During his Republican gubernatorial primary campaign, Bill Simon delighted conservatives by promising to "undo four years of liberalism, homosexuality and anti-family values in California at the hands of Governor Gray Davis."
But as the November general election approaches and Simon finds himself trailing Davis in polls, the millionaire businessman—who refused to meet publicly with gay Republicans during the primary—now claims he would support much of the agenda of gay-rights groups.
Evidence of the flip-flop is contained in questionnaire responses Simon provided on Aug. 9 to Log Cabin Republicans of California, an advance copy of which was obtained by the Weekly. In written answers, he told the state's premier gay conservative group that he:
• supports Davis' law that facilitates gay adoption;
• supports official state recognition of annual gay-pride festivals;
• supports tougher hate crime laws;
• supports former Democratic Governor Jerry Brown's executive order prohibiting sexual-orientation discrimination in state employment;
• supports domestic-partnership rights provided by the UC Regents;
• has gays and lesbians in his campaign and businesses and would hire them in his administration;
• supports continued government AIDS funding;
• appreciates the role of gay Republicans in party politics; and
• though he is against "same-sex marriage," he said the state should give some type of "recognition" when "two individuals have established a strong, caring relationship."
The new stances were a shock to anti-gay Christian activists, who had been forcefully touting Simon's "unwavering commitment" to conservative principles.
An effusive Andrea Sheldon Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition became curt when she learned of Simon's efforts to court gay voters. "I wasn't aware of any of this," she said.
Michael Mears, head of Capitol Resource Institute, a Sacramento-based conservative group that routinely lampoons Democrats for coddling gays, declined to offer a reaction to Simon's newfound approval of gay rights.
But if some Log Cabin Republicans are right, Lafferty and Mears shouldn't lose too much sleep.
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"Do we trust Bill Simon's answers on the questionnaire?" asked one of the group's officials. "No. Many of us are skeptical about his sincerity."
San Juan Capistrano resident and Log Cabin president David Hansen said Simon's questionnaire answers were "more positive than we expected." However, Hansen noted that he did not know if his group—a powerful force in close statewide elections—would now embrace Simon. "I think it's fair to say that we still have questions about offering an endorsement," he said.
According to gay Republicans, Simon's history on gay issues has been deplorable thanks to a campaign-management team that is fearful of angering the state's religious conservatives. Some of Simon's blunders, they say, include his childlike refusal to meet with gay Republicans in public; his repeated denouncement of anything but heterosexual marriage; and the highly symbolic hiring of the Reverend Lou Sheldon's anti-gay son, an Orange County-based campaign consultant, during the primary.
Log Cabin officials say they will discuss the possibility of endorsing Simon during their September state conference in Anaheim.