Originally published on Advocate.com September 03 2010 12:45 PM ET
Trailing in some recent polls and outmatched by his billionaire Republican challenger’s unprecedented campaign spending, California attorney general and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown has at least one big advantage with LGBT voters over former eBay CEO Meg Whitman: his steadfast opposition to defending Proposition 8 in court.
Conservative critics — some who made a curious (and failed) attempt this week to force Brown and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to appeal the federal Prop. 8 case — have cried foul. Brown’s position, one conservative legal group spokesman recently said, is an act of hubris, one that denies voters “a fair and meaningful review of Prop. 8 in the appellate courts.” Whitman, meanwhile, has said that she would defend Prop. 8 if given the opportunity. Legal observers doubt she’d be able to do so, though her position isn’t necessarily mere rhetoric aimed at the Yes on 8 crowd: Whitman could influence the case by submitting pro–Prop. 8 amicus briefs as governor.
Not surprisingly, the specter of a pro–Prop. 8 governor has put state gay groups like Equality California squarely in Brown's column. But only now has the former two-term governor revved his campaign into high gear. After a summer barrage of TV and radio ad attacks from Whitman, largely funded by her own personal fortune, Brown announced Thursday he will begin airing his own ads next week.
During a brief campaign stop at a manufacturing facility in Commerce, Calif., Brown spoke to The Advocate about the machinations of the Prop. 8 appeal and whether his decision to back marriage equality gives his candidacy a boost.
A California court of appeal today rejected a petition by a conservative legal group that attempted to force you to file an appeal in the federal Prop. 8 case. What's your reaction to the ruling?
Well obviously the court felt it was groundless. And it upheld my position and that of Governor Schwarzenegger. I believe that [Judge Walker] ruled properly in invalidating Proposition 8, that it can’t stand against the Fourteenth Amendment, and now it’s up to the [ninth circuit] court of appeals to make their own best judgment. And I’m sure they’ll have all the facts they need to opine on this matter.
Prop. 8 supporters have criticized you for refusing to defend an initiative passed by a majority of California voters. As attorney general, what do you think your role should be in defending ballot measures with which you obviously have strong disagreements?
My role is exactly the role that a predecessor followed, [former California attorney general] Tom Lynch: When Prop. 14 was passed in 1964, overturning fair housing laws in the state, he did not defend it. And in fact, the California supreme court invalidated the popular initiative — one that was passed by many more votes than Prop. 8. So it’s the same principle position of upholding the federal Constitution when it conflicts with a ballot measure.
Why should LGBT Californians vote for you?
My record is that of a pioneer. I appointed the first gay and lesbian judges in California and to the [University of California] board of regents. This was pioneering in the '70s. I signed the first nondiscrimination act…so I’m very proud of that. I don’t know what Ms. Whitman’s record is, but I’m a person who’s inclusive, who’s open to the diversity of California. And that will certainly be the spirit of my governorship.
HIV funding, particularly for prevention efforts, has been decimated in California, as it has across the country. What are you going to do as governor to address this?
Well, I’m going to do the same thing that I’m going to do about everything else. We’re $19 billion in the hole. So it’s tough out there. HIV funding is very important. I will have to look at it.
So any specific plans?
We have a $100 billion government with $80 billion worth of revenue. We have police issues, we have schools, we have child care, we have people in nursing homes, and we have people affected by HIV. So it’s a tough decision. And I’ll do it in the most compassionate, thoughtful way that I can as I handle the budget.
Do you think the initiative process needs to be changed in the state?
The initiative is the power of the people, and we’ve had it since 1913. I don’t see any major changes, but I would be open to that if someone suggested it.
Was there ever any question in the attorney general’s office as to whether you would defend Prop. 8 in federal court?
There’s always vigorous debate. We have dozens of lawyers who can weigh in. And all these matters are subject to reasonable differences. We’re not dealing with a black-and-white operation here.
What was the deciding factor?
The factor for me was the opinion of the California supreme court holding that marriage is a fundamental right and that same-sex couples were included within that right. Once our own constitutional body determined that that was a fundamental right, even though the people passed Proposition 8, I felt that the Fourteenth Amendment is the protector of fundamental rights. And our courts had already defined that, that it was a reasonable thing to do — to look to the Fourteenth Amendment to uphold what our own court had found before Prop. 8.
In her debate with Sen. Barbara Boxer on Wednesday, Carly Fiorina reiterated her opposition to marriage equality. Meg Whitman has said she’d defend Prop. 8. Why have California Republicans running for office taken this position?
I can’t tell. I think [marriage equality] is fairly evenly divided in California, so I wouldn’t offer political advice.
So do you think your own position in favor of marriage equality helps your campaign or hurts it?
You know, I don’t know. I think it’s the right thing to do. So beyond that, I’m not going to try to interpret anything.