King of the Cabin
BY Neal Broverman
June 30 2010 3:20 PM ET
It's a big moment for the Log Cabin Republicans — the group is strategizing for the November election, battling with state GOP parties to stop antigay language from being added to their various platforms, and its lawsuit against "don't ask, don't tell," launched by Log Cabin years ago, heads to a California court July 13. Amid all this, R. Clarke Cooper took the reins as Log Cabin's executive director less than a month ago. An Army Reserve captain and former staffer for George W. Bush, Cooper most recently served as chief of staff at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Now, ensconced in his new position, Cooper discussed the future of Log Cabin and how he's working to end DADT and change the Republican Party from within.
The Advocate: There's been a wave of virulent antigay and antitransgender GOP platforms being released from Texas to Montana to Idaho. What's LCR's take on that?
R. Clarke Cooper: In many cases, these platforms are draft documents. I know that’s not the direction the national party is going in. Looking to 2010, the GOP is looking for a more inclusive party focused on core conservative issues that are not social issues: individual liberties, individual responsibility, strong defense.
That’s not the direction Log Cabin wants the party, and I can’t imagine big R, wants the party going. The platforms didn’t even follow the normal protocol of being confirmed by the state party. That came out from a small group of folks who did not consult with the larger group. Externally, it caused a firestorm. Internally, it caused a lot of issue. You’d be hard-pressed to find any elected official who would put their arm around [the Texas] platform.
What made you want to take the job at LCR?
I didn't choose to be gay, I chose to be a Republican. I am a Republican. I am also a gay man. There's obviously a lot of work to do in education and communication on both sides. Republicans are voters, donors, elected leaders; you don't have to be mutually exclusive, just like one does not have to be mutually exclusive as being a person of faith and being gay or lesbian, and the same can be applied with politics as well. Part of that is that there's this attitude my late father always had about any organization, it doesn't matter if it's a scout troop or the PTA, if you want it to effect any kind of reform, the best way to do that is to be inside. Because if you're not inside there's not very much you can do except make observations. But if you're there, you actually have a greater role and a greater responsibility to engage and bring about whatever kind of change you want to see happen.
What kind of goals have you set for yourself and for Log Cabin?
I walked into this fallow field that needed to be tilled, and so from an internal aspect, there's a lot that needs to be done for our current membership. You've got like 30,000 to 40,000 gay and lesbian Republicans who make up the Log Cabin Republican body at large and our chapters across the country. Those people need to be tended to. On the external side, there's a lot of reconciliation that needs to be done with the Republican national committee — having the party getting back to core, conservative principles of individual liberty, individual responsibility, free-market economy, strong national defense, foreign policy, advancing U.S. interests, tax reform. But getting us back to those principles versus looking at or worrying about identity politics, social issues, or issues that would be divisive to conservatives is important. There's the internal aspect of rallying the troops, taking care of what I call the party faithful — gay and lesbians who feel like they've not had an active role in the organization. Getting them reenergized. Getting them back into the larger body and partnership with the Republican National Committee. But also holding the party accountable so we can't be taken advantage of.
The first week on the job, I was called to the RNC and participated in an event called Remembering Reagan at the invitation of chairman Michael Steele. It probably has helped LCR that I'm a Bush-Cheney alumnus, so I have the bona fides, or party credentials. I served in the Bush administration as on openly gay appointee, by the way, served Jeb Bush, started out my political career serving Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida.
I've not even been on the job a full month, but my goal as far as making us more relevant is two-pronged — reenergizing our current membership base and getting the number of disaffected gay and lesbian voters who have been registered Republicans but either, for very good reasons, walked away from the party or felt like the party walked away from them, and building that bridge again. I hope to reestablish activity between Log Cabin Republicans and the RNC. In my short time on the job, I'm proud to say we've disbursed political action committee funding to a number of Republican candidates, but of course we're doing it in a fashion that is, "Are they Republicans who are good on touchstone issues for LCR voters: repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell,' positive stance on marriage equality, a positive stance on domestic-partnership benefits?" These members include, again, my old boss, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Charles Djou, the newest member to the House, not only the newest Republican, but the newest member at all from Hawaii. Joseph Cao, we just gave him a check this week. He represents a district down in Louisiana, actually includes a big chunk of New Orleans. I'm going to be giving another PAC check to Judy Biggert from Illinois. That's another way of communicating and messaging to the party that we're serious and can provide additional boots on the ground. For that to work, we're going to reward the members that are working with us.
Editor's Note: Initially, the article asserted that Cooper said he did not choose to be Republican. He actually stated that he did choose.