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Republican State Senator Roy Ashburn Admits He’s Gay

Audio

Aired 3/9/10

A Bakersfield lawmaker's D-U-I arrest is turning into a story about his sexuality. We're joined on Morning Edition by nonpartisan Sacramento political consultant Leo McElroy.

A Bakersfield lawmaker's DUI arrest is turning into a story about his sexuality. We're joined on Morning Edition by nonpartisan Sacramento political consultant Leo McElroy. Good morning, Leo.

LEO MCELROY: Good morning.

PAMELA DAVIS: So how did the Republican State Senator Roy Ashburn go from an arrest to admitting he's gay?

MCELROY: Well, that's a really good question, and it may be the uglier side of politics in California. The DUI arrest occurred in Sacramento, apparently he had been drinking at a bar and his blood alcohol level was well over the limit when he was pulled over for weaving on a downtown street. And then suddenly, out of the woodwork, came people to reveal their suspicion or belief or knowledge that Roy Ashburn was gay. This has been rumored for a long time. Local newspapers in his district had asked him about it, he always refused to comment one way or the other. But suddenly they came scurrying out of the woodwork to announce that his orientation was gay, and he has now confirmed that. Whether the motivation was to take him further down after the drunk driving arrest, or to punish him for perceived hypocrisy for voting against gay rights measures, it's not totally clear but it's the ugly side of politics in any case.

DWANE BROWN: Let's pick up on that issue of voting against gay rights measures. Ashburn opposed gay rights measures in 1996. He is the father of four. Why does this bring up the issue of voting with your conscience versus voting with your constituents?

MCELROY: If this isn't the classic dilemma in democracy, I don't know what is. It's always been a matter of quiet debate, especially among those involved in public policy, whether your obligation is to vote the wishes of your constituents, or to vote your own conscience. Ironically, I think, as a nation, we tend to honor those who stand up for their conscience. We see them as heroes, they are often given a great deal of honor and respect. On the other hand, I think we tend to vote for those who cast their votes in the manner that we would prefer. So we may honor the independents who follow their own conscience, but we don't always re-elect them.

DAVIS: Leo, out-going Assemblyspeaker Karen Bass gave 10 percent raises to 20 of her staff members last week. Now why does that put new Speaker John Pérez in a tough moral position?

MCELROY: You know, one of the newspapers -- The Sacramento Bee, which is a Democratic paper -- had referred to it as her leaving a stink bomb on his desk. She did it on her final day in office, this was not a process that was vetted publicly. But the last day out she gave "promotions" and 10 percent raises to 20 staffers. And then left, and it basically gives him no way to cancel the raises. He can overturn them, he can demote those people back, but it leaves him an unfortunate choice, because he really has to single these people out. And it's been pointed out again, that this is an example of Karen Bass during her speakership being politically tone-deaf. She was the one who gave out a number of raises during the money crunch when we were trying to cut the state budget frantically, and she was handing raises to a whole bunch of legislative employees. So, not well-timed, and probably not done in the best manner possible, and for Speaker Pérez, he now has the choice of singling out 20 probably fairly key members, and demoting them back, or of approving the pay raises, letting them stand, and taking the ire of the public. Not clear yet which he's going to do, but neither one is going to be a comfortable move.

BROWN: Let's quickly talk about education, and the federal dollars that California won't get in grant money for Race to the Top, at least in the first round, Leo. How many fronts is the state at odds with the feds?

MCELROY: Well, that's what the state's trying to identify. Uh, you know, they would like to know what they need to do to qualify for the education money. They didn't make the cut among the states that got that first burst of funding. Uh, so they have gone back and said 'Hey, you know, tell us what it is we need to do.' But in the meantime, we're at war with the federal government on a couple of other issues. We're battling with them over prison population, on prison medical care. We're now battling with them because the feds have gotten into the lawsuit to stop the state from cutting services to disabled citizens. It's something that was being cut back as part of the budgetary restrictions, and the feds have joined the lawsuit saying "No, you can't do that to these people, it's discrimination."

DAVIS: Leo, we are out of time, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

MCELROY: Sure.

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