Pam Spaulding for Glenn Greenwald: Out gay man challenges Elizabeth Dole

Published October 22, 2007 4:36PM (EDT)

I will open my first guest post here at Glenn Greenwald's Salon home base with a thank you and a bit of introduction in case you are not familiar with my musings at Pam's House Blend. My areas of interest are LGBT rights, the never-ending battle with the hypocrisy of religious fundamentalism in this country and race matters -- and the difficulties of having an open and productive conversation about them.

I'm blogging to you from Durham, N.C., where we have some interesting developments going on in this red-turning purple state.

The Democrats have had difficulty fielding a candidate to run against Elizabeth Dole, who has a significant war chest (raising $2.8 million during the first six months of 2007) and astonishingly has a 50 percent job approval rating among North Carolinians. But a closer look at the Elon poll figures shows a vulnerable Dole when respondents are asked about specific issues:

Respondents indicated various levels of satisfaction with Dole's representation of North Carolinians on public policy issues. Those indicating they were satisfied or very satisfied:

Family values: 54 percent
Education: 47 percent
Transportation: 40 percent
Economy: 39 percent
Political corruption: 35 percent
The Iraq war: 32 percent
Healthcare costs: 32 percent
Immigration: 28 percent

Even more telling, when asked whether they planned to vote for Dole, only 35 percent said yes. Even with this potential, state Sen. Kay Hagan of Greensboro and state Rep. Grier Martin of Raleigh, who both briefly considered jumping into the race, decided to remain on the sidelines.

Enter investment banker, former Democratic presidential fundraiser and Chapel Hill resident Jim Neal. For those of you who may have missed this story over the weekend, my friends at the progressive blog community BlueNC broke big news, as Neal participated in an online forum with readers and moderator James Protzman ("Anglico").

He came out of the closet. And he did so in a very matter-of-fact manner that should be a lesson to all of the closeted head cases in the GOP, writhing in the pathology of their self-loathing that usually turns into anti-gay positions and policies -- and sometimes hilariously into scandal. This was refreshing:

I've heard ...
Submitted by omega_star on Sat, 10/20/2007 -- 10:09am.

I've heard you're gay ...

Submitted by JimNeal on Sat, 10/20/2007 -- 10:18am.

I am indeed. No secret and no big deal to me -- I wouldn't be running if I didn't think otherwise.

The political breakthrough here is significant. According to the Victory Fund, which is dedicated to increasing the number of out elected officials, more than 380 openly LGBT people have won at the ballot box -- up from only 49 recorded in 1991.

The fact is that these candidates won by addressing their sexual orientation, then moving on to the business at hand -- telling voters how they planned to serve their towns, cities and states. While electing gay officials may be old hat in deep blue states, it still takes courage to run openly in red-state America -- but they are still winning without having to play closet games. It may surprise you to know that there are only six states without any openly LGBT elected officials at all: Alaska, Louisiana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.

So Neal has a lot of company out there, though he faces a very high-profile race with a lot of money in play. Like most of the openly gay officials out there, he plans to focus on the issues.

There are plenty of politicians in Washington. What we need now are a few more leaders.

I'm running for the U.S. Senate because we can't afford any more of the same. It's time to bring our troops back from Iraq and redirect our resources to what matters most -- protecting our economic security, making health care available to every family, and strengthening our communities back here at home.

Seven generations after my working family joined others to help shape North Carolina, I'm ready to help shape the next generation.

My opponent is a good person trapped in a bad system. Like many Washington politicians, her values are upside down. She lets taxpayers fund her own health care but votes against extending that care to them. She gives irresponsible tax cuts to her rich campaign donors but votes against Pell Grants to make college more affordable for middle-class families. She still backs the aimless Bush-Cheney policy in Iraq even after costing taxpayers nearly $1 trillion and more than 3,800 of their loved ones' lives.

Other strong points for Neal:

  • He's a native Tar Heel, born in Greensboro; he's not parachuting in.
  • Neal has family values that put quite a few serial-marriage GOP pols to shame: He has raised two sons as a single parent for 15 years; both support his decision to run.
  • He knows how to raise money.
  • As I noted above he doesn't even face a primary at this point.
  • Neal knows Dole is beatable. North Carolinians have had such poor service from Liddy Dole (she's rarely in the state, and she has been little more than a megaphone for George W. Bush), and she parroted the White House line and gleefully voted against the State Children's Health Insurance Program bill.

