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Patrick Sammon
Discusses Log Cabin's McCain Endorsement

Patrick Sammon
Discusses Log Cabin's McCain Endorsement

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Patrick Sammon takes questions from The Advocate about Log Cabin's decision to endorse the McCain-Palin ticket and predicts seeing more inclusive language from the campaign before voters cast their ballots November 4.

Following the Log Cabin Republicans' endorsement of John McCain for president at the Republican National Convention, The Advocate caught up with Log Cabin president Patrick Sammon to discuss the group's advocacy work, McCain's stances on LGBT issues, and how Gov. Sarah Palin affected the decision to endorse.

The Advocate:Where do gay rights fall in terms of priorities for Log Cabin Republicans as an organization?Patrick Sammon: We're a gay rights organization working from inside the Republican Party, and so we're completely focused on how do we advance equality for LGBT people. And the fact is, doing so will require votes and support from Republicans, and so we made this endorsement of Senator McCain with the very clear focus on how this decision will impact and benefit our community. The fact is, even those who disagree with our decision should realize there's a 50% chance that Senator McCain wins this election, and I ask those people, do they really want our community sitting on the sidelines for the next four years? I say no. I say that Senator McCain, in the totality of his record, is someone who has demonstrated that he can be a maverick, that has demonstrated he's an inclusive Republican, and I believe that if he's elected, as a community we will make progress on some of the issues that are so important to all.

What demonstrates that to you?He's the only candidate in the field who's actually paid a political price for a vote that benefited gay and lesbian people. The fact is, one of the reasons social conservatives distrust him is because he twice voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment -- that took political courage, and he paid a price for it with his base. He paid a price that made it harder to win the nomination. I think he needs to be applauded for that. He's not where we want him to be on every issue -- I'm the first one to admit that -- but at the end of the day, on the most significant issue that our community has faced, he was on the right side of it.

Voting against the FMA is certainly a pro-gay vote. Other than play defense on a crucial bill, has Senator McCain done anything to advance LGBT rights?Senator McCain took a tough stand. We can quibble about whether that's a pro-gay vote or defensive vote, but he's the only candidate in this field who paid a political price for a vote related to gay rights.

In Senator [Barack] Obama's U.S. Senate career, there have been a lot of strong words about LGBT people, but I haven't seen the leadership. Another thing about Senator Obama is that he's shown a willingness on a whole range of other issues in the last four months to make political calculations and decisions and adjust his positions accordingly, whether it was on telecom immunity or offshore drilling, we've seen equivocating, which leads one to believe it is politics as usual. So you have to wonder if, on gay issues, all of a sudden there's a political calculation made, are we going to be sold out if it happens to benefit him politically? I hope that's not the case. But he's been presenting himself as a different kind of politician -- well, over the last six months we've seen he's just like any other politician. I say all of this not to denigrate the positive words he's saying but to remind LGBT people that we've been down this road before -- where politicians say great things and then don't deliver. So it's a mistake, consequently, to put all our eggs in one basket and not develop a strategy where we can work with and move Senator McCain on these same issues.

What do you make of Senator McCain's, for lack of a better term, schizophrenic approach to gay issues so far. He did certainly go on the record against gay adoption, and then his campaign repositioned him to say Senator McCain sees adoption as a states' rights issue, and then there was a similar situation on the California marriage ban, with the campaign at one point indicating he backed the ballot measure and then backtracking several days later to a more neutral standpoint. What does that signal, and how do you deal with that? Certainly we've been disappointed with some of the things the senator has said in the context of this campaign, but we have looked at the totality of his record, number one. Number two, in a lot of the missteps throughout the summer, they're not on substantive policy issues that he's going to deal with as president. So we feel like based on our experience both dealing with the campaign and dealing with the senator before he ran for president that he's someone who we can work with and talk to and educate and try to highlight where we might disagree and try to move ahead constructively.

The fact is, though, Senator McCain is not going to win this election unless he appeals to independent voters. And I think both candidates and both sides agree that it is independents who are going to make the difference in this race. That's why I'm optimistic between now and Election Day we will hear more inclusive language from the senator on issues that affect our community.

Have you heard that from the campaign? We've discussed with the campaign the importance of having the senator reach out to LGBT voters and offer an inclusive vision for the country, and I'm hopeful that we will see some positive developments in that regard in this election.

