Local Politics

Thursday, Mar 04 2010 03:20 PM

Report ignites debate over Ashburn's orientation, gay-rights voting record

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    State Sen. Roy Ashburn

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BY CHRISTINE BEDELL, Californian government editor cbedell@bakersfield.com

The sexual orientation and voting record of state Sen. Roy Ashburn exploded into national news Thursday, the day after he was arrested on misdemeanor drunk driving charges in Sacramento.

Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, did not return calls again Thursday seeking an explanation of the events leading up to his arrest and the Sacramento television report that launched nationwide speculation that the veteran lawmaker is gay and therefore a hypocrite for voting against gay-rights bills.

Ashburn has taken a personal leave from the Senate for an unknown length of time, his spokesman said.

The Californian has asked Ashburn about his sexual orientation in the past. He has either questioned the relevance of the issue or dodged it altogether. The newspaper did not report the comments at the time, also deciding it was not relevant.

That all changed Thursday after Sacramento television station CBS13 quoted unnamed sources as saying Ashburn was arrested after leaving Faces, a gay nightclub in midtown Sacramento. Like a fast-moving wildfire, other television stations and bloggers nationwide including the Huffington Post and FoxNews.com reported the same, many citing CBS13’s story.

Phone messages left by The Californian at Faces were not returned, but the Talking Points Memo website quoted club manager Laurie Bonifield as saying she didn’t see Ashburn at the club that night.

Bonifield also was quoted as saying Tuesday night is Latin night at Faces, which describes itself as “Sacramento’s premier GLBTI Nightclub since 1985.” The acronym GLBTI is shorthand for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transexual and intersexual.

“Tuesday nights are a very, very huge Latin crowd,” she reportedly told the website. “We don’t see a lot of white guys here on a Tuesday night. A white guy would stick out like a sore thumb.”

CHP Sgt. Rick Campbell said his agency typically does ask DUI suspects where they’d been but he didn’t know whether it was asked of Ashburn.

He said the CHP tends not to comment on cases once it files its reports with the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office, which it has done in this case. The D.A.'s office has formally charged Ashburn; his arraignment has been scheduled for April 14.

Ashburn’s blood alcohol level was .14 percent when he was arrested, according to the D.A.'s office. The legal limit is .08 percent.

While Ashburn did not return calls Thursday, last summer he discussed his sexual orientation and how that squares with his voting record with Californian columnist Lois Henry.

Ashburn wouldn’t say whether he is gay but did say he didn’t consider himself an anti-gay activist. He agreed he’d voted conservatively on gay issues, but said that’s what his conservative constituents would want him to do.

Whether Ashburn was at a gay club and whether he is gay is very relevant given his voting record, said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, the state’s largest gay rights organization.

The group has repeatedly scored Ashburn very low — including a 2009 rating of zero on a scale of 100 — after analyzing his votes on bills it says would improve the lives of gay, bisexual and transgender Californians.

While some Republicans such as state Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, have managed to carve out a comparatively moderate record on gay rights, Kors said, Ashburn has veered far right and opposed basic human rights.

Kors said Ashburn has voted on the wrong side of 30 to 40 gay rights-related bills, including no on Assembly Bill 14 in 2007, which Kors said prohibited discrimination against gays in public places including bars, and no on Assembly Bill 394 in 2007, which Equality California says helped ensure full implementation of school safety standards regarding harassment and discrimination.

“For someone who has extremely anti-gay positions to (associate) with gay people in gay bars ... shows an incredible amount of hypocrisy,” Kors said, emphasizing that’s if the reports are true.

More recently, according to Project Vote Smart, a nonpartisan organization that tracks legislators’ voting records, Ashburn voted against:

• Legislation “that recognizes all same-sex marriages contracted outside of California prior to Nov. 5, 2008, and specifies that same-sex marriages contracted on or after Nov. 5, 2008, are guaranteed the same rights...and are subject to the same responsibilities...as are granted and imposed upon all spouses, with a sole exception of the designation of the term “marriage.”

• A bill proclaiming May 22 Harvey Milk Day and encouraging public schools to educate students on his life and contributions to the state. Milk was one of the first openly gay men elected to public office in California — elected to the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors in 1977.

• A resolution declaring the Senate’s opposition to Proposition 8, saying it would be an “improper revision” of the state constitution.

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