Local Politics

Thursday, Mar 04 2010 07:19 PM

LOIS HENRY: Ashburn dodges gay question

BY LOIS HENRY, Californian columnist lhenry@bakersfield.com

Last summer an editor heard that a Sacramento publication with a gay audience might "out" state Sen. Roy Ashburn as being gay.

So I called Ashburn and asked him flat-out: "Are you gay?"

His response: "Why would that be anyone's business? Including The Californian's?

"I think there are certain subjects that are simply not relevant and this is one of them. It has no bearing on the job I do."

During the course of our conversation I listed several instances in which a politician's sexual orientation, or even just their sexual activity -- straight or gay -- would be relevant.

If Ashburn were a staunch anti-gay activist but was secretly gay, I said, that would be a legitimate concern to his constituents.

Ashburn agreed but said he didn't believe he had been such an activist. I pointed out he had voted conservatively on gay issues throughout his career.

Yes, he said, but he'd done so on almost all social issues. He represents a conservative district and votes as his constituents would want him to, he said.

Several political organizations have ranked Ashburn's voting record as extremely unfriendly to gays. (I'm not sure where those organizations rank Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez, a Democrat, who initially voted against all gay issues for much the same reason, but since has turned a new leaf.)

And Ashburn did organize a "Traditional Family Values" rally in 2005 to drum up support for a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

But he kept a low profile during the Proposition 8 campaign.

In my mind, the importance of his sexual orientation relative to his work on the public's behalf is still debatable.

During my conversation with Ashburn last summer, we also agreed that if he were having an affair, regardless of gender, with a lobbyist, someone who worked for him or someone under age, those would also be legitimate public concerns.

No, he said, none of those situations applied to him.

"Do you think I'm that stupid?"

I thanked Ashburn for talking on the record and then talked with my editors about what to do with the information.

It's a conversation we'd had once before. We'd heard rumors and in 2004, another Californian reporter asked Ashburn if he was gay. He would only reply, "I'm surprised you're asking that."

We discussed Ashburn's cryptic responses, which proved nothing about his orientation, and debated pursuing the story, but kept coming back to the issue of relevance.

Other than that 2005 rally, Ashburn hadn't authored any anti-gay legislation himself, nor led the charge against equity for gays.

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