughter Mary and her daughter's sexual preference?

I don't know what reaction you're talking about. She said she loves her daughter, she was very supportive of her daughter.

She seemed to react with a certain amount of distress.

Well, I'm sure she views it as a private matter and would prefer that it not be public. But obviously it's reality and something that they're going to have to deal with and acknowledge it.

Is it a fair question to ask Bush and Cheney whether or not they support specific rights for Mary Cheney? Is it fair to say, "Do you support the right of Mary Cheney to adopt a kid? Or, do you support laws to protect Mary Cheney from being fired because of her orientation?"

I'll let them answer that for themselves. I obviously favor laws that do permit gays to adopt, and legal protections for people who are in unions.

Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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