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Saturday, Nov 20 2010 01:00 PM

Gay-rights group gives Ashburn high marks

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    In this file photo, state Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, waits for the train that he takes to work every morning to the state Capitol.

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By STAFF AND WIRE REPORT

State Sen. Roy Ashburn, who before revealing he was gay earlier this year consistently opposed gay-rights measures during his long political career, has earned the highest score among Republican legislators in a ranking released Friday by the state's leading gay-rights advocacy group.

Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, scored 86 percent in Equality California's 2010 legislative scorecard -- higher than some Democrats on the list.

He was given a grade of zero percent from the group in 2009, when he voted against or abstained on every single bill included in the ranking.

This year, Ashburn supported 12 out of 14 of the measures that factored into the Senate scores.

Ashburn acknowledged his sexual orientation in March, in the wake of his arrest on a DUI charge after leaving a gay Sacramento nightclub. Since that time, his public stances on gay-rights issues have changed dramatically.

Ashburn initially defended his earlier record, saying his votes were aligned with the views of his district constituents. But he soon changed his course by speaking out and voting for a handful of bills supported by the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community.

And Ashburn told The Californian this past week that he's writing a book challenging the Republican Party to practice more of what it preaches about valuing people's uniqueness and advocating for their "maximum individualism" and freedom.

"Republicans say each individual ought to have the opportunity to become as much as he can become and government should promote personal liberty," Ashburn said. "Personal liberty -- unless you're gay."

He said now is the perfect time for the GOP to take a more consistent stance and make an impact because, as the November election showed, "people are giving a second look at the Republican Party."

The termed-out Ashburn leaves office next month. He didn't have a firm release date for his book but said it'll be finished "soon."

Ashburn said he doesn't yet know what else he will do career-wise after his term, saying ethics rules constrain him from exploring a lot of options now. It's a very emotional time for him, Ashburn said, because he's worked in politics most of his adult life -- as an aide to politicians and then as a county supervisor and state lawmaker.

Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors said in a statement accompanying his group's ranking of lawmakers that a record 14 measures sponsored by the organization were adopted in 2010.

"We are truly grateful to each of the legislators who voted for LGBT rights during the last legislative session, especially those who stood with the LGBT community 100 percent of the time," he said. "Thanks to their support, the outstanding work of the legislators who introduced the measures and our dedicated membership, we shattered records by passing the greatest number of LGBT legislation in the history of our state and our nation, and we garnered more bipartisan support than ever before."

Whitney Weddell, a leader in the local gay community, said she never would have thought a year ago that Ashburn would garner such high marks from Equality California.

She considered it a good thing but said Ashburn's turnabout so far hasn't made up for his past record of voting and speaking out against homosexuality.

Weddell said she still has a large stack of form letters she's received from Ashburn's office over the years saying no, Ashburn won't support the gay-rights related bill she was urging him to support at the time.

"The votes this year obviously do a lot to help undo the damage he caused but he still has a way to go," Weddell said.

Disagreeing that Ashburn's 86 percent was something to celebrate was local Republican political consultant Tracy Leach.

"Most of the citizens who supported Roy Ashburn for Senate could not have imagined him getting high marks from a homosexual-rights group," she said. "Just as when Ashburn signed the no new taxes pledge, this is not the representative that Ashburn sold to the voters and that's simply not right."

Leach said 18th District voters deserve a representative that will focus on California's "very serious issues" and keep his or her word. She said she wishes Ashburn well in retirement "because that is the appropriate place for him to be both an advocate for higher taxes and serve as a homosexual activist -- not on the taxpayer's dime."

-- Torey Van Oot of the Sacramento Bee and Christine Bedell of The Californian contributed to this report.

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