    There are probably some of you out there saying -- "What is the point -- a gay man will never be elected in North Carolina." The state is not the same state it was when it repeatedly inflicted Jesse Helms on the U.S. Senate. While there's not much I can say that's positive about the former senator, what he did excel at was constituent services, something Dole does an abominable job of at every level. The ability to connect with voters explains a lot of Sen. Helms' popularity; what popularity Dole has is an inch deep.

    North Carolina has strong areas of blue with large numbers of progressive and moderate voters -- the Triangle (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill), the Triad (Winston-Salem, High Point, Greensboro), patches on the coast (Wilmington, where our one out state senator, Democrat Julia Boseman, hails from) and in the mountains (Asheville). Our General Assembly has been in Democratic control for ages (unlike our neighbors to the north and south -- Virginia and South Carolina), even as state goes red nationally.

    In fact, outside of Florida, North Carolina is the last state in the South without an amendment banning gays and lesbians from marrying. Bills have died in committee three years in a row. Neal was asked about marriage equality in the BlueNC forum, and didn't hesitate or try to finesse a response -- he framed his answer well:

    Gay Marriage
    Submitted by omega_star on Sat, 10/20/2007 -- 10:28am.

    Where do you stand on gay marriage?

    It's okay if churches want
    Submitted by JimNeal on Sat, 10/20/2007 -- 11:05am.

    It's okay if churches want to unite same-sex couples; it's okay if they don't. That's their Constitutional right which I support 100 percent. But when it comes to the Government, I'm not in favor of any laws that discriminate against anyone for any reason.

    The bigger picture here is the power of addressing and dismissing sexual orientation as something to fixate on in these races. It's not as if the GOP isn't going to bring out the gay boogeyman -- in fact, we can count on it. They clearly can't run on the issues or Dole's record of putting the screws to the working man and woman in North Carolina:

    Minimum wage: Dole voted NO to increase the federal minimum wage. (Amend the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938; S. Amdt. 4322 to S. 2766, June 21, 2006)

    Jobs and the economy: Dole voted NO to repealing tax subsidies for companies that move American jobs offshore. (Tax Subsidy for Domestic Companies Amendment; S. Amdt. 210 to S. Con. Res. 18; vote number 2005-63 on Mar 17, 2005)

    Prescription drugs: Dole voted NO to allowing the federal government to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices. (Prescription Drug Amendment; S. Amdt. 214 to S. Con. Res. 18; vote number 2005-60 on Mar 17, 2005)

    Veterans affairs: Dole voted NO to healthcare benefits for veterans. (S. Amdt. 2735 to S. Amdt. 2707 to HR 4297: To support the health needs of our veterans and military personnel and reduce the deficit by making tax rates fairer for all Americans.)

    Education: Dole voted NO to provide $52 million for after-school programs. (Amendment to Agencies Appropriations Act; Bill S. Amdt. 2287 to HR 3010 ; vote number 2005-279 on Oct 27, 2005)

    Make no mistake -- it will be a challenge for Neal to overcome the tough hurdles in the conservative counties of the state. He plans to counter bias by doing what works best -- face time with voters. As I've said to my readers many times on my blog, the most powerful antidote to anti-gay bias is to know an out gay person. The fear and smear tactics of the religious right -- and we've got grade-A wing nuts here already, never mind what James Dobson and Co. will ship down here as things heat up -- are not as effective when the target of the vitriol is talking about the issues, shares your outlook as a North Carolina native, understands the problems you face and isn't afraid to be who they are and blows away the stereotypes. It's going to be a hard slog, but Neal knows what he's up against.

    It remains to be seen whether the party infrastructure will give him the support he needs. It's quite telling that as of this writing, no mainstream media is reporting, locally or nationally, about Neal's unique position in this race.

    However, what Neal will not have to face is a whispering campaign to out him. That's off the table. What we also know is that the GOP is going to have to spend money in North Carolina to keep Dole afloat -- something they desperately don't want to do, given the lack of money flowing into the coffers.

    See also: "Working for LGBT rights here in flyover country ..."

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