Paul Koering once fit neatly into the profile of socially
conservative central Minnesota: abortion opponent, supporter
of gun and property rights, outspoken supporter of
veterans. But last year Koering was the only
Republican in the senate to join Democrats in opposing an
effort to force a floor vote on a constitutional same-sex
That stirred up long-standing rumors at the
capitol about Koering's own sexuality, and within a
few days he revealed that he was gay--a move the
area's GOP chairman called "political suicide." In Tuesday's
primary in Brainerd, he will find out if that is true.
"There's going to be a lot of people watching to
see if the voters can look at my record and say, 'He's
doing a good job,'" said the 41-year-old Koering. "Or
will they look at my personal life and say, 'I can't
support him because of that.' If that's how they're going to
vote, I may be out of a job."
Kevin Goedker, a city councilman who's
challenging Koering in Tuesday's GOP primary, says it
isn't because his opponent is gay. But he's making an
explicit appeal to voters whose values guide them in the
"People of high moral values and integrity must
rally and support candidates who will work to bring
ethics, morals, and family values back into
government," Goedker's brother Gene, his campaign treasurer,
wrote in a fund-raising letter.
Patrick Sammon, executive vice president of the
Log Cabin Republicans, a gay political group, said
it's important to the future of the Republican Party
that politicians like Koering can find support. "If the
Republicans want to be a lasting majority party in America,
they can't just shut out gays and lesbians," Sammon said.
The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which raises
campaign funds for gay candidates, said there are
currently 325 openly gay elected officials in the
country, out of about 511,000 elected offices. The group
doesn't break that figure down by party, but "the vast
majority of them are Democrats," spokesman Denis Dison said.
"We are seeing more instances of openly gay
Republicans, but there are still going to be
significant parts of the country where that's going to
be difficult to pull off," Dison said.
Like Koering, most prominent gay Republicans
came out only after they've been in office, including
U.S. representative Jim Kolbe of Arizona and former
U.S. representative Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin. It doesn't
help that a significant portion of the Republican base
is dead-set against legal recognition of gay
relationships, the leading front in recent years in
the battle for gay rights. Those opposed to Koering's
reelection cite his decision to break from the party
line on same-sex marriage as the primary reason for
Indeed, since that 2005 vote, he has changed
course, siding with fellow senate Republicans in more
recent efforts to get a statewide vote on the
definition of marriage. Koering said it's what the majority
of his constituents want, though he won't say how he'd
cast his own ballot if it ever comes to a statewide vote.
Koering is not without his supporters among
local Republicans, and in April he won the party's
endorsement after seven rounds of balloting. Goedker
decided to run in the primary anyway.
The winner will face Democrat Terry Sluss, a
county commissioner, in the November election. Goedker
said he wouldn't vote for Koering in the general election.
"In my opinion I think it'd be tough to be gay
and to be somebody I'd vote for based on some of the
life choices they make," Goedker said. "To me it's a
more liberal point of view." (Patrick Condon, AP)