The Republican Suicide Bomber

Bill Simon played gays and religious conservatives for idiots and likely destroyed his own campaign for governor

In August, Bill Simon shocked the political world when he announced unprecedented support for gay rights in California—unprecedented because it marked the first time a conservative Republican gubernatorial candidate had backed everything from gay adoption to official recognition of gay pride days to prohibitions on sexual-orientation discrimination in state employment. Simon did all this on a signed questionnaire he presented to the gay Log Cabin Republicans. Those positions were contrary to Simon's tough, anti-gay primary rhetoric and caused a Christian conservative leader to announce he felt "misled and conned."

"Bill Simon's newfound philosophy and his responses to the Log Cabin questionnaire were appropriately shocking to many pro-family Californians," said Randy Thomasson, executive director of the Campaign for California Families (CCF). "This is a huge disappointment. . . . Simon needs to come clean on this issue and rescind his gay-agenda questionnaire."

On Aug. 22—hours after the Weekly broke news of Simon's new pro-gay stance—CCF contacted the campaign. Simon's advisers acknowledged the questionnaire and refused to grant access to the candidate. According to Thomasson, the advisers meekly stated that they "were concerned that CCF would not like some of Bill Simon's answers."

Five days later, the campaign was apparently less concerned about the tender sensibilities of its most conservative constituents. On Aug. 27, Sal Russo—one of Simon's top consultants—appeared on San Francisco's KGO radio station and defended Simon's questionnaire answers.

That tore it for the Reverend Lou Sheldon of the Anaheim-based Traditional Values Coalition. The next day, he weighed in. "After a year of vowing support for 'traditional values' to Christian churches, organizations and individuals across California, GOP gubernatorial candidate William Simon has turned around and pledged support for the homosexual agenda," said Sheldon. "Bill Simon apparently tailors his message to his audience. He and his advisers should be ashamed of their ploy to trick religious conservatives into voting for their campaign's empty rhetoric and shabby tactics."

Within days, a frightened Simon flip-flopped on the flip-flop. He asserted that his real stances mirrored Sheldon's anti-gay positions and claimed he never signed—or even saw—the Log Cabin questionnaire.

"I haven't changed my position in the slightest," a beleaguered Simon told KSFO-AM on Sept. 4.

Soon, campaign staffers such as Russo told reporters that they had answered the questionnaire themselves and signed Simon's name without the candidate's knowledge.

The campaign's new scenario didn't impress CCF's Thomasson; he specifically recalls that Simon aides insisted the answers were indeed Simon's. But the campaign's new tale of forgery was all Sheldon needed to announce that Simon was back as a "pro-family" candidate, deserving of support from "church members" throughout California. For Simon, the Sheldon re-endorsement must have come as welcomed relief to a campaign that political strategists already call the worst in California history.

But Simon lied to both religious conservatives and gay Republicans. According to high-level GOP sources and campaign documents obtained by the Weekly, not only did Simon know in advance of the Log Cabin Republican issues survey, but he also signed it and even secretly helped to construct the questionnaire.

On July 23 in the candidate's swank Wilshire Avenue offices of William Simon & Sons, Simon quietly met with a bipartisan group of gay political activists. The group included John Duran, a Democrat and prominent West Hollywood defense attorney, and Southern California Edison Vice President Brian Bennett, a gay conservative and former chief of staff for Orange County's notoriously anti-gay ex-Congressman Bob Dornan. Sources say Bennett called the meeting to help Simon avoid alienating gay voters in the general election. Specifically, Bennett presented Simon with the first draft of the pro-gay questionnaire. After the meeting, Log Cabin Republican leadership balked at Bennett's version, believing it didn't adequately force the candidate to declare his stances on gay rights. They added questions of their own and, in the last days of July, gave Simon the formal questionnaire.

Though Simon now claims questionnaire amnesia, a Republican campaign document contradicts him. "Bill Simon is already familiar with most of them [the questions] and addressed almost all of them during the course of our [July 23] meeting, as it would be the format that would give the candidate the greatest level of comfort in responding," a Simon supporter who attended the secret meeting wrote on July 31.

Additional campaign documents indicate that Simon and his consultants likely were worried about blow back from right-wingers, a powerful minority of California's voters. One of those documents shows that Simon campaign consultant Ron Rogers told Log Cabin Republican leader David Hanson of San Juan Capistrano that the controversial questionnaire would be signed by the candidate and returned on Aug. 9. Early on the due date, however, Rogers had failed to release the survey. "I have to get this version [of the questionnaire] to Bill now," he explained in an e-mail to Log Cabin officials. Later that day, Simon's staff sent a final copy of the candidate's answers to Hanson's home fax.

But Hanson was suspicious. He wanted an original copy signed by Simon. The campaign acknowledged the validity of the answers and claimed they had sent an original copy. Four days later, a Simon campaign supporter with connections to the gay group sent a letter to Rogers. "I trust there is an explanation as to why [Log Cabin Republicans] has not received the signed questionnaire, which was to be received last Friday," he wrote. "Please advise, as [Log Cabin Republicans] is pissed."

Documents show that for the next six days, Rogers repeatedly told Log Cabin officials that the signed copy had been mailed. Finally, on Aug. 22, Rogers admitted the signed questionnaire had only been mailed one day earlier. Simon's pro-gay policies would last just 10 days.

Simon consultants Rogers and Steve Frank, who worked on the questionnaire, declined to comment. They told colleagues they had "no intention" of answering the Weekly's questions about the fiasco.

Log Cabin Republican officials, however, weren't tight-lipped. They say Simon and his advisers committed "avoidable blunders" that have irreconcilably alienated gay conservative support.

"Hopefully, Bill Simon's candidacy will be the nadir of Republican politics in California," said Log Cabin political director Christopher Gilbertson. "We hope that after Nov. 5, a new, invigorated and inclusive Republican Party will arise from the heap of devastation."

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