Some people have criticized the appearance of McCain's chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, at your delegate luncheon last week as a duplicitous attempt to get gay money. What's your reaction to that? Senator McCain, unlike Senator Obama, is not taking private financing for his campaign. Effective Labor Day, Senator McCain is getting public financing. So if there was an effort to get gay money, it would have happened before now. Number two, Schmidt's appearance was an important symbolic step forward about Senator McCain, the kind of campaign he's running, and the kind of president he will be. The fact is, to have the main campaign strategist come and speak to our members and say positive things about what we're working to achieve is significant. I have gotten a lot of really positive feedback. If you look at the incremental progress Log Cabin's made in the last four years, I think it's significant. When you look at a convention four years ago that had lots of antigay rhetoric, lots of effort to turn out the base using gay people as a wedge issue. Four years later, we have a convention devoid of antigay rhetoric -- we're not at a point where we hear positive things -- but I hope and expect that will happen in the future.

The other thing is, we have a nominee who is on the right side of the most important issue in the last decade. And you have a very important figure in the campaign who's speaking to gay voters on the day that McCain accepts the nomination -- the most important speech of the campaign -- and [Steve Schmidt] takes time out of what would be a very busy day to come and speak with us. And that's significant and it's meaningful.

For the gay left, who has so often pointed to symbolic gestures as a sign of progress, this is a very important symbolic gesture, and symbolic progress usually leads to concrete progress.

Have you seen any evidence that Schmidt's appearance forced other factions of the Republican Party to grapple with your presence within the party? I have been quite frankly surprised that the social conservatives -- on the Web anyway -- I have not seen any stink about it. Certainly, in speaking with people from the campaign, there's no indication that there was a big firestorm from social conservatives that Steve Schmidt had spoken to our group.

In terms of Palin, it's clear that she has strong ties to the Christian community and was raised as a true believer. There's a lot of gays and lesbians who have an aversion to politicians who have strong Christian right leanings, for obvious reasons. How did the organization reconcile itself with endorsing a ticket?First, there's a lot about Governor Palin's record on gay issues that we don't know about. We are going to listen to what she says when she's asked about the issues and respond accordingly. I think there are many on the far left and the far right who are trying to define her as an extremist on every single issue, and we just don't know yet if that's an accurate portrayal.

Certainly, we disagree with her view of marriage, we disagree with her effort to try to block partner benefits, though at the same time, she did veto a bill that [would have taken away] the benefits -- I know she said she [had to veto the bill] to follow the [state] constitution. Some social conservatives in Alaska were pushing her to sign the bill anyway. So she didn't have to do what she did in terms of vetoing the bill.

Bottom line is, there's a lot about her that remains uncertain. I think people have a caricature of her, and they're trying to read into it things about gay issues that haven't been shown to be true yet. We do know that winning this election is going to require independent voters, and I think Governor Palin is smart enough to understand that. And if she's seen as an extremist across the board then that's going to hurt this ticket.

So because her record is so thin on these issues, I think there's a real opportunity to work with her and talk to her about these issues, educate her about these issues, and have a positive position represented in the months and years ahead.

I think it's also important to point out that Senator McCain is the nominee and Senator McCain will be the president. Senator McCain will make the decisions. And if the VP was so critical on gay issues, we never would have had a Federal Marriage Amendment because Dick Cheney... it's the only issue he disagreed with President Bush on in the last eight years.

How much did the vice-presidential pick matter? What if McCain, for instance, had chosen Mitt Romney?It's very unlikely Log Cabin would have endorsed had someone been selected who had used gay and lesbian people to win elections. People like Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee had a history of trying to use gay issues to win. Mitt Romney did antigay mailings in Iowa during the campaign. He did an antigay TV ad. Someone like that is someone that would have been deeply troubling to us. Contrast that to Sarah Palin: Even if we don't agree with her on every issue, in her '06 governor's race in Alaska she could have [used] a lot of antigay rhetoric and it wouldn't have hurt her in a Republican primary in Alaska. And she actually had more inclusive language when talking about the issues.

There's one area that could be critical to LGBT rights in the next four years where what John McCain has articulated certainly varies from what Barack Obama has articulated, and that's the area of the Supreme Court. What's your thinking about how Senator McCain might affect the makeup of the court, assuming several justices may retire over the next four years?Every political analyst agrees that Democrats are going to have a margin of two, three, four, five, maybe even six or seven seats. So the fact is, Senator McCain, if he's elected, will have to pick mainstream, middle-of-the-road judges, or they're simply not going to get confirmed.

Number two, the Supreme Court is full of people who were Republican appointees who have made rulings and decisions that have benefited the LGBT community. So it's difficult to predict what kind of judges the nominees actually turn out to be on these issues.

Third point, if you look at state supreme courts around the country over the last five years, the most significant rulings favoring our community have come from courts dominated by Republican appointees. The fact is, I think we have a pretty good record on how judicial nominees fare.

When asked about what kind of justices he will appoint, Senator McCain talks about Justice Alito and Justice Roberts when he could talk about Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas. It's clear that Justice Alito and Justice Roberts are more middle-of-the-road justices than Thomas and Scalia. It's also important to point out that Senator McCain voted for Justices Breyer and Ginsburg.

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